‘100 million Canadians’

I wrote my editor friend in New York daily almost 10 years ago that I was watching Canada being born — the Creation Myth being the first game led by Hayley Wickenheiser as the Canadian women’s hockey team won gold against America in the Winter Olympics of 2002, with an even better night to follow when the men beat the Americans. From then on there has been a lot of downhill skiing for the U.S. But things keep looking up for Canada. Housing and the economy are booming. Canadian banking is the envy of the world and the Canadian dollar is at parity with the American. There is more to Canada today in foreign eyes than just good hockey, good manners, good government and Tim Hortons. There is oil.

But are 34 million Canadians enough to manage the upswing in good fortune?

“Canada should be a country of 100 million people,” University of Toronto scholar Irvin Studin writes in Global Brief, a journal of world affairs in the 21st century. “It has been said before. Apocryphally, by Winston Churchill himself; more recently, by the countless immigrants, newcomers and visitors to the country who are able, it must be observed, to see in Canada what incumbent Canadians oftentimes do not: that Canada could be a proper world power — a country of global consequence — if only … ”

Canada’s first Francophone prime minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, was likely tapping into this hypothetical when, in the early 20th century, he declared that the century would be Canada’s, writes Studin. That optimistic impression of the Great White North has endured in certain quarters: at the end of the Cold War certain Chinese measures of “comprehensive national power” rated Canada as among the seven most powerful countries in the world. And in a 2007 speech in Calgary, Tony Blair declared that “Canada will become one of the most powerful nations in the world.”

Canadians largely fancy themselves citizens either of a “small” or, at most, a “middle” or “principled” power.

“To this notion of ‘smallness,’ the outsider … retorts: ‘What smallness? Canada could be a country of 100 million. Its territory is huge — second only to that of the Russians; it has hyper-abundant natural resources; it is rich in indigenous fresh water and food sources; it has (natural) borders to protect it (and, since 1871, no “natural” enemies); it has stable governance; and, to be sure, it is exceedingly underpopulated; that is, strategically speaking, it is well below carrying capacity.’ ”

A Canada of 100 million, “through the force of new domestic structures, coupled with growing international impact (and prestige), undergoes an evolution of the national geist — one arguably appropriate for this new, more complicated, more international century.”

Our family’s most memorable experiences involved camping above Lake Superior in the Canadian wilderness when the children were young. The feeling that there was no one above you and nothing but forest and stars to the Arctic Circle and well beyond added to the serenity. It must be disconcerting now knowing that someone is there. Russians. Americans. Others. All are heading north.

Getting Canada to 100 million would be a project, but necessity may find a way because progress brings its own momentum. It is a force of nature. It cannot be stopped, and like decline, it cannot be avoided.

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