Charting Canada’s Future – Highlights


Ottawa asked its Health and Welfare Department to examine possible changes in size, structure and distribution of Canada’s population. Why? In the late 1980’s, governments feared that Canada’s below replacement birth rate would cause Canada’s population to plummet. H and W’s, “Charting Canada’s Future” used about 200 researchers and was published in 1989. The H and W study re-assured government that no dramatic change in Canada’s total population would happen. For example, without any immigration and a low birth rate, Canada’s population would be 19 million in 2086, about 100 years from the start of the H and W study. In other words, it would take 100 years for Canada’s population to drop by 8 million people. So, in the view of H and W Canada, this country was not in any imminent danger.

Governments also feared that Canada’s workers would have to support too many dependents (young and old). In response to claims that an increase in immigration was the only solution, the H and W study concluded that the most effective way to halt Canada’s trend towards an older society with a large number of older dependents was a significant increase in Canada’s birth rate to 3.1.

However, the report also considered the effects of using several immigration options. One option was to increase Canada’s immigration intake to as high as 600,000 per year (About twice Canada’s intake in 2018). Another option was to restrict immigrants so that 50% would be below 15 years old. That did reduce the number of dependents (the dependency ratio) but another non-immigration option reduced the dependency ratio even more. It made use of Canada’s existing population. It consisted of getting more Canadian women into the workforce and getting jobs for unemployed older (45+) Canadian men. Health and Welfare’s conclusion was that this tactic was superior to any of the immigration alternatives.


In 2006, the CD Howe Institute did an update to the work done by Health and Welfare Canada. Assuming by 2050, that 46% of Canadians would be 65+ and age-dependent, it projected the effects of three strategies. Two strategies used immigration to reduce or stabilize the number of dependents. The third used an increase in the retirement age. In one scenario, immigration intake would climb to 7 million per year by 2050—– at which time Canada’s population would be a staggering 165.4 million! The CD Howe demographers reached a conclusion similar to that of Canada’s Department of Health and Welfare : Immigration was not a good way to solve problems created by Canada’s aging population. Increasing the retirement age is the best tactic. For a summary of the C.D. Howe study, see the following :



1. It was done between 1986 and 1989 by 200 scholars in a wide range of disciplines from universities all across Canada.

2. The study was done for two reasons:

(a) To study possible changes in size, structure and distribution of Canada’s population to 2025.

(b) To report on how these changes might affect Canada’s social and economic life.

3. There is no need to panic about any plummeting in Canada’s population. Despite below replacement fertility, but annual immigration at 130,000, Canada’s population would continue to increase until 2026 to 29 million. In 2026, a slow decline would begin. In 2086 (100 years from the beginning of the study) , Canada’s population would be 25 million, a 4 million decline over 60 years: 2026 to 2086. In 2086, without any immigration, Canada’s population would be 19 million. Between 200 to 300 years from 1986 (and with immigration), Canada’s population would stabilize at 18 million. (Note: The principle still applies, but the numbers/years have to be changed because of the dramatic increases in immigration since 1990.)

4. Immigration has only a short-term effect on Canada’s age structure. Increases in immigration to as high as 600,000 per year have, in the long-term, no impact on the age structure. Even changing the age structure of immigrants from 23% below age 15 in 1988 to 30% below 18 and then 50% below 15 has little long-term impact on Canada’s overall age structure.

5. A significant increase in Canada’s birth rate to 3.1, not immigration, would change Canada’s long-term trend toward an older society.

6. The term dependency ratio refers to the number of people that each member of the labour force supports. In 1961, the DR was 2.6. In 1989, it was 1.95. In 2031, it will be 2.2.

7. Annual immigration of 200,000 would reduce the dependency ratio to 2.12 in 2031. However, increasing the female labour force participation rate and increasing the 45+ male participation rate would reduce the DR to 1.9. (Editor’s Note: In other words, the future aging/dependency problem can be solved by making use of Canada’s own unemployed citizens.)

8. The questions most often raised about dependency and the ageing society concern possible strains on government finance. An IMF study concludes that Canada would not see a large increase in these expenditures, and its position relative to other developed countries would remain excellent’. (P. 53)

9. Three questions were asked about the connection between population change (particularly growth) and economic growth:

A. Is population change related to economic growth?–The answer is that there is a positive, but weak relationship.

B. Does a relationship exist between population growth and real GDP/person?–The answer is that there is a negative relationship.

C. Were countries with more population growth more successful in improving their economic position or at least in lessening its deterioration? The answer is that there is a weak and negative relationship.

10. P. Fortin (one of the Canadian researchers in the study) was quoted at the end of the study: (I am) optimistic about the capacity of our economy to accommodate without great difficulty the demographic transition we are now entering. (Editor’s Note: Demographic Transition Means Historical Aging of Population)

11. The U.S. Commission on Population and the American Future (1972–most distinguished U.S. economists) was also quoted at the end of Charting Canada’s Future : “We have looked for, and have not found, any convincing argument for continued national population growth. The health of our economy does not depend on it. The vitality of business does not depend on it. The welfare of the average person does not depend on it.”