Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Bigger, Better Canada [MUt3]

We can do it, but we'll have to go North.  Pack your snowshoes.


I've often described Canada's economic system as being "a kinder, gentler capitalism."  We have no doubt benefited from having a dominant superpower and its domestic market as a customer for our vast natural resources.  We have come from a group of fur trappers, loggers and miners to being an advanced economy as well as loggers and miners, thank you very much.  That said, for as much land as we have, Canada is only a nation of roughly 35 million people, leaving us as one of the least densely populated countries on the planet.

Historically, Canada's accomplishments have always looked best on a per capita basis.  We tend to punch above our weight as a people, and has given rise to the functional principle.  We are not a superpower, nor does it currently look like we will be one in the future.  That said, Canada may contend with the world leaders in key functions.  This is evidenced by our presence in things like the G7 nations, and our participation in world leading scientific and technological endeavours.  For example, you may take the Canadian Light Source pictured below.  It is a synchrotron light source (an excellent example of a big science thing).  I could go into the vast technical details, but it is extremely useful in a wide variety of applications from biological imaging to even construction materials.  Canada has one of only a handful in the entire world (which are this good), and it is the best used in the world based on access given to researchers and industrial partners/clients.

The Canadian Light Source, big science thing extraordinaire.

Our accomplishments are many and impressive.  I firmly believe that this is due to our unique combination of capitalism and kindness.  We grew out of a country whose winter alone would kill us unmercifully were we to not work together and take care of one another.  Our social programs help to ensure that many of the economically disadvantaged may prosper and thus contribute to an impressive economy.  Now imagine if there were more of us.  A lot more.

When Wilfred Laurier began his settlement of Western Canada, he envisioned a Canada numbering 60 million.  We... well, your monocles may drop in surprise at this, but we have thus far fallen short.  Currently, a good number to strive for would appear to be 100 million.  For the gaming-savvy, a variety of achievements might be unlocked at this level.  Canada's density poses a problem, because our markets are so few and far between and building the infrastructure to go between these urban centers is cumbersome and costly.  Militarily speaking, it also means that large sections of the country could be conquered by simply marching through it.  Services like health care and even internet in some cases are hard to deliver because there isn't enough of a market to warrant building the facilities.  Even economically, we have a very limited domestic market when you consider our economic output.  When a Canadian company wants to make something, it has to ensure that someone else will buy it.  It is hypothesized that a domestic market of 100 million people would begin to make us more independent of the rest of the world, and a people as economically prosperous as us would make for excellent consumers.

We are heavily concentrated at the bottom of our country, apparently clinging to the United States.  The article from the Globe and Mail linked in the paragraph above (and here, if you're lazy) makes excellent points on the matter, but I feel it falls short on an action plan.  The suggestion is that we massively boost immigration before developing countries reach economic prosperity and begin to experience shrinking populations.  These new Canadians would then go to existing cities, achieving a density which would alleviate our problems of sprawl and unlock tax bases which could fund truly inspiring projects.  However, this still leaves our major urban centers few and far between, and there's also the issue that these new Canadians would need something to do.

 To the north of our largest settlements, there exists mid-Canada.  It is not the far North, where trees refuse to grow and you have to be wary of the bears.  It is not the South, where the factories thump and farms flourish.  It is a land south of the permafrost, rich in natural resources and potential.  It is a vast corridor of potential wealth waiting to be unleashed.

As a centennial project [from which I am heavily borrowing], researchers at Lakehead University suggested the "Mid-Canada Development Corridor."  This has happened if only to a small extent in the intermittent period.  Fort McMurray is an example of what the corridor could offer, but larger and more extensive.  The idea would be to establish permanent settlements along mid-Canada that could take advantage of several natural resources to provide a diverse economic base and fuel development before other economic activities arise.  The hope would be that these larger communities would follow the example of settlement in Northern Ontario.  Roads were installed, logging camps were made which cleared out land and created income, eventually developing into permanent settlement.  Our nation's capital, Ottawa, originally started as a logging settlement.

This region of Canada is currently short on roadway coverage.  That said, there is good air and rail coverage.  This means that people may be carried by air until roads catch up, and there appears to be an extensive rail network which can provide efficient rail freight transport.  The majority of this corridor is the Canadian Shield and is rich in a variety of minerals as well as untapped hydroelectricity, which has a fantastic EROEI and would do very well for fueling both development and potentially the smelting of ore.  The only real exception to this is the Tundra and Northern Alberta and Saskatchewan, where the primary resource are oil, natural gas, or both.  As an interesting note, it was proposed that these settlements could follow the example of Siberian communities which have gas-heated greenhouses to supply fresh produce in the winter.  That said, with enough timber around it might be easier to use rocket mass heaters for those greenhouses.

By developing this corridor, Canada would unlock both vast swaths of natural resources which currently sit untapped, as well as the pseudo-magical 100 million tax base to further fuel our development.  Remote communities would not be so remote, and could be better served.  Perhaps some countries would take our claims to the our Arctic archipelago more seriously.  Better yet, if our per capita wealth keeps pace as we continue to nurture and encourage every single Canadian, we could become an economic heavyweight and become a major player on the world stage.  A nation as great as ours basically owes the world more Canadians.  And then there's the fact that we already produce the world's best hockey players, and a larger population would allow us to be even more selective.  Think of the hockey.

If nothing else, think of the hockey we could have.


Update (2014-09-22): Part 2 of my Mid-Canada Ramblings may be found here.

N.B.  This may end up being a living document for a couple days.  I keep forgetting to add important details.

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