100 Million as Metaphor – Part I

21CQ Topic President's Blog


Irvin Studin


9 years ago

Since I wrote “Canada – Population 100 Million” in 2010 in Global Brief, a real national debate has taken hold about the merits and demerits of Canada having a total population of 100 million by the end of this century. The Globe & Mail devoted an entire week to the concept, coming out strongly in favour of 100 million (see the excellent writing on this topic by my friend Doug Saunders). A host of national and international papers and news outlets on several continents have also covered the concept, and many excellent follow-up articles have been written in a variety of platforms. The National Film Board bought the rights to the GB article and is interested in a documentary/interactive webumentary on the idea of Canada at 100 million – possibly in time for Canada’s 150-year anniversary celebrations in 2017. 21CQ is actively involved in this project, and is also collaborating with an ambitious new outfit called “The Laurier Project” to study what Canada could and would look like at 100 million.

100 Million as Metaphor

Before I address the policy side of the debate about 100 million at
t = 2100 (in my next blog post), let me address the dimension of the debate that was largely neglected or indeed misunderstood in the national reaction to the original GB article – and that is that the 100 million construct is as much about metaphor as it is about policy; and perhaps even more metaphor than policy. After all, as I have noted a number of times, I am indifferent between a Canada at 80 million by the year 2100 and a Canada of 120 million. In both scenarios – and we will very likely at least hit the first scenario even at medium-variant population growth projections, Canada, if it still exists by century’s end (no certainty by any stretch – see 21CQ’s work on the Quebec Question and also the Aboriginal Question), will probably be more populous than any European state with the likely exception of Russia (if Russia still has its current borders – also no certainty – see 21CQ’s work on the Former Soviet Space). For Canadians, the prospect of Canada becoming ‘bigger’ than any European state and, by implication, the second largest state in the West after the United States, is, frankly, unfathomable. It is not a permissible scenario in the national imagination as it is currently constructed – an imagination still built on colonial scaffolding that readily subordinates, with few exceptions, to the imaginations of ‘big’ nations and societies like the US (first and foremost), the UK (not even twice as populous as Canada), France, etc. As this subordination is largely instinctual in the Canadian mentality (en passant, mentality is a badly neglected word in Canadian policy discourses), it is difficult say whether it finds deliberate affirmation and consolidation in the behaviour of our political, economic and intellectual leaders, or whether they too are simply products of the same colonial narratives and idées fixes; likely the latter; nay, almost certainly the latter.

The metaphor of 100 million is therefore squarely aimed at the Canadian psyche and mentality. It removes any objective excuses for Canadians to think of our country as ‘small’ and makes ridiculous the present national proclivity – again, with some important exemptions – to benchmark downward: my favourite – why can’t Canada be more like Norway (population 5 million)? But never: why can’t Canada be more like Germany, France, Japan or the UK?

An example of this colonial, self-subordinating mentality in action: if we are brutally honest with ourselves (and Canadians, like all nations, have a self-defensive escapism, masked in patriotic dogmas, about these brutal truths), then we might ask: why is it that Mark Zuckerberg goes to Harvard and creates Facebook, ultimately revolutionizing the way many people network and communicate around the world, or that Sergei Brin and Larry Page go to Stanford and build Google, while many of even the best and brightest of Canadian students, in the top Canadian schools, fix as their initial ambition not to create a Facebook or Google, but to work for them? Or, dare I say, to bring Facebook or Google or some other venture of apparently superior progeny to Canada? The Americans at last build an excellent national soccer league, and instead of building one ourselves, we add a few Canadian representatives within an American structure and call it a job well done. (There are, predictably, hardly any Canadians playing in the three professional ‘Canadian’ teams that we have planted in the American structure.) The Americans make the NBA the world’s premier basketball league, and instead of investing heavily in our own national league (granted, there is some heroic, improbable work being done to this end), we wish only to be part of their imagination – again, the superior imagination, as we see it. Even in our own truly national sport – hockey – we settle for 6 teams on a total 30 teams in a league run principally from New York City. (Witness Canadians, and even the Prime Minister, every four years, waiting with baited breath to hear whether the NHL commissioner, from his perch in New York City, decides to allow NHL players – starting with Canadian NHL players – to play in the Olympic Games. The defending champions, the Canadians, each year wait to see whether an American will veto the ability of the Canadian national team to represent the country and defend the Olympic gold – perhaps one of the only national endeavours that psychologically binds the country from coast to coast to coast.) Then, colony-like, we Canadians settle to watch playoff games contested between the likes of Nashville and Anaheim while Quebec City, Halifax, Hamilton, Victoria, Regina and no shortage of other Canadian hockey hotbeds sit idly (colonially) by. And if we muster the courage, then we make a campaign before the NHL to “make it 7” teams – that is, to give Canada another team – even as we fail to recognize how truly colonial this actually sounds to any outside observer: 7 teams out of how many? Seven out of 30 or 31 teams in your own sport?

Question: why not build your own league? Answer: because we are not yet a ‘builder’ nation. This is not a question of economics tout court – it is a question, first and foremost, of mentality. For we are not (yet) a builder nation. And in this world, and in this century, international life will continue to be marked by two types of peoples: the builders and, in the alternative, those who live on the terms of the builders. For now, we continue to be happy – even if unconsciously so – to live on the terms of builder nations that we generally deem to be superior.

The good news is that while the Canadian mentality is still, in the general, beset by colonial instincts, suppositions and narratives, there is, outside of perhaps some of our remarkable juridical classes and some of our junior miners, at least one type of Canadian whose psyche is world-beating without conditions or qualifications: the Canadian hockey player. One need only enter a Canadian hockey rink in any part of the country – small town or big urban centre – to understand that Canadian hockey players form in an altogether different brew, and develop and refine a mentality that is fierce, uncompromising, and second-to-none (that is, utterly anti-colonial) when in contest with other nations. The question is: can this same hockey player mentality (I speak about hockey players, not the strategic organization of hockey in Canada, which remains, as mentioned, colonial) be transferred to other areas of Canadian life and performance: to commerce, the arts, the sciences, politics, geopolitics, and indeed other sports? The 100 million construct as metaphor is an attempt to push us in this direction. It bets that the Canadian of the Canada at 100 million, at century’s end, will sooner have the mentality of the hockey player than not – and not just in matters hockey.

In my next blog, I shall discuss some of the reasons for the likelihood of this hockey mentality at 100 million, and also attempt to counter the policy arguments against 100 million.

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