Modern states last an average of about 60 years. After that, they collapse or transform fundamentally, through war, revolution or constitutional crisis.
As we celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, this means that Canada is pushing its historical luck. We can rightly applaud Canada’s (relative) longevity and success, but we should not presume that Canada will easily survive this century – or that if it should, its borders and constitutional makeup will be recognizable to the Canadian of 2017. And we can be sure that in order to survive this century with flying colours, Canadians will have to be extremely strategic and prudent in the moves they make.
What could cause the loss of the Canadian state in the next several decades? Three things. First, should Quebec ever secede (far from impossible, contrary to received wisdom in certain quarters), Canada would collapse into multiple blocs. With the largest province excised from the federation, and with no meaningful territorial continuity remaining between east and west, it would be hard to imagine a group of leaders who could restitch this continent-sized country according to its erstwhile constitutional understandings.
Second, the growing pressure for reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous peoples, including through various species of constitutional or “nation to nation” accommodations, while extremely compelling in moral terms, could before long put the country into some vexing strategic pickles. It is by no means manifest that the “pas à deux” compact originally struck by the Fathers of Confederation would survive the “pas à trois” or “pas à cent” logic commended by a full and proper reconciliation among nations. Nor it is clear that such a Canada of highly variable geometry, were it acceptable to the original two founding nations (formally understood), would even be governable.
Third, war. It is coming. Perhaps not in the next year or two, but certainly over the course of this century. That Canada was essentially exempt from war on its territory for the entirety of the last century was historically exceptional. Every other continent, and nearly every other country, has suffered some description of terrible bloodshed on its territory over the last hundred-plus years. And in many cases, defeat in war led to irreversible transformations of states once perhaps fancied enduring.
What’s to be done for Canada to survive and succeed over the next 150 years? Two things, at least. First, Canada will need to both be bigger and think bigger. Canada has two “new” borders this century – one with Russia in the north, where the Arctic ice is fast melting, and one to the west with a China that is returning to the strategic and economic vocation enjoyed by its dynastic predecessors before the Opium Wars that preceded Canadian Confederation.
Precious few countries have defended or properly managed a huge international border without a population to “populate” it. This means that while this century may not see southern-border-style settlements along the northern border (although this is not to be excluded toward the middle of this century), Canada’s northern population will have to be far larger than it is today. The same may be true of the country’s western and, of course, northwestern population (at the junction, as it were, of the Russia and China “new” borders). In short, the vision of Canada at 100 million people by century’s end is not merely about policy fetish, but indeed about the strategic survival of the country.
A “bigger” Canada, in the most meaningful sense, must also mean a Canadian mindset or mentality that, stripped of its colonial complexes or instincts or reflexes (i.e. “thinking for itself”, in the 100 million idiom), increasingly sees itself as “term-setting” in international and human affairs. Canadians will no longer see themselves as “helpful fixers” but as leaders in planning, developing and, at the coal face, delivering the political, business and legal frameworks for real solutions to the world’s major challenges.
Second, Canadians will have to be extremely flexible – in their thinking and in their governance. Rigidity, dogma and excessive political piety will be the death of Canada. Instead, Canadians must set about maximizing not only bilingualism in the country, but indeed multilingualism, in foreign and indigenous tongues alike. All Canadian jurists must know both the common and civil law systems, easily incorporating Aboriginal understandings over time. And Canadian political, business and intellectual leaders must be cultured in the sciences, social sciences and humanities without artificial isolation, just as they must learn to break bread with, negotiate, teach and also learn from not only the democrats who look like them today, but indeed the non-democrats who will, for better or worse, be in the global majority tomorrow.