The Century Initiative: A Blueprint For A Bigger, Broken Canada

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Population Institute Canada’s website (populationinstitutecanada.ca) on July 4th, 2024. It is republished on Dominion Review with permission of the author. 

Why is growth in your city exploding?

Most Canadians have probably never heard of the Century Initiative. It operates behind the scenes and has received a measure of public scrutiny only in the past few years when the impact of Canada’s population explosion became too evident to ignore. Founded in 2011, it obtained charitable status in 2014, which it managed to retain upon becoming a registered lobby group in 2021, having somehow persuaded the Canada Revenue Agency that it operates in the interest of Canadians.

While Canadians may be in the dark about the Century Initiative, they are acutely feeling its impact on their lives. For one thing, they are sharing the country with millions more people than in all likelihood would have been the case were it not for the efforts of this organization. If Canadians are bewildered about Canada’s immigration policies – why, for example, the Trudeau government is bringing in extraordinarily high numbers of newcomers when Canada is still pulling itself out of the morass of the Covid pandemic – they would do well to inform themselves about the Century Initiative.

In essence, the future of Canada is being determined with no input from Canadians.

From Don Kerr, the Hub, 2024-04-26

A  comparison with US annual growth rates illustrates how radical Canada’s immigration policy has become:

Percent change in Canadian and US population, 1965 – 2023 Brent Donnelly tweet 2023-06-27

The Century Initiative and its vision of a bigger, bolder Canada

The Century Initiative was founded with one objective: a Canadian population of one hundred million by 2100. The only way this can be brought about is through immigration on a massive scale. Why would Canada need such an enormous population?

Some 90% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the US border, and 70% are concentrated in just three regions: along the St. Lawrence River – Great Lakes corridor that runs from Quebec City to Windsor, along the Edmonton to Calgary corridor, and in the greater Vancouver area. Newcomers are no more likely to move to the sparsely or uninhabited parts of Canada than native-born Canadians. Much of central Canada consists of the rocky Canadian shield, whose sparse soils support spruce trees but not agriculture. The cold temperatures, barren lands, and lack of infrastructure to earn a living deter newcomers as much as resident Canadians from settling in Canada’s “vast open spaces.”

70% of Canadians live in 3 regions: Quebec City – Windsor corridor, Calgary -Edmonton corridor, and greater Vancouver area.

Not to worry, though. The Century Initiative’s vision of a bigger, bolder Canada would see existing cities grow into “mega-regions” of previously unimagined proportions.

  • The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) would grow from 8.8 million to 33.5 million.
  • Montreal would grow from 4.4 to 12.2 million.
  • Vancouver and environs would grow from 3.3 to 11.9 million.
  • Calgary and environs would grow from 2.8 million to 15.5 million.
  • The National Capital Region (Ottawa-Gatineau) would grow from 1.4 to 4.8 million.

Canada’s smaller cities and towns would grow concomitantly to become what now would be considered a big city. Relative to the burgeoning megalopoles, of course, they would still be little towns. Canada would be more like China, where a metropolitan area of one million people does not even break the top 100 cities. At 33 million, the surging GTA would outpopulate today’s Shanghai, which is below 30 million.

All of which leads to the question: Is the Century Initiative for real?

Unfortunately, it is as serious as a heart attack. And for the well-being of the average Canadian, just as deadly.

The reasoning behind the madness

What would be the justification for artificially creating a gargantuan Canada that Canadians never asked for?

Three easily demolished reasons can be discerned from the Century Initiative’s website and documents.

The first is economic growth. With a bigger population, Canada would have a bigger GDP. But so what? What is important is the well-being of Canadians, not some big number. Canada’s GDP has grown along with its population, but there has been no increase in per capita wealth.  In fact Canada is falling behind most developed nations in many metrics of wealth measurement, including its GDP per capita. The argument that we need a bigger population for bigger markets does not hold water given that international trade agreements  do not restrict Canada to the Canadian market to buy and sell goods.

The second reason is to give Canada greater influence on the world stage. But there is not a strong correlation between population size and influence. Countries that have seen very rapid population growth have not necessarily become more influential. In fact, such growth has often prevented them from escaping poverty. Small countries like Switzerland and Sweden are far more influential than many larger countries. With a much smaller population than today, Canada acquitted itself well in two world wars and was a driving force in mustering and deploying UN peacekeepers during the Suez Canal crisis of 1956 (for which external affairs minister Lester Pearson, later prime minister, received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1957).

One also has to wonder how much clout a country that defines itself as postnational with no core identity and no mainstream can have. That at least is how Justin Trudeau described Canada to the New York Times magazine shortly after he first got elected as prime minister in October 2015. Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch was lambasted in 2017 for daring to suggest that would-be  immigrants should be screened for “Canadian values.” How much influence can a country have if it can’t project a clear identity and articulate its values?

The third reason to strive for 100 million is to counter the aging of the Canadian population. However, 34 years of consistently high immigration levels have not had any impact on Canada’s age structure. Most immigrants arrive as adults and family reunification programs bring in large number of older people. As is the case for the rest of the world, Canada will go through a bottleneck of an aging population as family size shrinks. One has only to look to Japan, which is better off than most countries in the world, to see that an aging population does not spell disaster.

It might further be noted that alleged labour shortages persist despite those 34 years of high immigration initiated by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in 1990. Mass immigration of course entails a need for the labour to build housing, other structures such as schools, hospitals and shopping malls, and the supporting infrastructure. Continuous mass immigration creates a shortage of construction and other workers, allegedly necessitating more immigration, in an endless spiral. It is time to put a stop to this Ponzi scheme.

The Century Initiative’s own scorecard shows the abject failure of its policies

Canadians have never asked their government to massively increase their population. In a 2023 Leger survey commissioned by Canadians for a Sustainable Society and supported by PIC,  respondents wanted things like a safe community, a cleaner environment, affordable housing and access to nature. Most did not think a big city was the best place to live and a majority said they would be upset with more crowded cities and towns in their community.

Population growth driven by mass immigration is delivering none of the things Canadians want and making the things they don’t want worse. As cities densify and sprawl, residents lose access to nature. Recent surges in population growth, with over one million new arrivals in both of 2022 and 2023, have exacerbated an already acute housing crisis that the government was warned about in 2022. Over half of the growth in those two years resulted from a large number of temporary foreign workers and foreign students, over which the government seems to have lost control.

The Century Initiative’s own scorecard for 2024 (which is not easy to locate on its website) lays out the sorry state of affairs. In almost all meaningful parameters, Canada is going downhill. Life expectancy fell for the second year in a row, infrastructure is under stress and not getting sufficient investment, housing affordability is getting worse, Canada ranks poorly on climate change performance, GDP per capita is falling behind many peer countries, household debt is increasing, productivity has declined, and on and on and on. But – Canada is meeting and exceeding its targets of population growth. Hooray!

Nowhere in the world has rapid population growth improved well-being. Exactly the opposite is true. The poorest countries are those that are growing the most rapidly. In 2023, Canada’s population growth rate of 3.2% was five times the OECD average and exceeded that of most sub-Saharan African countries. This puts it in the ranks of countries that have fallen into a “population trap,” where population growth exceeds economic growth. In 2021, almost one million Canadians had no direct access to stable guaranteed housing and visits to food banks have broken records in recent years.

A declassified secret report by the RCMP published in 2023 warns that Canada may descend into civil unrest once Canadians recognize the hopelessness of their economic situation. “Canadians under 35 are unlikely to ever be able to buy a place to live,” the report says and warns that Canada’s situation “will probably deteriorate further in the next five years.”  An increasing number of migrants are finding that Canada is no longer what it was cracked up to be and are leaving the country. Native-born young Canadians might start doing the same.

Who funds the Century Initiative?

Mass immigration has not benefitted working Canadians. It has reduced equality levels, increased debt, decreased housing affordability, reduced job quality, negatively impacted quality of life in many ways, and reduced access to nature. Population growth has resulted in asset inflation (rises in cost of real estate) which benefits real estate investment companies even as houses became unaffordable for working Canadians. The primary beneficiaries of mass immigration have been mortgage-holding banks, speculators and developers, and cheap-labour businesses.

The Century Initiative was co-founded by Dominic Barton, who at the time (2011) was Global Managing Partner with the US consultancy McKinsey and Company, where he worked for 33 years until his departure in 2018. The other co-founder and current chair is Mark Wiseman, who became a Senior Managing Director at BlackRock in 2016 and now chairs the Alberta Investment Management Corporation.

It should come as a surprise to no one that the charitable organization Century Initiative is supported by financial and corporate interests in addition to well-connected individuals, at least three of whom are directly associated with it. Riley Donovan of the Dominion Review has assembled a list of donors based on the organization’s 2022 Annual Report.

Unlike working Canadians, the donors to the Century Initiative stand to benefit from mass immigration.

The snake oil salesmen for mass immigration

There is nothing to suggest that the government of Canada prioritized or even considered the well-being of Canadians in setting its “ambitious” immigration targets, which seem to be guided by the Century Initiative. At the time that the Trudeau government made its first foray into raising already high immigration levels even more, as announced by then immigration minister Ahmed Hussen in 2017, it also developed a marketing strategy called “Immigration Matters” to sell this policy to the Canadian public. The strategy included the  promotion of “compelling storytelling to appeal to Canadians on an emotional level.” It came with a “toolkit” from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) for “stakeholders.”

I saw an example of this strategy in June 2019, while in the waiting lounge of Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. A stylized series of pictures of four or five “new Canadians” alternated with other advertisements on an electronic display board for flight information.

New Canadian Shayan featured on an electronic display board at Toronto’s Pearson airport, 19 June 2019. Picture by Madeline Weld.

While awaiting departure from Ottawa’s Macdonald-Cartier International Airport in April 2023, I observed a display board inviting Canadians to find out why “#ImmigrationMatters”. That may be good advice, as long as they don’t fall for government propaganda.

Immigration Matters” campaign advertised on a display board at Ottawa’s International Airport, 22 April 2023. Photo by Madeline Weld.

Subliminally and overtly, Canadians receive frequent messages of just how wonderful (mass) immigration is.

And they do need reminders, because the Century Initiative is aware that its vision a glorious 100 million-strong Canada does not align with the lived experience of many Canadians as mass immigration propels them toward that future. This could explain why Goldy Hyder, president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada and a board member of the Century Initiative, encouraged politicians to keep quiet about immigration ahead of the 2019 election.

Century Initiative CEO Lisa Lalande’s introduction to the 2024 scorecard contains the following statement: “And yet, it would be foolish and simply unhistorical not to recognize what these debates, centering on immigration and our national identity, are capable of. That they can be harbingers of anxiety and fear, that they can foment hatred, that they can lead to debates as harmful as they are unproductive.”

Translation: “We’ll be in trouble if people figure out what we’re really up to.”

Is this organization really behind government immigration policies?

As shown in the histogram toward the beginning of this article, high levels of immigration exceeding 300,000 annually have doubled since Justin Trudeau became prime minister, and now average over 600,000 annually, despite plummeting in 2020 due to COVID. But can we be sure that Trudeau’s policies are guided by the Century Initiative?

At the very least, we can present a strong circumstantial case. Let’s recall that one of the Century Initiative’s cofounders was Dominic Barton, who held senior positions at McKinsey and Company. On January 4, 2023,  Radio Canada made allegations that McKinsey was heavily involved in setting policies at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. This story was picked up by CBC News, which reported that up to that point, Justin Trudeau’s government had spent thirty times as much on McKinsey as that of his predecessor Stephen Harper, a total of $66 million versus Harper’s $2.2 million. The department that used McKinsey’s services the most was IRCC, with $24.5 million in contracts for management advice.

The CBC reported that two separate IRCC sources who both held senior positions during the height of McKinsey’s influence spoke to Radio Canada on condition of anonymity. The sources felt that IRCC bureaucrats were pushed aside and policy was decided for them. One of the sources said that the department was told to take as a foundational plan a 2016 report by the Advisory Council on Economic Growth, headed by Dominic Barton, that called for gradually increasing immigration levels to 450,000 annually.

The following chronology can be constructed from Radio Canada and CBC News reports and other sources:

October 2015: Justin Trudeau is elected prime minister and shortly thereafter tells a New York Times reporter that Canada is the first postnational country.

December 2015: Finance Minster Bill Morneau announces the creation of the Advisory Council on Economic Growth.

January 2016: Dominic Barton personally introduces Justin Trudeau as newly elected prime minister to the Davos in-crowd at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting.

February 2016: Morneau announces that the Advisory Council will be headed by Dominic Barton.

March 2016: Morneau announces who the other members of the Advisory Council are, and they include Mark Wiseman.

October 2016: The Advisory Council on Economic Growth publishes its first report, recommending a 50% increase in immigration targets to 450,000. Subsequent reports (3rd and final report in December 2017) promoted similar targets.

October 2017: Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen announces immigration targets for the next three years of 300,000 to 340,000 annually.

July 2018: Dominic Barton leaves McKinsey and Co. after 33 years with the firm.

August 2018: McKinsey gets its first contract with IRCC. Between then and January 2023, IRCC will pay McKinsey $24.5 million in contracts.

September 2019: Trudeau announces the appointment of Barton as ambassador to China.

2020: Immigration levels plunge due to COVID.

November 2022: Immigration Minister Sean Fraser announces targets of 450,000 to 500,000 immigrants annually from 2023 to 2025.

On May 15, 2023, the Liberals and New Democratic Party defeated a motion by the Bloc Québecois to reject the objectives of the Century Initiative and not “be inspired” by it in setting immigration levels. The Bloc was concerned that high immigration levels would weaken the position of Quebec and the use of French in Canada.  Although Immigration Minister Sean Fraser had distanced himself from the Century Initiative during previous debates, he also voted against the motion. Notably, so did the two elected members of the Green Party. (An adequate translation of the article can be found on this reddit.)

A bigger, broken Canada

On its website, the Century Initiative states that a bigger population and larger workforce will create more economic activity. “This means more potential tax dollars we could use to maintain and improve social services, including healthcare and income security programs; and needed infrastructure.”

To many Canadians those words would sound like a cruel joke. Many services in addition to housing affordability are in something approaching freefall, and infrastructure is deteriorating. There is no valid reason to promote mass immigration to Canada and many valid reasons to oppose it.

The Century Initiative’s 2019 report bears the title “For a bigger, bolder Canada” but Canadians are experiencing a bigger, broken Canada. According to an Ipsos poll from June 2024, 70% of Canadians agree with opposition Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre that Canada is broken. This number rises to 78% among Canadians who are 18 to 34 years old and is 73% among 35- to 54-year-olds. Among those 55 and over (who are more likely to have paid off their mortgage), 61% think Canada is broken.

The last thing we need to fix our broken country is more growth. More population growth will not solve the problems that population growth has created. Canadians must wake up to the fact that on the issue of immigration, successive governments have been pulling the wool over their eyes and they must demand a policy that actually works in their interest. At the time of writing (end of June), in the midst of a housing crisis and with inflation still high, anger at the governing Liberals is palpable, and was manifested in the loss of the Liberal candidate in the June byelection in the “safe” Liberal riding of Toronto-St. Paul’s.

While their anger is well justified, Canadians would do well to redirect some of it at the Century Initiative, whose influence is not limited to any one party. And while they’re at it, they might ask the CRA exactly what benefits the Century Initiative is providing to Canadians that justify its charitable status.

Madeline Weld, Ph.D.
President, Population Institute Canada
Tel: (613) 833-3668
Email: mail@populationinstitutecanada.ca
www.populationinstitutecanada.ca

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