A New Computer Game Called, “What’s My Population Density?”

04/05/2013 by Alex Carrick

A long-term problem for most of the world’s industrialized nations will be an aging citizenry, accompanied by minimal population growth or actual declines.  

A “given” throughout world history has been that more people within a country’s borders has accounted for more spending. Therefore, it will be difficult for many jurisdictions to increase output when they have fewer people.

Many jobs, both skilled and unskilled, will go begging without more workers entering the labour force. The construction industry in Canada is concerned about an impending shortfall in talent needed to build all the mega resource projects that are planned over the next decade.

Canada has been relatively fortunate. We’ve continued to maintain a healthy pace of population increase, +1.1% in the latest calendar year.

The population gain has been split about evenly between natural factors (i.e., more births than deaths) and net international migration (i.e., more immigration than emigration).

We’re a young nation with a great many employment opportunities. A move to Canada is still appealing for foreign workers and their families.

We continue to welcome those new arrivals. Only a few nations are continuing to pursue strong immigration policies. Canada is among the leaders, along with the United States and Australia.

The latest information has just been published by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. In what follows, the numbers pertain to “gross” immigration.

Gross immigration is higher than net immigration, which subtracts out people who leave Canada for a variety of reason – to study or work abroad, to serve as volunteers in disaster zones, or try retirement living in different surroundings, as just three examples.

Every year, Canada attracts far more individuals from outside our boundaries than we lose to other countries. 

In 2012, the total number of new residents from outside Canada was 257,515. The composition of that total was as follows: “family class”, 64,901 (25.2%); “economic immigrants”, 160,617 (62.3%); refugees, 23,056 (9.0%); and “others” (e.g., humanitarian and compassionate cases), 8,941 (3.5%).

The family class was dominated by spouses and partners (39,471) and parents and grandparents (21,778).

“Economic Immigrants” are job-seekers. This category is dominated by skilled workers (38,577) and their spouses and dependents (52,790), combining for a total of 91,367.  

Also included are provincial and territorial nominees (40,829 principals and their dependents); a “Canadian experience class” (9,353); investors (9,349); and live-in caregivers (8,999). The provincial and territorial nominees provide a means for regions to fill specific skills shortages.   

Other sub-categories within “economic immigrants”, such as the self-employed and entrepreneurs, yield much lower numbers. To address this shortcoming, Ottawa is initiating a five-year StartUp Visa program on April 1 to attract the world’s brightest minds. Entrants must line up $200,000 from an approved venture capital organization or $75,000 from a designated “Angel”. The intent is to launch innovative enterprises with good job prospects as quickly as possible. The preliminary annual allotment will be less than 3,000, but can easily be lifted.

Among refugees, there are those who are government-assisted and others who are privately-sponsored, as well as landed refugees. 

The east-to-west regional shares of 2012’s total gross immigration figure were as follows: the Atlantic, 2.5%; Quebec, 21.5%; Ontario, 38.4%; Manitoba, 5.2%; Saskatchewan, 4.3%; Alberta, 13.9%; B.C., 14.0%; and the northern territories, 0.2%.

Among cities, Toronto was the most popular landing spot for new arrivals in 2012, accepting 77,466. Montreal was also welcoming at 46,901. Third-place Vancouver absorbed 29,447.

Total gross immigration has hovered between 250,000 and 280,000 over the past half-decade, bouncing off the top of that band in 2010.

If Canadians want to maintain (or raise) their GDP growth rate – and their standard of living –the immigration level may have to be lifted even higher, to as much as 400,000 per year.

A figure of 250,000 per year is the equivalent of a city the size of Saskatoon. 400,000 per year is a new city the size of Halifax.

Setting aside social and cultural issues, - which, admittedly, is akin to ignoring the elephant in the room – there is the question of how easily Canada can absorb large numbers of immigrants.  

Let’s play an imaginary computer game called, “What’s My Population Density?”

First, call up a map of Canada on your monitor. There are currently 35 million people living in this country. With a single keystroke, remove them all – hypothetically speaking, of course.

Where can we find some equivalent population measures? The state of California contains about the same number of individuals as Canada, but there are even more interesting comparisons.

For example, The Economist’s Pocket World in Figures, 2013 Edition handbook – it comes free with a magazine subscription – contains a wealth of useful information.

At the top of the Pocket World’s ranking of the world’s largest cities is Tokyo, with a population of 38.2 million. In other words, Tokyo alone has more people than all of Canada.

Place Tokyo on Vancouver Island in our “game” and the rest of the country is still empty.

Or how about a couple of Chinese cities? Shanghai has 23 million city-dwellers and Beijing, 18.1 million. Adding both cities together comes to 41 million, also greater than for Canada as a whole.

Place Shanghai in Nova Scotia and Beijing in New Brunswick and everything from Newfoundland to the Pacific Coast will still be a vast wilderness.

Within its borders, Canada contains the second largest land mass in the world, at ten million square kilometres. Russia is number one. It covers 17.1 million square kilometres, but it has four times the number of people, at 140 million.

China contains the world’s third largest land mass, at 9.6 million square kilometres, but it “houses” 1.4 billion people (or twenty times the number of people in Canada).

The United States has a land mass of 9.4 million square kilometres and a population of 316 million (nine times Canada’s).

For some other striking comparisons, consider population-size first.

The third and fourth ranked countries in the world according to size of population are India (1.3 billion people) and Indonesia (235 million people). Both have many times the number of people that live in Canada.

The size of India is 3.3 million square kilometres (or one-third of Canada). Indonesia ranges over 1.9 million square kilometres (one-fifth of Canada).

Admittedly, it takes a hardy breed to live in many parts of this great land. The days can be cold and dark in our northern extremities.

But many people do live in Dawson City, Yellowknife and Iqaluit. Elsewhere, the residents of Juneau, Alaska, and Oslo, Norway are also showing how it’s done.

There are vast unoccupied distances between our built-up southern edges and our northern territories that are only occasionally broken up by an urban hot spot such as Edmonton.

As if it’s not obvious, we have plenty of room to expand.