Question: How exactly do you propose to decrease population growth when immigration is a federal issue and the mayor of Toronto has zero authority to tell anyone where to live?
Answer: Correct, the City does not have such authority. I need to rely on the power of persuasion and building grass roots level support: 1) get the conversation on the table; 2) constructively discuss the merits, consequences & remedies of stopping population growth 3) if I were elected Mayor, I would have credibility to raise this with the federal gov't, in conjunction with support from the residents of Toronto. I acknowledge that this could take time and I cannot guarantee its success, but I also believe it is an idea that will eventually catch-on as housing affordability continues to deteriorate. Consequently, I think it is better handled proactively, than reactively.
Population question and answer:
Question: There seems to be multi-partisan support for high immigration levels in Canada, given that our birthrates are so low, and the consensus that we need more people in this country. That consensus has existed for 50 years. How do you counteract this consensus?
Answer: 1) I will gently disagree that growth through immigration is the consensus, it depends on who you talk to. As the following two articles show, not all pundits agree:
"Ottawa’s lofty immigration targets are exacerbating Canada’s housing affordability crisis that could create an “unstable situation” ..., according to Bay Street economist David Rosenberg."
"For the housing market to normalize, home prices would need to correct by nearly 30 per cent,..."
"Current immigration targets stand in the way of home prices dropping...As for income, “no way, no how will incomes boom by 40” per cent in the near future, Rosenberg said."
"To analyze the benefits of immigration, it’s important to look at the GDP per capita figures. This metric makes it obvious that Canadian immigration has served mostly to cut the pie into smaller pieces for everybody: Canada’s GDP ranks ninth in size, but its GDP per capita is only 18th, less than the U.S. GDP per capita at fifth place, or Australia’s at 9th place.
Other negatives include the reality that 1.2 million newcomers will overcrowd Canada’s cities and increase the cost of services, and the cost of housing which is already unaffordable to Canada’s middle class."
2) We live in a society with an emotional and intellectual bias toward growth being inherently good: children grow into adults, we experience intellectual & emotional growth, we want to grow rich, crops grow, etc. However, sometimes less is more. As the following article illustrates "humans struggle with subtractive thinking". Why people forget that less is often more (economist.com)
3) It is important to acknowledge that there are groups with a significant vested self-interest in perpetual growth: anyone who makes money from the development/real estate industry, executives of large corporations and other large organizations whose revenue/members automatically grow with the population, governments that are dependent on development fees & land transfer tax for revenues, and politicians who tend to pander to select groups for votes.
These are the voices that tend to dominate the discussion and this is what ordinary voters hear and so this is what they tend to believe. There is a high level of 'group think' surrounding this question; people think they should hold a certain position on a topic because everyone else maintains that position. People need to hear a new idea 7-14 times before they change their minds, especially if it runs counter to the common narrative. Stopping population growth is definitely a case in point. I think the climate change debate is a good analogy; the population debate being about 30 years behind. We are in early stages.
4) Discussions involving growth typically focus on overall benefits such as preventing labour shortages or increasing GDP or paying/caring for an aging population. However, there is virtually no discussion of the consequences of population growth or of alternate ways to meet future challenges.
With respect to labour shortages; the only reason analysts forecast a shortage of construction workers is because they forecast an increase in population, requiring more buildings, thus requiring more construction workers, thereby becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is true for a number of other labour categories as well.
With respect to a general increase in GDP; Diane Francis' above comment regarding per capita GDP being the more relevant metric is exactly correct. A focus on total GDP is a zero-sum game on average, since the incremental income is averaged out over the number of new residents.
With respect to paying/caring for the elderly; this argument locks us into a perpetual population Ponzi scheme. We are forced to always increase our population because we will always have more people growing old who need more younger people to care and pay for them.
I agree that paying/caring for an aging population is a potential issue however, I do not believe we can outrun it by population growth.
First, every generation should pay its own way. This means that each generation should be putting more money aside to pay for expected health care costs, either personally or by governments.
Second, we need to plan and direct more workers into health care professions. It can be done, but that is a whole other discussion. The same can be said for any other labour category shortage that manifests itself in the future.
5) The negative consequences of high populations are mentioned but typically glossed over by proponents of perpetual growth. They conveniently sweep them under the carpet and ignore them without even trying to come-up with alternative solutions. My main contention is that large cities have an optimum size of about 1-2 million people, beyond which quality of life steadily decreases due to:
more people chasing a fixed number of the most desirable homes in the more desirable locations, making housing less affordable for everyone, especially for single-family dwellings. The simple fact is, people want to raise their children in houses, not residential towers,
unsolvable traffic congestion consuming more of people's valuable time,
more crowded, slower, less reliable and under-funded public transit,
more residential towers with an inferior sense of 'neighbourhood' versus low density areas,
increasing pollution and carbon emissions, which is completely contrary to our stated goal of reaching net-zero,
longer waiting times for important services such as health care,
increasing crime and public safety issues,
increases in homelessness, addiction and mental health cases.
6) With respect to low birthrates, this is more smoke than fire.
First, any impact of fewer births today won't be felt in the labour force for 20 years, this gives us plenty of time to devise strategies to manage any potential shortfall or imbalance. Should there still be a labour imbalance in 20 years, we can quickly and selectively recruit people as required at that time.
Second, I challenge the veracity of the statistics. In 2022 Canada's fertility rate was 1.4. It was 1.72 in 1991 and has been under 2.0 since 1971. This rate infers that our net births less deaths should be a negative number, but it's not, it was a net positive of 35,000 in 2022, and has been positive every year prior. Contrast this with Japan and Italy who both had only a slightly lower fertility rate of 1.3 in 2022, yet who both had net negative birth less death numbers, with deaths being twice the number of births. An equivalent number for Canada would be net negative of 250,000 or so. Both countries are prosperous, healthy countries with a steady decline in birthrates, so they are very comparable to Canada.
The often quoted fertility rates cannot be looked at in isolation as a hard and fast number, it must be considered in conjunction with other metrics such as net births minus deaths, and the fertility rate for all women 45-50 years old because they have stopped having children.
Without getting into the weeds here, I think I know why there is a discrepancy in Canada's fertility rate and it highlights that the fertility rate is actually only an guesstimate; you can't know what the fertility rate of a woman is until they have stopped having children. I believe there are calculation factors that affect Canada's fertility number and the correct adjusted number is closer to 2.0. So Canadians are not in danger of going extinct any time soon, despite the panic among the growth proponents.
7) Lastly, I have questions back to proponents of perpetual population growth:
If large populations and growth are inherently desirable, why have so many countries such as Thailand and India been actively trying to curb their growth over the past few decades? There must be limits. What is Canada's limit and what will happen once we reach it?
What is the optimum size for a large City, one that maximizes quality of life?
Can a city sustain infinite growth? What are the consequences? Where will it end?
What will a mega-sized Toronto look like? Will everyone eventually live in high-rise towers? Is that the vision/goal?
What do City residents think about that future? Have they been asked? Are they entitled to make that decision?
How will all this growth make housing any more affordable than it is now? Toronto has added 400,000 new residences in the past 40 years and the cost of housing is more expensive than ever. That's not a track record that gives me any confidence that the future will be any different.
How do we justify taking skilled workers away from poorer countries who can ill afford to lose them? There are chronic shortages of medical professionals around the world. As a citizen of the world, it makes me rather uncomfortable.
Question: If we want a smaller population, who exactly is going to do the work in the future that will support our Canada pension plan?
Answer: Funding the pension question is still possible with a stable population:
As mentioned previously, every generation should pay for itself in order to avoid this very problem. People should save more now for their retirement, either privately or through increases in CPP contribution rates. In fact, the government has been gradually increasing CPP rates over many years to help address this problem.
Peoples largest expenses are typically housing and taxes. If we can decrease the pressure on housing/rent prices by reducing demand and reduce people's housing costs by up to 30%, that housing money becomes available to support retirees, either directly or through increased CPP taxation. On the whole, no one need be worse off.
Government could always eliminate their debt and use the interest savings to fund future pension payments and elder care costs. The combined federal/provincial debt is $2.1 trillion (federal portion being $1.1 trillion) in 2022. At an interest rate of 5%, that's $105 billion in interest expense that could otherwise be directed to paying increased pension and elder care costs. Current CPP payments are $55 billion per year; the federal interest savings of $55 billion alone would be enough to double current CPP payments. If the government paid down 4% of the debt each year, it could achieve this in 25 years, all the while making more and more money available to fund pension costs as the population ages.
The problem is not permanent. Once the baby-boom age bubble passes through retirement, the worker to retiree ratio will become better balanced and sustainable. That is why I maintain this is the wiser strategy in the long-run.
The problem is we left it too long without saving more for retirement on a national level. I just don't believe we should compound one mistake with another.
My question is: How do we know that the growth through immigration strategy will actually work to increase taxes sufficiently to fund the retirees? It sounds plausible, but how do we trust the government to get it right? They don't exactly have a great track record. The federal government has been running deficits in most years since the 1970's and budgeted a deficit of $40 billion for 2023/24.
Given that we have been increasing our population for the past 50 years, shouldn't we have been able to balance our budgets over all this time from all that extra tax revenue? It just doesn't seem possible to out-grow our fiscal problems; the more we grow, the worse our finances get. And that's without the forecasted additional pension costs. Neither does it consider the substantial costs of changing over to a carbon free economy.
I suspect the federal government has doubled down on immigration levels because it knows it is in financial trouble and thinks it can grow itself out of a deep fiscal hole; much like a gambler doubling down on his losing bets. Given their past record and the negative impacts of population pressure on housing costs, I don't think it can be done; and we're still going to be left with pension problems, plus all the others. Time will tell.