Photo by Maximus Studio on Flickr.

Early in 2023, Statistics Canada’s new population statistic made a splash. Canada’s population was estimated at 39,566,248 on January 1 – for the first time in Canada’s history, an increase of more than a million over the year before.

By far the dominant factor in this increase was international migration, also over a million and accounting for 96 per cent of the year’s population growth. What was new was the increase in non–permanent residents: 607,782, or 58 per cent of the total international in-migration of 1,044,962, while new permanent residents, at 437,180, represented 42 per cent.

Looming behind these statistics is the Century Initiative, an influential lobby advocating a Canadian population of 100 million by the end of the century. Anne Michèle Meggs, a retired senior official in the Quebec immigration ministry and a member of the Inroads editorial board, and Pierre Fortin, Professor Emeritus of Economics at the Université du Québec à Montréal and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, exchanged views on recent developments in immigration and their possible implications.

Anne Michèle Meggs

It is interesting that this is the first time non–permanent residents outnumber permanent residents in the population data. Anyone following administrative immigration figures knows that, for several years now, there have been two or three times more people in Canada or Quebec with temporary status than new permanent residents.

Where Statistics Canada leads us astray is in its affirmation that “both of these numbers (permanent residents and non–permanent residents) represent the highest levels on record, reflecting higher immigration targets and a record-breaking year for the processing of immigration applications at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada” (my emphasis).¹

Non–permanent residents do not figure in any official immigration targets, and nowhere is their connection with permanent residence made explicit. Canada’s immigration system is less and less planned. Immigration is rising, but at rates much higher than the federal government announces and with much less predictability as to when and where these people will be arriving, what skills they have and how best to help them integrate. The director of the Canadian Labour Economics Forum, Professor Mikal Skuterud of the University of Waterloo, shares my concern: “The temporary immigrant stream doesn’t have a target; it has no cap or limit.”²

In 2022, 437,180 people were accorded permanent resident status (number of landings or admissions). A large percentage of these new permanent residents had been in Canada for several years with temporary status. Only some are new arrivals.

On December 31, 2022, there were 1.6 million temporary permit holders residing in Canada. In addition, there were more than 70,000 asylum requests pending, many of them with work permits, many others waiting long months to obtain one.

This unplanned massive temporary immigration is consistent with the goal of the Century Initiative. The home page of the Century Initiative website has several dramatic affirmations. I’m very interested in your reaction to these statements as an economist.

On its home page, you can read the rationale: “We are shrinking in the world – by population and by economic power.”

Pierre Fortin

The patriotic intent of the Century Initiative statements is admirable. Unfortunately, they are a confusing hodgepodge of true, misleading and outright false assertions.

Canada’s population is not shrinking among peers. From 1989 to 2019 according to United Nations data, our share of the G7 population increased from 4.2 to 4.9 per cent, and our population share of the 25 larger advanced OECD countries – call them the OECD25 group³ – also increased, from 3.2 to 3.7 per cent. Admittedly, from 1989 to 2019, our share of world population has declined slightly, from 0.52 to 0.48 per cent. This is mostly due to the fast-growing populations of Africa and South Asia. Do we want to emulate these developing countries demographically? High population growth in these regions is projected to push the world’s stable population to three to four billion more than the present eight billion.

The other assertion is that “we are shrinking in the world by economic power.” Is this true? If you measure global economic power by total GDP, as most people do, the answer is no. From 1989 to 2019, according to International Monetary Fund data, our total GDP increased slightly, from 4.1 to 4.5 per cent of total G7 GDP, and from 3.4 to 3.5 per cent of total OECD25 GDP. Admittedly, our total GDP went down from 2.1 to 1.4 per cent of world GDP. But then, who could match the stratospheric catchup growth rates of Asian economies such as China’s? And why should becoming more economically powerful in international elite circles be a national goal, as opposed to enhancing the material and spiritual well-being of the average Canadian?

Anne Michèle Meggs

How about “Our population is aging; our workforce is shrinking”?

Pierre Fortin

Our population is aging. The large baby-boom generation is currently about 60 to 75 years old, and is retiring after having fewer children than previous generations. But economic research has consistently shown that faster population growth through immigration would not make a dent in the aging of the population resulting from the passing of the boomer wave through the “golden years” over the next couple of decades. One clear and definitive demonstration was presented recently by William Robson and Parisa Mahboubi of the C.D. Howe Institute.⁴

Anne Michèle Meggs

It’s also true that well over 75 per cent of immigrants are adults, and they often bring their parents to Canada through family reunification. Also, they make up a relatively small proportion of the general population, I recall the demographer Marc Termote pointing out that the mean age of labour force participants is higher for immigrants than for natives because they arrive in Canada and enter the workforce at a later age. Don Wright reminds us that immigrants age too, which has led at least one analyst to joke that the only way immigration could be a solution to the population pyramid problem is if Canada only accepted 15-year-old orphans as immigrants.⁵

Pierre Fortin

All true. It’s a mirage to see faster population growth as helpful in preventing population aging. Furthermore, the Century Initiative statement that “our workforce is shrinking” is false. In the 12-year period 2007–19 (from before the 2008 recession to before the 2020 pandemic), Canada’s labour force increased by 13.5 per cent. That was twice the increase in the United States (6.8 per cent). Do we want to accelerate population growth to prevent a shrinking of the labour force that is just not occurring?

Anne Michèle Meggs

The Century Initiative website also claims that “economic growth is tied to population growth.”

Pierre Fortin

This statement is either a tautology or a falsehood. By making more muscles and brains available, a growing population obviously allows a country to produce more goods and services. Total GDP increases. But this is an insipid tautology. If, instead, the statement means that a larger population is necessary and/or sufficient for GDP per capita to be large, then it is outright false. In fact, in 2019 the cross-country correlation between GDP per capita and population size in the OECD25 group was exactly zero. There were several smaller countries whose average standard of living was among the highest (e.g., Switzerland, Denmark, Austria and Sweden), and larger countries where per capita GDP was among the lowest (e.g., Italy and Spain). Furthermore, if we shift from a narrow GDP per capita to a measure of overall “happiness” as in the United Nations World Happiness Report, among the G7 and the OECD25 groups, in 2017–19, overall satisfaction with life was uncorrelated with national population.

The observation that immigration and GDP per capita are uncorrelated across nations was solidly backed up a few years ago by two in-depth reviews, one by Brahim Boudarbat of the Université de Montréal and Gilles Grenier of the University of Ottawa, and the other by Craig Riddell of the University of British Columbia, Christopher Worswick of Carleton University and David Green of UBC. Both research teams highlighted that increased immigration has little or no effect on GDP per capita.⁶

Anne Michèle Meggs

And here’s a lengthy Century Initiative affirmation that almost sounds progressive and adds a dire warning!: “Our population growth is tied to our quality of life. If we have more people, we have a larger workforce and we create more economic activity. This means more potential tax dollars we could use to maintain and improve social services, including healthcare and income security programs; and needed infrastructure. We can manage our growth or accept our decline.” The final assertion on the home page is “We need a bigger, stronger Canada.”

Pierre Fortin

The statement that more people in the workforce will generate more economic activity and tax revenues is correct – more people in the labour force means larger GDP and more tax revenue. But the assertion that this will allow social services and infrastructure to be improved is a non sequitur. It implies that the larger GDP and tax dollars will not only cover the larger population but also increase social services and infrastructure per capita. This is just a restatement of the false assertion that a larger total GDP will increase GDP per capita (whether in the form of more private or public goods and services) and overall satisfaction with life on average. There is no basis whatsoever for arguing that growing “a bigger Canada” is a requirement for growing a better Canada.

Would faster population growth solve the problem of labour shortages? No. Labour shortages arise when the economy runs full speed at or above potential, so that labour demand comes to exceed labour supply. The unemployment rate goes down to the floor and the job vacancy rate rises to the ceiling. However, contrary to popular opinion, it is not a sure thing that population growth, whatever its origin, can alleviate labour shortages.

True, a larger working-age population allows labour supply and economic activity to increase. But what is often forgotten is that the new workers and their employers will then spend the additional income to buy more food, housing, clothes, transportation, investment goods, etc. The greater demand for labour that this new spending generates can in fact be as large as, or even larger than, the initial increase in labour supply. If so, the shortage of labour – the gap between labour demand and supply – will not be reduced. The gap will be unchanged or even worse. More immigrants in the workforce may be needed (and useful) to attenuate labour scarcity in specific sectors or regions, but they are unlikely to solve the gap at the level of the whole economy. The popular belief that population growth will solve the problem of labour shortages macroeconomically is a fallacy of composition.

What is the evidence for the absence of a negative connection between labour shortages and population growth? Well, an immediate piece can be extracted from Canada’s recent experience with job vacancies and total net migration. In 2021–22, just before the economic slowdown began and asylum claims expanded, the total net migration of people aged 18–64 to Canada had accelerated to 499,000, up 150 per cent from 199,000 in 2015–16. But the lift this gave to the workforce was not followed by a decline in the job vacancy rate. Instead, the job vacancy rate more than doubled, rising to 5.5 per cent of total available jobs in 2021–22 from 2.4 per cent in 2015–16. Extending the evidence to the OECD25 group of countries, it is readily found that, between 2016 and the spring of 2022, there was no systematic tendency for the job vacancy rate to fall more in countries where the workforce increased more rapidly. Quite the opposite. As in Canada, countries that experienced faster increases in their workforce saw their job vacancy rate increase on average.

Anne Michèle Meggs

I suggest that the large number of temporary immigrants is poor policy. The vast majority of temporary immigrants are not directly linked to labour-market needs.

It’s ironic that, in 2018, Canada signed the United Nations Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, when our system is less and less “orderly and regular,” and an argument could be made that it’s becoming less safe.

In 2021 I described in Inroads how the Canadian immigration system has changed. For decades, we selected economically skilled workers from overseas based on a point system referring to characteristics known to facilitate socioeconomic integration – training in fields that are in demand, previous work experience, postsecondary education, knowledge of English or French, age under 44, preferably with families so they would be more likely to settle permanently in Canada. These people arrive as permanent residents, with a secure status that allows their planning for the future, taking out mortgages, getting car loans.

Among the 1.6 million temporary permit holders on December 31, 2022, 50.5 per cent (807,750) held study permits; 42 per cent (678,105) held open work permits accorded under the International Mobility Program (IMP) (e.g., Ukrainians arrive with a special permit issued under this program), and 7.5 per cent (119,995) held closed work permits issued through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).

The only program linked directly to labour demand is the TFWP, the smallest of these. The permit issued under this program ties the new arrival to a specific job and employer (who has been given authorization to hire foreign workers). These workers are generally less educated and work in low-paid positions in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. The permits can be renewed, but the employee is dependent on the employer to renew the authorization. TFWP employment is precarious because the employer can pull the permit at any time. Almost all news reports about exploitation of temporary foreign workers relate to this program.

The other 1.5 million temporary permit holders are not selected by their profile, nor do they have a job on arrival. It is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain the data required to determine their specific needs on arrival, such as language training or skills, or educational upgrading.

Foreign students are a source of low-wage labour during their studies; Ottawa lifted all restrictions on off-campus work in November 2022. Previously, study permits allowed students to work only 20 hours a week during semesters and full-time during breaks. The International Mobility Program allows them access to an open work permit after graduation. Open work permits are also available for their spouses before and after graduation through the same program.

When it comes to the labour market and economic integration, there is little or no information available on their field of study, their Canadian work experience, or the educational levels, field of expertise or work experience of their spouses. Unlike rules for permanent residence, there are no specific language requirements for temporary immigration. It’s whatever the study program or the employer requires.

Are huge increases in this type of temporary immigration really the right way to go in the long run?

Pierre Fortin

This requires a nuanced answer. Immigration has always been a big plus for the Canadian economy. I firmly side with those who believe it is helpful in relieving specific labour shortages in particular markets, even if the skills requirements are modest. Immigration should increase over time. But doing it too fast and with ever lighter skills requirements is not beneficial for our economy.

There is a well-known connection between economic benefits and the overall rate of immigration. The more permanent immigrants you admit and the more temporary immigrants you allow to enter, the more likely the last candidates down the two lists will have weak schooling and training credentials and get low earnings. This applies with particular force to temporary workers and students, because they are subject to much less scrutiny than candidates for permanent residence. (Actually, some temporary immigrants will never be able to meet the minimum number of points required for permanent residence.) If immigration to Canada is tilted toward low-wage labour, average GDP per capita will decline. Canadian economic research has provided evidence that increasing the total inflow of immigration, whether permanent or temporary, generally lowers the average skills level and annual earnings of arriving immigrants.⁷

The trend is particularly worrisome at present, because the conditions on temporary workers are very light and often determined by the prospective employers (who prefer paying low wages, of course). The educational establishments have their eyes on the subsidies they can get from departments of education. The consequence is that, with no cap for temporary immigration, Ottawa issues as many study and work permits as the market can bear, with little consideration given to specific labour characteristics.

Professor David Green of UBC has reminded us of an additional pitfall, widely discussed in the research literature:

Immigration … keeps wages down in occupations in high demand, and that reduces incentives for firms and workers already here to invest in the skills needed to fill those positions, reducing opportunities, missing an opportunity to increase the skill level of the work force and getting in the way of training and education policies intended to help workers with those opportunities.⁸

In other words, using too much immigration to solve labour shortages has the potential to increase wage inequality among workers and weaken incentives for firms to increase productivity.

Anne, assuming that immigration to Canada should be a balanced inflow of high- and low-skill immigrants, what targets would you set for permanent admissions and temporary permit holders? What changes would you suggest the current system needs?

Anne Michèle Meggs

Whether it is for Quebec or Canada, I would gradually bring the system back to a primarily one-step process. People arriving in Canada or Quebec would be selected from overseas so that they arrive in the country with permanent resident status.

In parallel, it is essential to plan temporary immigration levels, to determine in advance under what conditions and at what pace temporary work and study visas will be issued. This planning must be done in collaboration with the provinces in line with the availability of public services. And the provinces must include the municipalities. It is absurd to see municipalities currently developing their long-term growth plans for infrastructure, density and mobility with no clear idea of population growth. As we indicated at the outset, the only source of population growth in Canada now is international migration. Immigration planning or population growth must be part of every other government plan.

Pierre Fortin

In the present system, the federal government is obliged to consult the provinces on its plans for the permanent immigration level, but not for temporary immigration. How could this be amended for the better?

Anne Michèle Meggs

Well, consider first the case of Quebec. Its specific concerns, when it comes to immigration, are recognized in the Canada–Quebec Accord Relating to Immigration and Temporary Admission of Aliens signed in 1991 after the failure of the Meech Lake Accord.⁹ Not only does this agreement allow Quebec to set its own levels and establish its own criteria for permanent immigration programs, but it also ensures that Quebec will give its consent for international students and temporary immigrant workers. Quebec therefore has broad powers to regulate and control its international intake. However, Quebec has not yet shown signs of wanting to plan or reduce temporary immigration, which is at odds with the CAQ government’s claim to want to keep immigration levels down.

As for the other provinces, their agreements with the federal government do not allow them to limit temporary immigrant workers. All provinces, however, have power over the number of international students they want to allow, since education is a provincial jurisdiction. Clearly, none of them is yet willing to start limiting the number. Do the provincial governments understand the actual number of new arrivals these international students represent, given that the federal government offers work permits to their spouses? It is doubtful that the provinces assess student requirements for housing – and public transit. Furthermore, they and their spouses often need language training and other services.

Ottawa ultimately has control over admissions whether they be permanent or temporary. The provinces have no control over the number of ad hoc visa programs put in place through ministerial decree within the framework of the International Mobility Program. One of the biggest of these is the program to take in Ukrainians. So far, close to 500,000 applications have been approved. Fewer than a third have actually arrived, and the processing of applications continues. Clearly, Canada has a moral obligation to open its doors to these people or others fleeing conflict, but greater consultation and collaboration with the provinces is essential to prepare the way for their arrival.

In fact, Ottawa needs to base targets on the total number of arrivals, whatever the immigration status, to be able to welcome newcomers properly. The increased arrival numbers should not be so large that the host communities feel overburdened by inclusion and integration. Accommodation of the newcomers means ensuring that they have a roof over their heads, that they can integrate rapidly into the labour force, that they have access to language training, that they can obtain financial services, and that government services such as public transit, child care, education and health care are available and affordable for them. Canada’s recent immigration policy proposes huge increases in permanent immigration targets while refusing to set targets for the even higher levels of temporary immigrants.

This cavalier policy is in great danger of transforming immigration to Canada from a successful operation to a painful breakdown. To answer your question, nobody really knows the right target because planning in line with welcoming and settlement capacity has never been properly undertaken. Canada needs to set guidelines and targets for both permanent and temporary immigration, looking at the number and pace of arrivals rather than the type of permit. Otherwise, the newcomers will not be able to participate adequately in their new communities, and Canadians will lose confidence in immigration policy.

Pierre Fortin

I agree that optimal immigration is not maximal immigration. First, the expansive immigration policy inspired by the Century Initiative is generating chaos at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. More than 1.7 million temporary and permanent applications are waiting in the pipeline, which doesn’t include asylum seekers and their applications for a work permit.

Second, as I said above, the increased inflow of immigrants is likely to have a zero or negative impact on the average living standard of Canadians; it will not attenuate the pace of population aging, and it will not reduce global labour shortages. It may make them worse.

Third, I add to your last observation, Anne, that overly expansive immigration targets risk not only producing some “loss of confidence” in immigration but fuelling an anti-immigration movement as has exploded in the United States and Europe. Canadians in general like to vaunt the good performance of their immigration system and their generosity toward immigrants. Unfortunately, this is a vision of the past. A recent online Environics survey (in which respondents are more likely to express their true feelings than in an interactive telephone survey) found that about half of Canadians think that there is too much immigration to Canada.¹⁰ It would not take much to metamorphose Canada’s proverbial generosity into generalized xenophobia. This has recently occurred in one of the world’s most progressive societies, Sweden. In the 2022 election, the Social Democrats there were defeated and the anti-immigration vote exploded. We must avoid slipping into this kind of political quagmire.

My bottom line is that immigration is an imperative work of civilization. It must increase over time, but going too fast is a dangerous course to follow. We should do it “allegro ma non troppo,” as in Italian classical music.

Anne Michèle Meggs

Your concern is certainly relevant, Pierre. I’ve recently been reading about immigration policy in Spain. Spaniards have had quite open attitudes toward immigration over the last 50 years.

However, in 2018 the emergence of the right-wing VOX party with anti-immigration positions coincided with a slight increase in negative immigration attitudes in the Spanish population. A recent study addressed the “chicken or egg” question: is VOX’s political platform playing on anti-immigration sentiment in Spain or the source of it?¹¹

The study concluded that “the strong showing of VOX in 2018 and 2019 cannot be attributed to a generalized increase in anti-immigration sentiment among the Spanish population as a whole, since public opinion towards immigration was evolving favourably during those years.” The authors could not determine whether recent hardening of attitudes toward immigration was due to VOX or contextual factors such as the economic situation, the pandemic and the Canary Island irregular arrivals. Nevertheless, Canada, another country with relatively high tolerance levels for immigration, should heed the warning at the end of the report:

What is clear, however, is the effect VOX is having on polarisation, causing a growing divergence of attitudes towards immigration based on ideological positions. This polarisation is “freezing” opinions by ascribing them to ideologies and tainting arguments with labels related to partisan sympathies. This polarisation is concerning because it becomes an obstacle to calm and rational debate on immigration and public policies devoted to manage it.

The present absence of a “calm and rational debate” on immigration is what worries me the most.

Continue reading “Are We Heading for 100 Million Canadians?”

In 2021, Frances Widdowson was summarily fired from her tenured position in the Faculty of Arts at Mount Royal University (MRU) in Calgary. The proximate cause was her criticism of Black Lives Matter and statements that residential schools had some positive value, inasmuch as many First Nation children received a formal education. The Canadian Association of University Teachers is supporting her grievance against the MRU administration and has criticized the University of Lethbridge for having cancelled an invitation to her to give a lecture. After philosophy professor Paul Viminitz invited her, vocal opposition from students and faculty members resulted in her invitation being cancelled. We invited Frances Widdowson and Mark Crawford, an Alberta colleague from Athabasca University, to participate in an email exchange with Inroads co-publisher John Richards.

John Richards

I recall an interview with you, Frances, in which you said that in the early 2010s faculty colleagues and students disagreed with many of your ideas, but they accepted you as a productive faculty member and teacher at Mount Royal University. You and your colleagues disagreed agreeably. In the middle of the decade, things changed. The culture at MRU – and most universities across North America – succumbed to wokism. As a summary, I define wokism as an ideology that identifies systemic White racism, past and present, as the main explanation for social problems arising among non-White communities and nations.

I am an economist, which leads me to search for a major economic disruption as catalyst for wokism in universities and other institutions. The financial crisis in 2008 bankrupted major financial institutions in New York and London. Pre-2008, the urban elites running governments and major financial institutions in Western Europe and North America assumed the future would be a continuation of the stable markets that had prevailed since the early 1990s. The crisis obliged governments to bail out irresponsible institutions to prevent “freezing” of all major financial transactions and a repetition of black October in 1929. Despite bailouts, the recession was the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The financial crisis disrupted political conventions, and enabled the rise of right-wing populism (e.g. the Tea Party and Trumpism in the United States) and left-wing populism (e.g. revival in universities of formerly marginal Marxist ideologies such as critical race theory). The fallout from the 2008 crisis should probably be part of any explanation. I admit it is not enough. What are your thoughts?

Frances Widdowson

You are correct, John. I have previously noted that the 2010s were a significant time of change in universities. More specifically, in 2013 I went on sabbatical from Mount Royal University. When I returned, I sensed the institution was no longer the same. Two things made this apparent: first, the Canadian Association of University Teachers was invited by my union to hold an “Equity Seminar and Workshop”; second, our new provost, Kathy Shailer, announced in Arts Faculty Council that we would be “Indigenizing” Mount Royal University. Neither of these initiatives came with any critical analysis of what this would mean for the academic character of the university. It was just assumed that this was the “right thing to do,” and asking questions encountered hostility.

Although 2014 was my first sense that something was amiss, this politically correct totalitarianism actually has its roots in the 1960s. This was when modernist assumptions were being challenged by what has come to be known as “postmodernism” – defined by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont as “an intellectual current characterized by the more-or-less explicit rejection of the rationalist tradition of the Enlightenment, by theoretical discourses disconnected from any empirical test, and by a cognitive and cultural relativism that regards science as nothing more than a ‘narration,’ a ‘myth’ or a social construction among many others.” This replacement of the search for truth with the promotion of subjectivity enabled identity politics activism to gain a foothold in the academy.

The foothold was solidified in newly created Black and women’s studies departments, which were soon followed by Indigenous, queer and disability programs. While initially marginal in their impact, they were increasingly being tied to wider “branding” exercises in universities that were rapidly becoming corporatized. This facilitated identity politics’ capacity to take over the machinery of postsecondary institutions in the 2010s. While Mount Royal University had a “diversity” office when I started in 2008, its prominence became more and more noticeable throughout the decade. With this takeover, objectivity became an aspect of “White supremacy culture.” Activists claimed that the views of the oppressed must be “reified (i.e. “made real” or professed to be true) because this aids their empowerment.

The legitimacy given to these initiatives by universities now means that they permeate society and are pushed by corporations (“woke capital), professional associations and the “NGO industrial complex.” Take, for example, the prominence of “2SLGBTQI+ imagery in all facets of life. While this was given oxygen by “queer studies” programs, “positive space campaigns and “pride centres” in universities, there is now widespread promotion of same-sex marriage, drag queen story hours and declaring one’s pronouns in every context imaginable. Toleration is no longer an option. In “wokism,” identities declared to be oppressed must be affirmed; if not, one will suffer ostracism and cancellation (the legal prohibition of criticism of “gender expression” is also possibly on the horizon).

Operating within a political economy framework, I am inclined to see this as rooted in a particular stage of capitalist development. At this stage, referred to as “late capitalism” by Ernest Mandel, we are seeing some political and economic features that are tied to the saturation of markets and deindustrialization in the core capitalist countries. This has coincided with disintegration of working-class organizations, privatization of public services and a promotion of tribal forms of affiliation (Indigenization and multiculturalism, for example). In identity politics, objective class conflict is not seen as a major historical force. It is boutique intersectional identities that matter.

All of this makes me ask the question of the relationship between “wokism” – that is, totalitarian identity politics or “reified postmodernism – and this stage of capitalist development. To this end, there appear to be three important aspects of wokism that feed into the logic of late capitalism. The first is capitalism’s imperative to create the conditions for profit maximization, and how the encouragement of subjective identities assists this endeavour. New identities, after all, increase consumption. To express your identity and pursue fantastical desires in late capitalism is to buy goods that enable a remaking of the self. Whether it is surgery in the hope of sexual transformation or celebrating “orange shirt day” to virtue signal, new products and services must be purchased.

Second, it is important to realize that capitalist imperatives are threatened by the development of class consciousness, and wokism’s obsession with an ever-expanding number of subjective identities weakens a focus on economic exploitation. Instead of working to unite the alienated and impoverished, we are being encouraged to politically support activists who argue that “women with penises should be housed in female prisons, that poor working-class Canadians should pay reparations to “racialized minorities” for the sins of their ancestors, and that oppressive religious identities require celebration, never criticism, under the guise of “diversity.”

Finally, the subjectivity encouraged by postmodernism acts to undermine any attempts to analyze objectively the problems that we are facing. This deprives society of a necessary brake on autocratic tendencies. One of the reasons why wokism is so popular in corporatized universities, and late capitalist enterprises more generally, is that the plight of oppressed groups can be used to justify totalitarian thought control. People who would not normally accept limitations on democracy agree to it as they are told that this will bring about “social justice” for those marginalized. Dismantling the protections for dissent – proposing, for example, to criminalize questioning the “genocidal” character of the residential schools – will also weaken the societal capacity to challenge oppressive economic conditions.

One of the major problems facing any analysis of wokism is the assumption that it is a “left-wing” position. Wokism is nothing of the sort. It is a reactionary impulse that attacks the values of the Enlightenment. Instead of being able to improve our understanding of the serious problems facing humanity today, we are being forced to accept the one “true” position spearheaded by the beneficiaries of late capitalism.

Mark Crawford

Economic crises can often trigger or condition ideological developments both inside and outside of academe, as John suggests. The classic example was when Marxism took root in the mid-19th century in the wake of the European potato famine of 1845–46, the Chartist revolt in England and the tumult of 1848 revolutions in continental Europe. After Marx connected his synthesis of classical economics, German philosophy and French revolutionary politics to the struggles of the emergent working class, labour leaders felt intellectually validated, while intellectuals liked the prospect of a vanguard role. Of course, economic instability and insecurity have also fuelled various forms of populist and counterrevolutionary movements as well.

In the past decade, on campuses (and also in other parts of society), generational change has weakened the memory of Marxism and labour struggles, while the growth of ethnic pluralism and Indigenous rights has increased the salience of race and colonialism as an issue. The irony is that, for over a century, the leading critics of colonialism and imperialism (whether in the classroom, in the streets or on the battlefield) were Marxists like Frances Widdowson. The 20th century doesn’t weigh heavily on those under age 50, especially when there are academic jobs and programs at stake. In colleges and universities postcolonial and critical race theorists managed to connect the intellectual ground prepared by postmodernism to the growing strength of racial and sexual identity politics. (One might say they are “standing Foucault on his head,” to use a loose analogy to Marx’s transformation of Hegel.) Postmodern approaches to knowledge view all empirical claims to truth as value-laden constructs of culture. They reject the dichotomy between the objectively true and universal and the subjective/individual in favour of “multiple valid knowledges and truths … constructed by groups of people with shared markers of identity,” as Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay put it (p. 29).

From the 1980s through the early 2000s, postmodernism was increasingly applied to queer, Indigenous, postcolonial, critical race and feminist theories. Since about 2010 these ideological currents have coalesced under the banners of “intersectionality” and “social activist” or “social justice” scholarship. They exhibit a joint preference for identity politics and hostility toward traditional disciplines and Enlightenment values. Implicit in philosophical liberalism is sceptical rationality and scientific method. Replacing the individual and society with the intersectionality of group identities as the primary objects of study has boosted the academic prominence of identity-based programs and disciplines, has attracted many students from various self-identified minorities and has provided a common focus for a new generation of scholars who collectively wield great influence in university administration and policy and hiring committees.

My own experience has been that of a mainstream professor with moderate liberal / social democratic political views. I have generally appreciated the various postmodern critiques that interrogate mainstream social science and philosophy, and have supported Indigenous rights and various initiatives for diversity in hiring, “inclusive excellence” and so on. The expectation was that, once a roughly equitable representation of women and minorities had been achieved, we could get back to our regular business of truth-seeking and merit hiring. Postmodern critiques would provide a richer variety of ideological, theoretical, methodological and empirical approaches to choose from.

In the past several years, however, those expectations have been increasingly thwarted. Just as Pluckrose and Lindsay and John McWhorter predicted, third-wave antiracism and anticolonialism are hostile to the ideals of “colour blindness” or “objective truth,” goals now perceived as masking systemic White supremacy. My calls for the hiring of a security studies expert and a political behaviour / research methods specialist and even the creation of an economics program at my university have all been ignored. Instead, a new equity studies program and recent hires in queer and transgender studies, postcolonialism and Indigenous politics have taken priority. On a theoretical and ideological level, diversity has been shrinking, not growing. Usually, only feminist or minority scholars well versed in postcolonialism or identity theory are deemed to have met “the highest standards” of cultural sensitivity and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). Merely questioning either evidentiary or theoretical opinions held dear by Indigenous activists is a risky business.

As the comedian Bill Maher has put it, “political correctness is the elevation of sensitivity over truth.”

John Richards

After World War II, McCarthyism exploited legitimate misgivings over Stalin’s totalitarianism. Led by the eponymous senator, McCarthyism destroyed the careers of many radical journalists, actors, writers, union leaders and academics. Within a decade, McCarthyism collapsed under the weight of its indiscriminate violation of human rights to free speech and due process. Is McCarthyism a probable precedent for undoing the ideological excesses of wokism?

Alternatively, is a better precedent the survival of Soviet-style Marxism, especially in developing countries? Despite its being the source of many political abuses and failed economic policies, in South Asia, Africa and Latin America many journalists are implicitly arguing that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. In the past, European colonial powers exploited and colonized us. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is providing you, Europeans and Americans, with some of what we have experienced. What do you predict to be the medium-term fate of wokism – positive and negative? And what do you think is its durability as a major ideological approach to academic and political activity?

Frances Widdowson

John has raised three areas of discussion: (1) the possible similarities of wokism with other authoritarian ideologies in history, (2) the medium-term extent of wokism and (3) wokism’s durability as a major ideological approach in intellectual and political matters.

With respect to the first area, there are some similarities between wokism and other autocratic moments in history. McCarthyism was especially relevant in the university context, but it differs in that the pressure for censorship came from outside while the threat today is internal (from professors, faculty associations, student organizations and administrators). Studying the development of Stalinism and Nazism can inform our understanding because they both tried to assert control over the ideas discussed in universities. Examining developments in German capitalism in the 1930s is particularly instructive; local Nazi organizations and student activists were instrumental in transforming scientifically advanced universities into fascist propaganda centres. Wokism’s uniqueness is its capacity to combine subjectivity with sympathy for the plight of the oppressed.

The development of wokism as a force today needs careful study and it is likely that many variables are involved. The philosopher Susan Neiman has pointed out that wokism was to some extent a response to the failure of liberalism’s promise of equality of opportunity. Although equality under the law and due process overcome the oppressive characteristics of feudal and tribal systems (what Max Weber called “traditional authority”), liberalism does not address the unfairness and indignity of being subjected to exploitative economic relations – something George Orwell was acutely aware of in The Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia. Liberalism is also silent on the deprivation facing those denied access to the means of subsistence. As Anatole France poignantly declared over a hundred years ago, “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread.”

Because it denies the fundamental importance of economic factors, wokism has no response to the contradictions found when liberalism is paired with democracy. Instead, advocates of wokism opportunistically demand legal and bureaucratic privileges for intersectional and boutique identities such as “Two-Spirit, “women of colour or “Black fat queer femmes.” This opportunism needs to be challenged, but the totalitarian tendencies of wokism suppress dissent and prevent greater understanding.

The medium-term extent of wokism will depend upon the forces that respond to it. If its control continues at the present rate, we will experience more and more speech being criminalized, and the legal system will be completely undermined by woke assumptions. We have already seen a decline in due process rights. Oppressed identities should be “believed” / “affirmed” / “respected; any critical analysis can be decried as “gaslighting or even “epistemicide.” Equality under the law is also under threat because wokism implies that oppressed groups need greater legal protection to overcome their marginalized position in society.

Wokism has become influential because it fits well with the logic of late capitalism, which requires dismantling of the gains made under the Enlightenment and liberal democratic regimes. This has been facilitated by the subjectivity embraced in the postmodern turn in the 1960s. As capitalism is a fundamentally unsustainable system – because of its need to constantly grow and lower labour costs to maximize profitability – wokism is necessary to disguise our increasing incapacity to deal with the existential problems we are facing. We will soon be descending into fascism unless we reject wokism’s reactionary thrust and reassert the need to use reason to create a more cooperative and sustainable economic and political system.

Mark Crawford

I hope that the McCarthyite analogy turns out to be the right one, that we are experiencing a temporary fever of enforced conformity and cultural authoritarianism produced by fleeting political or economic conditions. But I think the Soviet/Marxist analogy is probably more accurate, for two reasons. First, the seeds of wokism contain some pretty fundamental assumptions about liberal culture and epistemology that have been developing over several decades; they are attractive to antiracist and anticolonialist theorists and will not melt away quickly. The critiques of universalism, objective truth and colour blindness are empowering to identitarian social activists. Second, tenured woke professors and social activist scholars are institutionally entrenched, and are by their very nature predisposed to being the most politically active in university and college committees, departments and administrations. An entire class of people now exists whose jobs depend on DEI. For both of these reasons, I think we are likely in for a long generational struggle to restore common sense and the primacy of liberal and rationalist ideals in the university.

Because of guilt about the historical kernel of truth in the woke critique of postsecondary institutions as engines of social reproduction, universities are currently more afraid of accusations of racism than of erosion of universal and rationalist ideals. The constituencies for racial identity and equality are concentrated, whereas society’s interest in freedom of thought and expression is diffuse, essentially a public good. That is why we sometimes “forget what our organizations are for,” as Lionel Shriver has put it.

Nevertheless, there are reasons for medium- to long-term optimism. An increasing number of top-rate scholars recognize what is at stake. They are beginning to remind us that truth cannot be subordinated to sensitivity and identity if universities are to be anything other than an ideological silo. Steven Pinker, for example, defends the Enlightenment Project in his recent books, and also serves on the editorial board of a new book publishing company (Heresy Press) that welcomes non-woke perspectives. Jonathan Haidt is a prominent social psychologist whose books The Righteous Mind and The Coddling of the American Mind have explored the reasons behind the recent political polarization and its implications for higher education. He is also a founder of the Heterodox Academy, which is dedicated to “improve the quality of research and education in universities by increasing open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement.” I have already mentioned John McWhorter, a prominent linguistics scholar and journalist who has dissected wokism quite well.

I am probably more sanguine than Frances about there being a market solution to the ideological excesses of DEI: students may come to recognize that courses and programs that reinforce their sense of victimhood may seem empowering in the short run, but are actually not valuable to them in the long run. On the supply side, philosophy departments now often see postmodernism as passé, and may be able to offer some needed correction. (Susan Neiman is a philosopher who has lucidly analyzed the differences between real progressivism and woke activism in terms that are easy to understand.) Government funding and private-sector innovations may yet serve to promote real diversity that can reinvigorate the Enlightenment Project while correcting its deficiencies. The “public good” nature of academic freedom has meant that these responses have been slow to materialize; they will require both publicity and policy to bear fruit.

John Richards

I recognize that your final paragraph, Frances, is fundamental to your thinking. I agree somewhat with you. In high-income countries, corporate entrepreneurs seek constantly to find new dimensions of consumption. Walmart is an invitation to working-class people to buy lots of cheap “stuff” made in China, with no thought paid to the destruction of working-class communities in the United States. If Schumpeter was alive, he would refer to the benefits of creative destruction. If Ricardo was alive, he would refer to China’s comparative advantage in making “stuff.” In the United States, Trump and J.D. Vance (author of Hillbilly Elegy and now Ohio senator) are the most persuasive populist critics of free trade – albeit Biden fears global free trade and, as president, has prioritized “onshoring.” Furthermore, I agree with you inasmuch as unions have been unduly weakened, starting with Reagan in the early 1980s. In many European and North American countries, earnings below the median stagnated from 1980 to 2020. The disruptive dynamic of the COVID pandemic has, in the short run, increased below-median earnings relative to those above.

However, Frances, I agree only somewhat. It is a bit much to blame “late capitalism” for postmodernism and the present woke obsession with conflict between exploitative and victimized identities. Surely, the most important problem facing late capitalism this century is creating coalitions to tackle climate warming and habitat destruction. Wokism complicates the problem: countries of the “racialized” global South are assuming little or no responsibility for climate warming and are blaming all on the White global North, which industrialized earlier and is responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas increases over the last two centuries. Does the left have any good climate change strategies?

Frances Widdowson

In both Mark’s second response and John’s initiation of the “third round,” there is an implicit assumption that the problems plaguing the world today can be addressed through capitalist imperatives. John implies that environmental problems can be solved by building a coalition of elements in advanced and newly industrializing capitalist countries, without any consideration for how the pursuit of profit will impede the need to cooperatively control production and consumption. Mark, on the other hand, points to the possibility of market solutions helping to rectify some of the educational contamination wrought by wokism. Private-sector innovations, however, will constrain those aspects of truth-seeking that challenge their profitability.

If there had been no postmodern reaction to the Enlightenment, we would have seen lively debates among conservatives, liberals and socialists on the questions that John and Mark raise. Although there would be significant disagreement, no one would have argued against the use of reason, evidence and logic to try to grapple with these issues. With the postmodern turn in the 1960s, however, subjectivity began to replace objectivity; intellectual progress on such questions was stalled.

As an academic uncomfortable with activism, I find it difficult to discuss solutions when we have yet to clearly identify the nature of the problems. Is it possible to solve an environmental crisis that has been brought about by capitalism with the continued pursuit of profit? Will a capitalist educational system facilitate the pursuit of truth, which is so necessary for human progress? We might be able to have some areas effectively shielded from powerful private interests, but in the end it will be the ideas of the market, not a marketplace of ideas, that prevail in capitalist societies.

Perhaps common ownership and democratically controlled production and distribution will always face insurmountable challenges. This, however, does not mean that capitalism is a sustainable system that satisfies human needs. Protecting the environment requires living within the Earth’s carrying capacity. Capitalism dooms environmental protection, because capitalist entrepreneurs constantly seek to expand as a result of declining profitability. Market saturation and the depletion of resources will also thwart solutions, because workers cannot afford to buy what they produce.

I would love to resume debates with liberals and conservatives about whether the labour theory of value is true, and how increasing cooperation and the tendency for productive forces to develop are related to human progress. Wokism, however, must first be defeated to make these debates possible. Intellectuals with different ideological persuasions who value the intellectual gains made by the Enlightenment must put aside differences for now and join forces to fight for open inquiry, freedom of expression and critical thinking in universities and the wider society.

Mark Crawford

I concur with Frances’s last paragraph. But if we have to solve “can’t live with it / can’t live without it” capitalism before we solve the problem of climate change or before we can overcome the obstacles created by wokism’s attack upon truth, universalism, justice and belief in progress, my mid-term optimism disappears and my long-term optimism begins to fade. Yes, the rapid emergence of wokism as a dominant ideology on campuses is rooted in, among other things, the after-effects of the most recent financial crisis, as well as longer-term contradictions of capitalism. Thomas Piketty’s analysis of the return of chronic and growing inequality is germane here: the rising tide is no longer lifting all boats and ethnic minorities are determined not to be left behind once again, while the threatened White working class is easily directed toward its own identity politics of the right-wing authoritarian kind. All of which is amplified by news silos of digital capitalism.

Yet, as Susan Neiman points out, wokism’s roots are not just in disillusionment with liberalism’s failure to deliver equal opportunity; the roots are also with traditional state socialism. The post-1991 ennui on the left was not cured by the “Third Way” or by a new emphasis upon “civil society,” to quote two of the more important buzz phrases of that decade. A lot of left thinking therefore gravitated toward postmodernism and identity politics, and/or environmental politics. Which brings us back to climate change. Are greens and environmental activists proud of the scientific basis of their beliefs? If so, they need to join liberals and socialists in affirming a belief in science, along with the belief that both scientific and social progress is possible.

On campus, that suggests at least two short-term strategies. First, the supposed harmony of scholarly and political virtue in social activist scholarship needs to be challenged. Activist scholars wear two hats, but seldom acknowledge that fact: for example, every time they point to the UN Genocide Convention while conveniently ignoring how the International Court of Justice has interpreted it; or the cultural/power matrix of how certain legal and scientific standards of evidence came into being without asking whether the standard is an objectively higher one or not. Second, rationalists need to seek out interdisciplinary alliances wherever political imperatives clash with scientific ones.

In the wider society, I suggest public policies taxing financial transactions, pollution, land speculation and unearned wealth more heavily, and correspondingly taxing working-class earnings less heavily. Somehow, we need better incentives for ecological stewardship in the global South, and an emphasis upon public spaces and well-funded public institutions in which notions of reason and the common good can be incubated.

Haitian Day of the Dead – First of November: for the year 2022, the party is not taken, the activities of the GEDE have not attracted crowds. Because of the different problems of the country, the groups, the people, don’t really travel.

In February, Inroads subscribers received our Special Report on Haiti. This had originally been envisioned as one of the lead articles for the current issue. However, with that country descending into anarchy, we felt it urgent to bring the deteriorating and desperate situation in Haiti to readers’ attention. We aimed to alert public opinion in Canada to the Haitian situation and Canada’s need and responsibility of to intervene. The article cited a recent United Nations report, followed up by UN Secretary General António Guterres, which concluded that only with the support of an international force could the Haitian police restore order, and that Canada was best placed to lead such a force.

Wecould not avoid being keenly aware of the situation. During the winter months, we are in Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, just three hours away from the Haitian border. The Dominican Republic, faced with massive illegal immigration from the failed state with which it shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, has repeatedly called for international intervention.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with an estimated annual per capita economic output of $1,819 USD (compared to $20,625 USD in the Dominican Republic) has no functioning governmental, economic or social institutions. In the mid-20th century, the economies of the two countries were comparable. Since that time, the Dominican economy has grown significantly while the Haitian economy has shrunk. Haiti’s poor performance was due partly to external factors like earthquakes but also to incompetent leaders, especially the dictators who ruled the country for 30 years, voodoo practitioner “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son “Baby Doc.”

In 2018 we visited Cap Haitien, the second-largest Haitian city with 190,000 inhabitants, in the country’s northeast. We had hoped to return to Haiti once the pandemic subsided, but because of the increased risk of being kidnapped, we have not been able to do so. However, in Puerto Plata, we maintain regular contact with Haitian acquaintances who have fled their country and receive continuous news coverage about what is happening there.

The international press has drawn attention to the violence of the gangs that control 80 per cent of the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area, where almost half of Haitians reside. There are frequent credible reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, serious abuses by the authorities, enforced disappearances or abductions, torture and physical abuse. The UN Integrated Office in Haiti reported that 51 people were killed during police operations from June to September 2022 and that rape had been weaponized in the gang wars, leaving no family untouched.

We had thought things could not get worse. But now vigilantism appears to be spreading. On April 25, residents in the hilly suburbs of Haiti’s capital, armed with machetes, bottles and rocks, unleashed their anger on the gangs. They took 13 suspected gang members from police custody and, filling the tires surrounding the central square with gasoline, set them on fire. The mob lynchings have since spread to other areas. Residents in the communities where violent mobs are operating fear possible retaliation from the gangs whose members were tortured, killed and mutilated.

What can – what must – be done

In light of these deteriorating conditions, a consensus has emerged in favour of outside intervention, even though opponents of unelected President Ariel Henry are justifiably suspicious that he seeks to use such intervention to prop up his illegitimate regime.

The need for outside intervention is made clear in a long December 2022 report by the International Crisis Group. The report also sets out the challenges facing any foreign military intervention. The question is not whether such intervention is needed but whether and how it could come about. Calling for helping the Haitians, as the Dominicans did after the last earthquake, does not win Dominican politicians any votes in this election year, but they know that it is in their interest to cooperate with any outside intervention.

There is no excuse, then, for Canada’s stance of excluding such an intervention. In early May, the new United Nations Envoy for Haiti, María Isabel Salvador, renewed the UN call for an international force to be deployed to Haiti to support the Haitian police in quelling rising gang violence. She warned that further delay could lead to a spillover across the region.

Learning from past failures, such a deployment must be planned in advance so as to be in a position to operate effectively in support of the police. The police would be provided with training and increased firepower to take on the gangs, which have obtained large quantities of ammunition and high-calibre weapons via arms trafficking. The prospect of high-intensity clashes in densely populated areas crisscrossed by narrow streets, often located at the heart of overcrowded slums where gang members and civilians are hard to tell apart, will pose many operational challenges.

Information making it possible to play off the rivalry among the gangs will need to be assembled. Clearly, such an intervention will have to be a long one, requiring renewal of the mandate of the “timebound specialized support force” called for by the United Nations Commission

Alternative institutions will take time to build; without them, the gangs will return once the intervention is over. Ideally, a first stage would reduce the pressure from refugees massing at the Dominican border, liberating the territory in regions closer to the Dominican Republic where the gangs are relatively weak. Here the democratic forces could begin the task of (re)building functioning political and economic institutions. This would take a seldom-attained level of trust between the two peoples sharing the island of Hispaniola, which cannot be counted upon.

Canada must take the leadership role. It has a large immigrant Haitian population. Quebecers, especially, have the needed linguistic skills (French is still prominent in Haiti). While the United States is geographically closer and more affected by the drugs that pass through Haiti’s long stretches of unpatrolled beaches (often in return, apparently, for lethal weapons), U.S. intervention is not, by any means, the best option. Given the past American role in propping up the Duvaliers, intervention led by the United States would encounter more opposition in Haiti and beyond, and thus make it more difficult to rally the needed international support for the mission.

The ball, whether we like it or not, is in Canada’s court, and it will stay there. Action will become unavoidable. We need to be prepared. Opponents of such an outside intervention cite lack of resources and note that Canada’s military capacity is already stretched. While this is true, priorities can change. NATO will certainly be able and willing to replace Canadian soldiers transferred from Latvia to the Caribbean. And other countries are ready to contribute personnel and money. It is time to take our government’s head, and our own heads, out of the sand.

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On February 18, the CBC reported that MP Leah Gazan (NDP – Winnipeg Centre), whose motion to recognize what happened in residential schools as genocide received unanimous consent in the House of Commons last October, now proposed to outlaw denial of that genocide as “hate speech.”¹ The Inroads listserv responded quickly, and honed in on a question that became the subject of an intense – but civil and informed – discussion: What is genocide?

February 18

I hadn’t realized that Parliament had unanimously voted to call what happened at the residential schools genocide. Once something is called genocide, then the next logical step is to make denying it a criminal act.


According to the UN Genocide Convention, which Canada has signed on to,

Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.²

Seems to fit.

Okay, now let’s see if we can discuss this calmly. My first question: Do you oppose all legislation against hate speech?


Two answers, Frances:

One: I do not believe that the same word adequately describes what was done in residential schools and in Nazi death camps.

Two. As someone all of whose grandparents, uncles and aunts were killed in the latter, I still support the United States in rejecting restrictions on hate speech.

Here is my thinking on this.

Consider the statements below and how we are to react to them. Should we

  1. Make it illegal to express them publicly,
  2. Disprove them.
  3. Ignore them.

A: The six million killed by the Nazis is an exaggeration.
B: The death camps are a myth.
C: The residential schools did some good as well as harm.
D: The residential schools did more good than harm.

My answer to all of them is to prove them untrue where that is the case, but not to use the state to punish the person who stated them, however hateful the content. It comes down to the simple proposition that in the end “because it hurts my feelings” is insufficient justification for the use of state sanctions. Otherwise, we open ourselves to what we see in certain academic settings where discussion of controversial issues is silenced (and people’s careers threatened) because they (might) hurt someone’s feelings.


Thanks for this, Henry. I hate to spoil a good argument, but I find myself largely in agreement with you.



How about your thoughts on:

NDP MP Leah Gazan, who got the House of Commons last October to unanimously recognize that genocide occurred at residential schools, now wants to take the issue a step further by drafting legislation to outlaw attempts to deny that genocide and make false assertions about residential schools.

“Denying genocide is a form of hate speech,” said Gazan, who represents the riding of Winnipeg Centre.

“That kind of speech is violent and re-traumatizes those who attended residential school.” …

The Office of Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said he would be interested in reviewing the proposed legislation.

“Residential school denialism attempts to hide the horrors that took place in these institutions,” Miller’s office told CBC News.³


I agree that the residential school system constituted genocide.

I don’t think it is wise or helpful to compare horrors and suffering. My imagination can hardly stretch to comprehend the Shoah. But there are other horrors: Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Rwanda, slavery in the Americas …

I am willing to keep considering Gazan’s legislation idea to see if there is something I have missed, but I start from the position that it won’t help and will quite possibly do harm. Seems like an ill-considered response.


We are getting closer, though not yet on genocide: On one level it is just semantics; on another, however, since the term genocide really only emerged with the Shoah, I find attaching it to the residential schools a bridge too far.

Consider not uncommon historical examples of Nation A conquering lands belonging to Nation B. The conqueror imposes the language and culture of A upon B. For example, this is what happened when the Americans took over parts of what been Spanish colonies by force. Genocide?

PS: The trouble with semantics is that they can sometimes kill. This could be the case now if ideologues denouncing it as white colonialism manage to keep an armed intervention in desperate Haiti from happening.


I think we need to distinguish physical genocide, i.e. the attempt by a majority group to kill any or all of a minority group or people on the basis of their racial, tribal, religious character, from cultural genocide, i.e. the attempt to extirpate the linguistic, cultural, religious identity of a minority group by imposing the culture of the dominant group to the exclusion of that of the minority one.

Examples of the first would include the Armenian massacres of World War I by the Turks, the Holocaust, Rwanda 1994, Tigray in recent years. Examples of the second would include the Uyghurs in China, First Nations in Canada and various other New World societies, and arguably what would happen to Ukraine if Putin had his way.

The lines are not always clearcut, but the examples I cite may help to clarify the discussion.


Why is this a useful distinction?

The UN definition of genocide, which lacks an adjective to modify it, covers every one of the cases you list.


There seems to me to be an important difference between the desire to physically exterminate a particular group of people and the desire to extirpate their cultural identity and replace it with another. While many Canadians might accept that an element of cultural genocide was at play in our historical treatment of First Nations, they would not accept the argument that the physical extermination of First Nations was the name of the game in this country. Perhaps the drafters of the UN definition may think it makes no difference how we define the word genocide – ask the victims of physical genocide if they agree,


I follow you, Phil, but what you are saying does not quite make sense to me.

First, we should not make arguments based on what “many Canadians” might accept. On that reasoning, we’d still have the death penalty. Surely we need labels that state frankly what happened, whether or not “many” agree.

It has been established that the purpose of the residential school system and its companion, the Indian Act, was to eliminate First Nations as societies, and that such leaders as John A Macdonald wished to “kill the Indian in the child.” It’s true that the physical side of this involved starvation, residential segregation, separation of children from their parents, mistreatment of children and policing, not death camps.

I think it does not advance understanding to try to compare horrors. But I wonder if you are thinking that we risk normalizing or “demoting” the massive horror of the Shoah by naming other instances with the same term. Maybe that is the case. But the drafters of the UN Convention did not think so. It always seemed to me that they just did not want anything remotely like the Shoah to ever happen again, to anyone.


I’m increasingly sceptical of attempts to use extreme words as a way to fan the flames of solidarity, discontent and resistance.

As Henry pointed out, genocide was coined to describe the Holocaust. (I’m not sure why we needed a new word.) But once it was associated with the Holocaust, people recoiled from the word genocide in horror. So naturally all the oppressed people of the world wanted access to that horror.

As far as I can make out, then, killing or causing distress to two members of a group can be genocide, as long as it’s done with the intent to destroy part of a group. (Well, two is part, isn’t it?) How do you prove intent? Or lack of intent? The result: “Well, I guess genocide isn’t really serious.”

The point is, laws don’t work unless they’re respected, in both senses of the word. Language escalation creates scepticism of national and international law, which does no one any good.


The origin of the term genocide goes back to 1944. It was framed by Raphael Lemkin, with the Holocaust very much in mind, to refer to the attempted destruction of a people. To that degree, physical destruction was central to the original definition. And to that degree, it could be extended in its original meaning to include other cases such as the Armenian massacres, the Rwandan massacre and many others throughout history.

I have no problem with widening the definition to include the extirpation of cultural identities of the type that the historical treatment of First Nations in this country often entailed. But if we are going to use the term genocide in this case, I think it is important to distinguish it from the physical extermination that has underlain the practice of genocide in the cases referred to above. If we fail to do so, by not inserting the term cultural genocide into the discussion, we end up equating Canada’s treatment of First Nations with the practice of the Turks during World War I, the Nazis during World War II or the Hutu exterminationists. And that simply won’t do, Frances, however much you may wish to argue the contrary.


Phil, Lemkin was closely involved in the drafting of the Genocide Convention and it is very explicit that “killing” is just one of the means by which genocide can be accomplished.


Fair enough, Gareth. But that doesn’t change the fact that if we use the term too loosely to apply to any and all cases of cultural, racial or religious victimization, we end up diluting it beyond measure. Is the treatment of the Kurds by Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran a case of genocide? Of the Rohingya in Myanmar? Of Muslims in Modi’s India? Of Christians in various parts of the Middle East? By Boko Haram of its victims in the Sahel?

Genocide is one of those words that has to be used carefully. And if we want to extend its use more broadly, as in the Canadian case where First Nations are concerned, then the qualifier cultural becomes all-important.


Gareth is right about Lemkin, though his wide-ranging accusations of genocide seem to have remained a secret. As Michael A. McDonnell and A. Dirk Moses wrote in the Journal of Genocide Research in 2005,

In “Part III: modern times” of a projected global history of genocide from antiquity to the present, he wrote, inter alia, on the following cases: “1. Genocide by the Germans against the Native Africans”; “3. “Belgian Congo”; “11. Hereros”; “13. Hottentots”; “16. Genocide against the American Indians”; “25. Latin America”; “26. Genocide against the Aztecs”; “27. Yucatan”; “28. Genocide against the Incas”; “29: Genocide against the Maoris of New Zealand”; “38. Tasmanians”; “40. S.W. Africa”; and finally, “41. Natives of Australia.” Then, in a “Report on the preparation of a volume on genocide” dated March–May 1948, a less ambitious project comprising ten chapters, two of which covered extra-European colonial cases: “2. The Indians in Latin America” and “10. The Indians in North America (in part).” The Holocaust, a term Lemkin never used, was not included, although the Armenians and Greeks in Turkey were, as well as the Early Christians, and the Jews of the Middle Ages and Tsarist Russia.⁴

Which brings us back to the problem. If genocide is extreme and rare, we will be horrified. If it’s ubiquitous, well, we shrug.


What worries me is how the politics of hate speech and “social activist” scholarship is having a chilling effect. Part of that chilling effect derives from the expanding definition of words like harm, hate, genocide, discrimination, abuse and now even phrases like residential school denialism and hostile work environment. Paradoxically, I think that our working vocabulary in this area is actually shrinking with each new edition of the Newspeak Dictionary, as each word or phrase is expanded to cover more territory – because, as Arthur nicely put it, “all oppressed people want access to that horror.” The emotional, political and often legal and financial investments are so great that academics are needed to provide some detachment and objectivity that is otherwise lacking.

Volume 4 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report points to the death or disappearance of about 3,000 children over the history of the schools, about half from tuberculosis, and a majority in “school or school-related cemeteries.” Just how clandestine they were is a bit vague and varies quite a bit. Shockingly, but not surprisingly, the main reason most kids’ bodies weren’t returned to their families or home communities was just described as “cost.” The ground-penetrating radar results broadly confirm the Truth and Reconciliation Commission analysis, but there are some credible suggestions that they may be inflating the results because not every disturbance or burial is necessarily of a distinct human skeleton. A sceptical, questioning attitude is essential to this scholarly enterprise, but I know that most of my colleagues are afraid to have one when it comes to Indigenous policy.


Phil, it’s not about what I want. I used to lean towards the use of the term cultural genocide myself, until I actually read the UN definition. Since then, I have not been able to see what is not “physical” about the things that were done to First Nations.

Obviously one is free reject the UN definition, or find ways to modify it.

February 19

According to the UN definition, neither I nor anyone I know is guilty of genocide. That’s a relief.

Wait. I wonder if dozens of people I know are guilty of genocide because they participated in “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group,” i.e., they adopted BIPOC children. If so, I would think many of them are justifiably proud of their part in genocide.

Since immigration involves integration and, likely, eventually absorption, is accepting refugees an example of genocide? Refugees are, after all, forced to migrate.

We can see that there are millions of instances of genocide daily, and since “it does not advance understanding to try to compare horrors,” they’re all equally genocide. (Should we try to prevent the international adoption of Turkish and Syrian children orphaned by the earthquake?)

Has anyone written about “systemic genocide”? In that case, every murder of an Indigenous person, committed by anyone – in fact, every death of an Indigenous person under the average life expectancy of Canadians – would be an instance of genocide. Every Indigenous person unable to speak his or her language is an example of genocide. Every refusal by any government to provide cradle-to-grave education in the appropriate Indigenous language is …

The other day I had a conversation with an Indigenous person about his pipe ceremony, which relegates women to an inferior role. Am I guilty of genocide? I admit it – I had the intent of modifying an Indigenous religious practice.

Perhaps I’m also guilty of reductio ad absurdum. But the UN definition is absurd to begin with.

Really, read Tomson Highway’s Permanent Astonishment⁵ and see if you want to use the same word to describe residential schools and the intentional murder by starvation of Ukrainians.


Arthur, there are plausible and implausible arguments in law. You can’t just pick a phrase and then argue something is genocide without regard to the rest of the definition.

Not all atrocities are genocide. The famines in Ukraine in the 1930s and in Ireland in the 1840s were not genocides because they lacked the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. I am willing to court controversy by saying the Canadian state’s current neglect of violence against Indigenous women is also not genocide, because however much it might be rooted in racism, the element of intention isn’t there. But it definitely was with the Indian Residential School system, and this has been documented extensively.

Apartheid and colonialism also aren’t (or aren’t necessarily) genocide. The coalition in Israel has genocidal parties in it, but Israel hasn’t committed genocide – although that was the program of Vladimir Jabotinsky’s Revisionists, and almost all the mainstream Israeli parties now are their descendants. This does not necessarily mean they wanted to kill every last Palestinian, but they did want to destroy them as a people. And that was the “unnamed crime” for which Lemkin developed the concept of genocide.


Perhaps for these various acts where no one is trying to physically wipe out a people, we can use another term. I suggest crime against humanity, which is defined by the International Criminal Court as an act “committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.” This can include, among other things, murder, extermination, torture, enslavement, sexual violence, deportation or forcible transfer of population or other inhumane acts.


This is an “interesting” discussion about an awful topic, but I would like to make one simple point that may be overlooked in all this. While I understand that it might seem repugnant to separate moral condemnation from “objective” analysis of matters like the Holocaust, ideologically inspired exterminations of entire peoples, deliberately engineered famines, etc., I must assert the necessity of social science analysis requiring some degree of detachment, however painful, from moral repulsion. Here is where the all-encompassing UN definition of genocide falls short. Genocide has indisputably become a highly charged political term – understandably of course. A one-size-fits-all definition has a clear political value. But as an analytical term it just won’t do. Surely the industrial-scale extermination of the Jews of Europe in death camps is a different phenomenon from residential schools designed to “kill the Indian in the child.” Both are morally repulsive and I wouldn’t want to even open a discussion of comparative moral turpitude because it would be fruitless and dispiriting for all concerned. But from a position of social science, conflating the two is only going to make for poor analysis. Here’s where cultural genocide does have a demonstrable analytical advantage over genocide, tout court.

February 20

Indeed, Raphael Lemkin invented the term genocide. In his vision, it was broad enough to cover what today we think of as “cultural genocide.” He contributed to drafting the 1948 Convention. But the text adopted by the UN General Assembly was considerably narrower in scope than what he had envisaged.

African Americans were among the first to invoke the Genocide Convention. In 1951, a very compelling petition focusing on lynching was presented to the United Nations. By then, Lemkin had become a cold warrior. He was dismissive of the African American complaints, arguing that “real” genocide was being perpetrated by the Soviets in the Baltic states.

The definition in the 1948 Convention lists five punishable acts, of which killing members of the group is only one. However, it is misleading to focus on the five acts, because the introductory paragraph requires that any of these acts be committed with the intent to destroy the group. That requirement has been interpreted by the major international courts as requiring an intent to destroy the group physically.

Some commentators have suggested that “forcible transfer of children,” as such, amounts to genocide. But the Convention, as it has been interpreted by the International Court of Justice, requires that such forcible transfer be committed with the intent to exterminate the group physically. If the evidence of the intent to destroy the group is circumstantial, based upon inferences drawn from conduct, it is also necessary to rule out any other reasonable explanation for the facts. This is where most of the allegations of genocide falter.

International lawyers have no monopoly on use of the word genocide any more than criminal lawyers have ownership of terms like murder, torture and rape. Journalists, pundits and politicians, including national legislatures, often use the term in a manner that suggests they have departed from the legal definition. This may be deliberate. Many are probably unaware of the legal definition. Some of them obviously think genocide is no more than a synonym for atrocity.


Hello Bill,

Bringing your unquestioned expertise in this area into our discussion is much appreciated.⁶

Let me put you on the spot. Does Canada’s policy of residential schools qualify as genocide?



The first question to be answered is whether there is direct evidence proving intent to destroy the group physically. This might take the form of official statements or policy documents confirming that in establishing the residential schools the federal government intended the physical destruction of Canada’s First Nations. I’m not aware of such evidence.

Then, the second question: whether evidence of genocidal intent – the intent to destroy the First Nations physically – can be inferred from the conduct of the government of Canada and those who administered the residential schools.

If the answer to the second question is positive, we must consider what is usually the stumbling block. Is there another reasonable explanation for the conduct other than the intent to destroy the group physically? If there is, then the genocide charge fails.

We apply the same reasoning in Canadian law when people are charged with first-degree murder. If they have provided clear direct evidence of homicidal intent in the form of a statement or an admission, this will generally be enough to convict. But if the charge of first-degree murder is based only on inferences drawn from patterns of conduct – what we call “circumstantial evidence” in Canadian law – all other reasonable explanations for the crime must be ruled out.

In my earlier post I emphasized that the restrictive and narrow approach to genocide is a consequence of the interpretation of the Convention adopted by the major international tribunals. My own sense is that while a new and broader interpretation is possible, it is also unlikely. The International Court of Justice adopted its interpretation in 2007, in the Bosnia case. It was invited to revise this in 2015 in the Croatia case but declined to do so. The same is the case for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which maintained a narrow interpretation of the crime throughout its existence, from the late 1990s until it closed in about 2017. And its successor, known as the International Mechanism, has refused to deviate from this in its most recent rulings. These are recent rulings, and they have been confirmed again and again. We are not dealing with some old precedent that has passed its sell-by date.

The reluctance to change the definition is readily explained by the fact that the conduct in question, although it fails to reach the genocide threshold, is easily condemned as a crime against humanity where the requirements are not as restrictive. It’s a bit like distinguishing between first-degree and second-degree murder. Either way, the convict gets sentenced to life in prison.


This has been a stimulating debate and has now prompted my muse to pen some lines:


The very word sends shivers down the spine,
the ghosts of vanished tribes and pariah peoples,
of deep-seated intolerance and gruesome slaughter,
leaving a trail of bone and ashes
for the chroniclers of human malice to record.

We can debate the whys and wherefores,
disaggregate the data,
quibble about the numbers,
and still remain in awe
at what our reptilian brain,
when freed of all compunction and restraint,
has wrought.

And if we turn to the gods for solace,
we will find little consolation
as they battle amongst themselves,
hurling anathemas each against the other,
until the vaults of heaven itself
come crashing down.


Your clarity, William, made me shiver. And sensible judges. Who would have thought?

I would say to anyone who thinks forced assimilation is the same as physical annihilation: pick any recognized genocide or mass murder. Imagine if Jewish victims of the Holocaust had been assimilated or expelled or prevented from living their lives as Jews. Imagine if the Ukrainian peasants starved to death by Russian Communists had been expelled or forcibly assimilated into the working class and all their ploughshares beaten into swords or looms. Imagine if the Tutsi had been expelled or assimilated. Children would play and go to school. Grandparents would hug their grandchildren. Perhaps the Jews and Ukrainian peasants and Tutsi would have disappeared as distinct groups, as has happened to tens of thousands of tribes and nations and peasants and linguistic groups since the beginning of humanity.

Do we really want the same word – the same law – for physical annihilation and forced assimilation or exile?

I have virtually nothing left of my parents’ culture. No Polish or Yiddish. No religion. Different values. All I have is lox and bagels. Am I to regard myself as dead?

Twenty years ago, I found myself on the mailing list of Lubavitcher ultra-Orthodox Jews. A large envelope arrived; on the outside a headline screamed, “A Second Holocaust Worse Than The First.” What was going on!? I opened the letter. It was “the Holocaust of intermarriage.” That’s what happens when you take inappropriate metaphor for reality.

I hope that – rather than water down the definition of genocide to include “cultural genocide” (itself an unfortunate term as it reduces -cide to metaphor) – the UN and its institutions change the definition and explanation of genocide to match what they’re actually doing.

February 21

I am definitely on the side of reserving the (loaded) word genocide for the willful mass killing of a people, which is not the same thing as forced assimilation (also not pretty). A useful way, in my mind, of understanding the distinction is the appropriate punishment. Both are criminal and deserve to be prosecuted, but the first can warrant the death penalty (i.e., Nuremberg), while the second certainly cannot.

As an aside, I have always been wary of debates surrounding the meaning of words, since words are tied to language. I have five languages spinning around in my head, German my mother tongue. The German translation for genocide is Völkermord, which is much clearer. I wonder what the Chinese translation is.

Continue reading “The Meaning of Genocide”

In the Summer/Fall 2023 issue (Inroads 53), Anne Michèle Meggs, a retired senior official in the Quebec immigration ministry and a member of the Inroads editorial board, and Pierre Fortin, Professor Emeritus of Economics at the Université du Québec à Montréal and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, exchanged views on recent developments in immigration and their possible implications. They were critical of the Century Initiative, which advocates a Canadian population of 100 million by the end of the century. On June 13, Inroads managing editor Bob Chodos received a response from the Chief Executive Officer of the Century Initiative, Lisa Lalande. Here we present Ms. Lalande’s letter along with a rejoinder by the authors.

Letter from Lisa Lalande

Dear Mr. Chodos:

I am writing in response to the article Are We Heading for 100 Million Canadians? in issue 53.

The conversation between Anne Michèle Meggs and Pierre Fortin starts with the untrue statement that “unplanned massive temporary immigration is consistent with the goal of the Century Initiative.”

The Century Initiative supports and advocates for responsible, planned growth and has recommended an immigration system based on permanent migration. We have never advocated for massive, temporary immigration, as our aim is to advance long-term economic and social prosperity for all.

Our recently released National Scorecard on Canada’s Growth and Prosperity clearly outlines this approach, and in our Key Insights and Actions one of the key recommendations is that: Canada must ensure that its immigration system is based on permanent immigration.

This was the first of several inaccurate references to the Century Initiative and statements on our website throughout the conversation.

For example – as our scorecard (with sources) outlines – projections for Canada’s GDP per capita in the years and decades ahead are low compared to peer countries. The OECD has projected that Canada’s annual GDP per capita growth rate will be 0.7 per cent between 2020 and 2030 while the OECD average projected growth rate over the same period is 1.3 per cent.

Supporting immigrants to move more quickly to employment that matches their skills and experience would help accelerate GDP per capita growth as Canada’s population grows. International research indicates that immigration can lead to increases in GDP per capita in advanced economies, and that the gains associated with immigration are shared broadly among the population.

I would welcome the opportunity to engage in a conversation or interview with yourself, Anne Michèle Meggs or Pierre Fortin to discuss our research and advocacy, but in the short term, would request that you correct the statement that we advocate for “massive temporary immigration,” which is simply untrue.

Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you,

Lisa Lalande

CEO, Century Initiative

The impact of immigration on GDP per capita, population aging and labour shortages is not what you think
A rejoinder to Lisa Lalande, by Anne Michèle Meggs and Pierre Fortin

We are grateful to the CEO of the Century Initiative, Lisa Lalande, for taking our criticism of the views of her organization on immigration in Inroads 53 seriously.¹

Any discussion of population growth and immigration in Canada must be based on three crucial facts. First, given that the natural increase in population arising from the excess of births over deaths is small and set to remain so for the coming decades, immigration is and will be the main driver of population growth in the foreseeable future.

Second, the fundamental identity of demographic analysis used by international organizations and national agencies like Statistics Canada is that in any given year the contribution of migration to population growth is the sum of permanent immigration (all admissions to permanent residency) and temporary immigration (the net change in nonpermanent residents during the year = new arrivals net of admissions to permanent residency and net of exits to outside of Canada), less net emigration.² Both permanent and temporary immigration – not only the permanent variety – add to the total population.

Third, in the past decade there has been a massive increase in temporary immigration, both in absolute levels and relative to permanent immigration. In the old days, most newcomers planning to settle in Canada arrived with permanent residency because they were required to apply for immigration from outside the country. Today, most people arriving from other countries do so on temporary visas and permits or as asylum seekers. The game has changed. And the change is deliberate policy of the federal government put in place largely to hasten the permanent immigration objectives.

Temporary immigration has become the dominant driver of population growth

Table 1 illustrates these facts by reporting the contributions of natural increase (births less deaths) and migration (both permanent and temporary immigration, less net emigration) to the total increase in Canada’s population in the two periods 2012–15 and 2016–19 and in 2022.

The first column of table 1 looks at the 2012–15 period because it came just before the federal Advisory Council on Economic Growth (ACEG) published its 2016 report. The council recommended that permanent immigration to Canada be increased by 50 per cent, from 300,000 in 2016 to 450,000 in 2021.³ This recommendation was hailed by the lobby group Century Initiative (CI, cofounded by the chair of ACEG, Dominic Barton, a business executive and diplomat) as being consistent with its own aspirational objective of growing the population of Canada to 100 million by 2100. The second column of table 1 bears on the 2016–19 period that followed publication of the ACEG report and preceded the pandemic. The last column gives migration details for the most recent year, 2022, which followed the pandemic.

Table 1 first shows that in the past ten years natural increase in population has trended down (from 127,000 to 43,000), and that net emigration was small and declining too (from 53,000 to 37,000). Second, permanent immigration increased by 67 per cent from 262,000 in 2012–15 to 437,000 in 2022. Third, temporary immigration followed an explosive path from an insignificant 25,000 in 2012–15 to a very large 608,000 in 2022, outnumbering permanent immigration by 40 per cent.⁴

The 2016 ACEG report understandably focused on permanent immigration, given that in previous years temporary immigration had been small and was not seen as a significant source of population growth. Despite the enormous growth in temporary immigration since 2016, up to this day CI has remained basically concerned with permanent immigration.

As Ms. Lalande emphasizes in her response to our exchange, one of the key recommendations of her group in 2023 is still that “Canada must ensure that its immigration system is based on permanent immigration.”⁵ In fact, if there had been zero temporary immigration instead of 607,782 in 2022, the permanent immigration level of 437,180 would have sustained an increase of 1.15 per cent in total population, given the net emigration of 37,405 and natural increase of 42,553.⁶ It is worth noting here that, if it was applied repeatedly to each year of the 78-year period 2023–2100, this annual increment of 1.15 per cent would ultimately yield a population of 96.6 million Canadians in 2100, not far from the CI goal of 100 million.⁷ This is consistent with Ms. Lalande’s focus on permanent immigration as the basic channel driving population growth toward CI’s end-of-century target.

The persistent exclusive focus of the Century Initiative and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada on permanent immigration is a serious mistake

The problem with the focus on permanent immigration as the exclusive source of population growth, though, is that it sidesteps the fact that positive temporary immigration (a net increase in nonpermanent residents) in a given year will increase the total population permanently unless it is offset by negative temporary immigration (a net decrease in nonpermanent residents) of the same order of magnitude in subsequent years. A common error is to view temporary immigration as having just a passing temporary effect on population growth. It is true that any given cohort of temporary immigrants does disappear once its members are admitted to permanent residency or leave Canada when their permits expire. However, the impact on total population will not disappear, but will continue to increase if this cohort of nonpermanent residents is replaced by larger and larger cohorts of new temporary immigrants in subsequent years.

This is exactly what happened after the publication of the ACEG report in 2016. The number of temporary immigrants increased continually every year except during the pandemic period 2020–21. The net increase in nonpermanent residents was 88,000 in 2016, 138,000 in 2017, 155,000 in 2018, 191,000 in 2019, and 608,000 in 2022. In this last year, the total population increase of 1,050,110 added 2.7 per cent to the beginning-of-2022 population of Canada. Formally, if this annual growth rate were to be sustained from 2023 to 2100, the population of Canada would reach 100 million in 2057 and 316 million in 2100.⁸

The steady growth rate of population that would bring Canada up to 100 million residents in 2100 from the beginning-of-2023 level of 39.6 million is 1.2 per cent per annum, which is less than half the 2022 actual growth rate of 2.7 per cent. Implementing the 1.2 per cent rate would require a huge drop from the 1,045,000 (437,000 permanent and 608,000 temporary) immigration total of 2022. Temporary immigration would have to go down to almost zero.

As mentioned above, the 2016 report of the Advisory Council on Economic Growth appointed by Finance Minister Bill Morneau and chaired by CI cofounder Dominic Barton suggested that the number of permanent immigrants to Canada be increased to 450,000 in 2021. The targets for permanent immigration stated in November 2022 by then–immigration minister Sean Fraser (465,000 in 2023, 485,000 in 2024 and 500,000 in 2025) are broadly consistent with this ACEG recommendation and with the immigration path leading to a Canadian population of 100 million in 2100 that CI is projecting in its 2023 National Scoreboard on Canada’s Growth and Prosperity. The CI path is solely based on permanent immigration and omits any current or future effect of temporary immigration on population growth. It has population growing at an average annual rate of 1.2 per cent per year leading to the 100 million target in 2100.⁹

Minister Fraser cautioned that his targets for permanent immigration were not meant to achieve the specific CI goal of 100 million for 2100 population.¹⁰ However, they are doing just that – and more, taking the effect of temporary immigration on population growth into account. Neither the immigration growth path projected by CI nor the official targets of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) for permanent immigration give any guidance about where total (permanent plus temporary) immigration is going to lead future population growth.

To sum up, we have stressed the elementary demographic fact that the annual growth rate of the total population is impacted not only by the addition of new permanent immigrants, but also by the net change in nonpermanent residents during the year (a.k.a. temporary immigration). We have also emphasized that temporary immigration was the dominant driver of population growth in 2022. It is therefore a serious mistake to project future population growth based on future permanent immigration levels alone.

CI should clarify its views on how IRCC should deal with the increasing disconnect between population growth and permanent immigration

One objective of our conversation in Inroads 53 was to expose the administrative mess that characterizes the treatment of temporary immigration by IRCC. The idea of prioritizing temporary migrants with Canadian experience or a Canadian diploma for permanent residency – a “two-step” process – is not new. On its face it may seem like a good idea, but in our conversation we underlined the dangers related to the current system, particularly for those living with a precarious temporary status. Nevertheless, IRCC has made it the commanding path toward permanent residency, instead of the ranking (or “points”) system used to assess skills and earnings potential in the old days.

IRCC is all out to increase immigration levels at the expense of the skill levels of new immigrants. There is no upper bound set on the number of people accepted each year as nonpermanent residents. The number is, to a large extent, determined by the free flow of whatever the demand from postsecondary institutions and employers turns out to be. This has led to a ballooning number of applications, huge administrative backlogs, lower acceptance standards, a greater risk of precarity or mistreatment for low-skilled temporary workers, and rising frustration among holders of temporary permits, who are seeing their applications marred by impossible delays. Not to mention the overwhelming challenges these newcomers, like so many Canadians, have in finding affordable housing and daycare. The system is quantitatively out of control and qualitatively deteriorating.

In our conversation, we stated that “this unplanned massive temporary immigration is consistent with the goal of the Century Initiative.” In her response, Ms. Lalande forcefully declares that CI does not advocate massive temporary immigration. She requests that we correct our assertion to the contrary.

We are happy to address the misunderstanding. In stating that IRCC’s unplanned massive temporary immigration was consistent with the goal of CI, we simply intended to point out that IRCC was pursuing the same goal – more immigration and a bigger Canada – as CI was recommending. Indeed, the International Education Strategy of the federal government is proudly geared toward immigration and economic goals.

We did not mean that CI was backing the chaotic management and uncapped temporary immigration in which IRCC is bogged down. However, CI gives no specific guidance about how IRCC should deal with the increasing disconnect between the rapidly accelerating population growth and the much slower-paced trend in permanent immigration. We need more than a limited recognition that “challenges persist.” A detailed clarifying discussion of these matters by CI would be welcome.

In-depth reviews of international research by reputed Canadian economists have shown that immigration does not lead to increases in GDP per capita

In her response to our conversation, Ms. Lalande also complains that we did not refer to the 2021 OECD projection that the potential growth rate of Canada’s GDP per capita will be 0.7 per cent between 2020 and 2030 while the projection for the average OECD country is 1.3 per cent.¹¹ She considers the mediocre relative performance projected for Canada as additional motivation for the country to increase immigration, given her conviction that “international research indicates that immigration can lead to increases in GDP per capita in advanced economies.”

We were aware of the existence of the OECD results when we prepared our conversation, but we did not refer to them for two reasons. First, long-term projections of this kind are too often subject to large errors. Second, and more importantly, Ms. Lalande’s assertion that immigration can lead to increases in GDP per capita according to international research is wrong.

A larger population entails a larger total GDP. With more workers, a country can produce more goods and services and increase national income in the aggregate. A greater total GDP also allows a country to wield a greater degree of global influence. However, a greater population size and a greater degree of global influence do not necessarily support the basic purpose of economic growth, which is to enhance the average material well-being of the country’s residents. That is, its GDP per capita will not necessarily be larger. Here are various pieces of evidence that corroborate this assertion and contradict Ms. Lalande’s statement.

Our exchange in Inroads 53 reported that the static cross-country correlation between the level of GDP per capita and the size of population among 25 advanced OECD economies was almost exactly zero in the prepandemic year 2019. This negligible static correlation between GDP per capita and population size across countries can be extended to long-term growth dynamics.

Based on data from the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations, it is possible to estimate the effects of several potential determinants of the cumulative growth of GDP per capita among the same OECD25 group of countries over the 30-year period 1989–2019. In conformity with the research literature, we find that the initial (1989) level of GDP per capita and the average investment rate are significant determinants of the cumulative growth of GDP per capita, but that the effects of the cumulative growth of total population and the average net migration rate are jointly statistically negligible.¹² In other words, the proposition that a higher growth rate of population (whether coming from local or immigrant sources) augments the growth rate of GDP per capita over the long term is not sustained by the data of the last 30 years in the advanced economies of the OECD.

Our conversation also referred to in-depth reviews of international research on immigration by two teams of Canadian economists who are reputed in this area (Boudarbat-Grenier and Riddell-Green-Worswick).¹³ Their common conclusion is the same as above: immigration and GDP per capita are uncorrelated in advanced economies. Riddell, Green and Worswick put it starkly as follows: “What a large body of evidence indicates is that immigration is neither good nor bad for the economy, as assessed by its impact on the living standards of current citizens … There is no evidence that substantially increased immigration will lead to increased growth of a type that shows up in positive impacts on wages and employment of those already here.”

These two reviews of the published literature fully contradict the assertion that international research indicates that immigration can lead to increases in GDP per capita in advanced economies.

There is more. In June 2023, Matthew Doyle (University of Waterloo), Mikal Skuterud (also of Waterloo) and Christopher Worswick put out a review of the economics of immigration (with many applications to Canada).¹⁴ It helps to clarify why international research finds that more immigration is unlikely to increase GDP per capita.

In the short term, more immigration dilutes the amount of productive equipment available per worker. Their statistical analysis of several decades of Canadian macrodata shows accordingly that there is “no evidence that higher immigration rates can be expected to boost growth rates in per capita GDP in the short run.” In the medium term, they point out that ever since Canada’s immigration rate began to climb in 2014, investment per worker has followed a downward trend that has been “unable to mitigate the adverse effects of increased immigration rates on average economic living standards in the population.” In the long term, they concur with Boudarbat-Grenier and Riddell-Green-Worswick that international research is uncertain about the impact of immigration on multifactor productivity.

They show contrariwise that in Canada the large-scale increase in economic immigration, the shift in admissions away from the points system and toward an employer nomination system, and the concentration of labour shortages in low-skill jobs have together led to mean earnings that are lower for immigrants than for the rest of the population. The likely outcome is a lower average level of GDP per capita.

More immigration is not an effective means of attenuating the aging of Canada’s population or resolving the problem of economy-wide labour shortages

Our conversation in Inroads 53 rejected a few other false beliefs about the economic effects of increased immigration. One of them is that immigration would be a means of rebalancing Canada’s age distribution. We referred to a study by Parisa Mahboubi and Bill Robson as having demonstrated that more immigration would be of little consequence for the aging of the Canadian population.¹⁵ Riddell-Green-Worswick and Doyle-Skuterud-Worswick both agree and point out that the age structure of immigrants is too varied and that immigrants age too. They conclude that immigration is not a feasible means of substantially altering Canada’s age structure.

Another false belief is that immigration can help alleviate the problem of economy-wide labour shortages. It does not. Immigration is certainly helpful in expanding the supply of human resources in specific sectoral or regional markets struck by high job vacancy rates. But as the newcomers and their employers spend their additional income on housing and other consumption and investment goods, the pressure on demand for labour is strengthened in other sectors and regions.

It may even more than offset the initial expansion of supply. We are currently seeing it add stress to the current housing crisis in Canada. The final impact of immigration in the aggregate may not be to reduce labour shortages, but to redistribute them across sectors and regions. Our conversation adduced evidence that this is indeed the case in Canada and in the OECD25 group of countries. The belief that immigration is an economy-wide solution for labour shortages is, simply put, a fallacy of composition.

Maintaining Canada’s net migration rate at the very high 2022 level risks fuelling a destructive anti-immigration movement as in the United States and Europe

Finally, while we fully agree with CI that “public support for immigration is an essential condition for Canada to effectively attract and retain immigrants,” we do not share its optimistic view that this public support “continues to increase among Canadians.”¹⁶ A February 2022 Environics online survey of 5,461 Canadians found that 52 per cent of respondents giving an opinion thought there was “too much immigration to Canada.”¹⁷ Similarly, a November 2022 Léger–Canadian Press online survey of 1,537 Canadians found that 58 per cent of respondents giving an opinion thought the government plan to welcome up to 500,000 immigrants to Canada in 2025 will admit too many immigrants to Canada.¹⁸

Furthermore, an August 2023 Nanos hybrid telephone and online survey of 1,081 Canadians indicated that respondents were “most likely to say the rising cost of living should be the top priority of the House of Commons this fall” and that 72 per cent of those giving an opinion thought that the plan “to increase the annual target of immigrants from 465,000 to 500,000 by 2025” will have a negative impact on the cost of housing.¹⁹

In 2015–19, Canada’s net migration rate of 1.0 per cent was three times as high as the average rate of 0.35 per cent for the OECD25 group of countries.²⁰ But at 2.6 per cent in 2022, the Canadian rate shot up to seven times this OECD25 0.35 per cent average rate for 2015–19. The relevant question here is how Canadians will react if the large 2022 increase in the country’s net migration rate is maintained in years to come, given that a majority already thinks that there is too much immigration to Canada.

Fifteen years ago, a widely cited study of 41 U.S. cities by political scientist Robert Putnam of Harvard University showed that “in ethnically diverse neighbourhoods residents of all races tend to ‘hunker down’ trust (even of one’s own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer.”²¹ In other words, in the short run, immigration and diversity would slow down the development of social capital. Fortunately, as Putnam himself argued, people can eventually get over this difficulty, but only if their short-term capacity to welcome immigrants is not exceeded, if the newcomers are given time and resources to integrate, and if the whole of society is allowed enough time to build a new common identity.

Recent events in Europe and the United States and the Putnam findings sound a warning for Canada’s current immigration policy. If Canada’s net migration rate continues at the 2022 level of 2.6 per cent, the country will risk being hit by a hard and destructive anti-immigration movement as in the United States and Europe.

In summary, we feel it is a grave mistake to focus exclusively on the impact of permanent immigration on population growth and forget about the even larger impact of temporary immigration. Not only is massive low-wage temporary immigration a monstrous policy blunder, but its management by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has led to an administrative mess as well.

The three-pronged belief that immigration will lead to increases in GDP per capita, make a dent in the aging of population and reduce economy-wide labour shortages is wrong. The combination of sharply accelerating population growth fuelled by rising immigration and decreasing public support for immigration in Canada risks generating the kind of destructive anti-immigration movement here that already exists in the United States and Europe.

For family and professional reasons, the two of us are sold to the cause of immigration, although our main motivation is not economic, except insofar as economic integration is key to the integration process in general. Rather, we recognize Canada’s responsibility with respect to the increasing forced migration in the world, its attraction as a safe and modern society and the richness that new cultures and their ideas and perspectives bring with them.

We do not know exactly what the optimal level of immigration is for Canada, but until we have figured it out, we know for sure (1) that it is critical to bring it down significantly and (2) that no realignment on immigration policy, whether it be slowing the pace of arrivals or getting back to selecting highly skilled immigrants, will have any effect if it does not include temporary immigration.

On our knees, we beg for moderation and balance.

Continue reading “The Century Initiative does Not Advocate Massive Temporary Immigration”

Image: Nova Scotia lobster boats. Via NSPaul, Wikimedia Commons.

Written by Inroads Contributors Ian Peach and David Perley

The year 2021 was marked by conflict between the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqi (formerly commonly known as Maliseet) lobster fishers in the Maritime provinces, provoked by DFO’s failure to respect treaty rights. Under the 18th-century Peace and Friendship Treaties between the Wabanaki Confederacy – which includes the Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqi nations – and the British Crown, those nations have a treaty right to fish “as usual” or “as formerly.” The Wabanaki Confederacy agreed to share the use and “fruits” of their lands with the British, but not to transfer control or ownership. In summary, DFO persists in claiming the right to unilaterally regulate a fishery that does not belong to the federal Crown. The department needs to sit down with Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqi fishers and negotiate a comanagement system, based on a mutual commitment to sharing.

On March 3, 2021, Bernadette Jordan, then Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, announced that her department would work with Wabanaki communities to develop Moderate Livelihood Fishing Plans. Jordan promised to “license activities under these fishing plans, opening up the ability for First Nation harvesters to fish and sell their catch, and the opportunity to earn a moderate livelihood.” But she also announced that a key element of these fishing plans would be that the Indigenous fishery would have to operate within the commercial fishing season. Her justification was that this would help ensure “that fish species are harvested sustainably and maintain orderly, predictable, and well-managed fisheries.”¹ Under the treaties, this was not up to DFO to decide.

Perry Bellegarde, at the time Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief, wrote to Prime Minister Trudeau two days after the Minister’s announcement, demanding that the federal government restart negotiations with the Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw. He described Jordan as having “badly mismanaged” the matter because, instead of consulting meaningfully with the Mi’kmaw, she was trying to impose a policy on them. He also called out DFO’s plan to increase federal enforcement of this policy as “overtly hostile actions,” and contrasted this policy with the federal government’s public commitments to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.²

Mike Sack, Chief of Sipekne’katik First Nation, a Mi’kmaw First Nation in Nova Scotia, said that his community’s fishery would continue to operate outside DFO seasons, and he urged all Mi’kmaw First Nations to reject the federal position.³ PEI Mi’kmaw chiefs also denounced the federal government’s plan.⁴ PEI Senator Brian Francis commented that the federal position “will not reduce the potential for hostility or even violence against the Mi’kmaq but rather increase the surveillance and policing of our fishers and communities … I am left deeply troubled and concerned that the Mi’kmaq and/or other First Nations will be forced to once again resort to the courts to ensure our rights are honoured. That, to me, is not how we achieve real reconciliation.”⁵

Senators Francis and Dan Christmas, along with Liberal MP Jaime Battiste, had earlier recommended that DFO create an Atlantic First Nations Fishing Authority to protect the treaty rights of Atlantic First Nations. Minister Jordan had indicated that she was open to exploring the idea. But the March announcement showed that this openness had given way to DFO’s traditional culture of unilateralism.

In early August, Canadian Press reported that several Mi’kmaq-owned lobster boats were cut loose from their moorings at a Nova Scotia wharf and their catch taken. Chief Sack alleged that the boats were cut loose to damage the Mi’kmaq’s property and intimidate their fishers: “This is unfortunately what we have to deal with, harassment and property damage with no recourse or substantive protection to safeguard our people.”⁶ Later that month, DFO officials arrested Chief Sack, seized his lobster traps and detained him for 45 minutes. The reason for the arrest was the decision of the Sipekne’katik to expand their self-regulated “treaty fishery,” which would begin before the non-Indigenous lobster fishing season opened.⁷

Chief Sack was undeterred in response to his detention. He said that his First Nation would operate under the guidelines of its own fisheries management plan, based on sound conservation principles. Minister Jordan called the “unauthorized” First Nations fishery “concerning” and declared that DFO would enforce the federal Fisheries Act. Chief Sack retorted, “It’s unfortunate they come in, push their weight around and do what they want and aren’t held accountable. For me, it’s systemic racism.”⁸

Wolastoqi chiefs in New Brunswick have repeatedly decried harassment and aggressive intimidation of First Nations fishers by DFO conservation officers, such as their seizure in September 2021 of a small boat owned by members of the St. Mary’s First Nation. The chiefs said conservation officers have stated that “their instructions are to focus on Indigenous fishers.”⁹

Back to the treaties

To really understand the rules that are meant to govern resource management on the territories of the member nations of the Wabanaki Confederacy,¹⁰ one should not begin with what the Supreme Court of Canada has said about treaties but with the Peace and Friendship Treaties themselves. In R. v. Sparrow, the Court invented the idea that the Crown could interfere with an Aboriginal right to fish without Indigenous consent. In R. v. Marshall, the Court invented the idea that Indigenous commercial fishers are limited to earning a “moderate livelihood.”¹¹

But in the Peace and Friendship Treaties, the British made a commitment to allow the nations of the Wabanaki Confederacy to fish “as usual”: in other words, to fish and manage the fishery for the benefit of the people of the nations of the Wabanaki Confederacy as they had always done prior to contact. The limitations on the rights of Indigenous peoples that the Supreme Court of Canada created in Sparrow, Marshall and other cases are not consistent with the terms of the treaties agreed to by the nations of the Wabanaki Confederacy and the British Crown.

As the Wabanaki Nations, never conquered, were parties to treaties with the Crown, these treaties are constitutional documents – constitutive of the terms on which the relationship between the Wabanaki Nations and the British Crown was established and, therefore, the source of whatever rights the Crown has in Wabanaki territory. The Supreme Court of Canada has no more authority than any other institution to change these terms without the consent of the signatories.

Wabanaki people view the Peace and Friendship Treaties as solemn international agreements between the Wabanaki Nations and the British Crown. As historian Sarah Isabel Wallace explains, the French readily established alliances with the Wabanaki that emphasized peace and collaboration in trade.¹² As a consequence of these alliances, the Wabanaki Confederacy fought on the side of France against English colonial forces in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

By the summer of 1725, both the British and the Wabanaki wanted to end the escalating violence. In December 1725, the Penobscot and some other allied nations in the northeastern United States signed what became known as the Treaty of Boston (or Dummer’s Treaty). The following year, the Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik (as well as the Abenaki and Passamaquoddy in Massachusetts and New Hampshire) signed essentially the same agreement, Mascarene’s Treaty. These treaties, along with others signed later in the 18th century, became known as the Peace and Friendship Treaties.

The Wabanaki consider the treaties to be sacred agreements; in the Wolastoqey language, treaties are referred to as “kci lakutuwakonol,” which means “making sacred relations as long as the sun and moon shall endure.” The Supreme Court of Canada correctly ruled that the Peace and Friendship Treaties are just as valid today as they were in the 18th century. They are timeless.

In the worldview of the Indigenous signatories, the British Crown became a “family member” of the Wabanaki Confederacy on signing the treaties. The British therefore joined the Wabanaki family in accordance with Wabanaki law. As family members, they were expected to coexist in Wabanaki territory and live in peace and harmony with the rest of their Wabanaki family. This is incompatible with unilateral infringement “justified” under a test imposed by a court obtaining its authority from British-derived law.

Wabanaki Elders have shared stories of their hunting activities within Wabanaki hunting territory. A typical hunting activity would include harvesting medicinal plants, securing materials for lodges and birchbark canoes, and following spiritual protocols for the preparation of the food supply provided by specific game found in the territory, such as moose and deer.

Wabanaki Elders further emphasized that the principle of the conservation of resources was an important aspect of hunting, fishing and fowling activities. One hunted and fished only what one needed for clan survival. Each generation was expected to save resources for future generations. This way of life ensured the survival of each succeeding generation. For the Wabanaki, their traditional lands and rivers encompassed a spirit which was tightly connected to the people. This was their identity as Wolastoqiyik, Mi’kmaq, Peskotomuhkati, Penobscot and Abenaki. The Wabanaki honoured all of creation and, in particular, traditional lands and rivers because they provided all that was required for survival.

The British, too, understood that these were the terms of the Peace and Friendship Treaties. At the treaty negotiations in November 1720, the British Treaty Commissioners, on behalf of their Government, told the Wabanaki representatives that “the English have no design to take your country or any of your lands from you; or to deprive you of any of your just Rights or Privileges.”¹³

The English text of the treaties demonstrates that these treaties are treaties of peace and alliance, not agreements to cede the lands or the political sovereignty of the Wabanaki to the Crown. In the English text of the Treaties of 1725 and 1726, for example, the Wabanaki Nations agreed to

forbear all Acts of Hostility Injuries and Discords towards all the Subjects of the Crown of Great Britain, & not offer the least hurt Violence or Molestation to them or any of them in their Persons or Estates, But will hence forward hold & maintain a firm and Constant Amity and Friendship with all the English and will never Confederate or Combine with any other Nation to their prejudice … That His Majesties Subjects the English shall and may peaceably and Quietly Enter upon, Improve & forever Enjoy … their rights of Land and former Settlements Properties & possessions within the Eastern parts of the said Province of the Massachusetts Bay … without any Molestation or Claims by us, or any other Indians.

In exchange, the British promised:

Saving unto the Penoscot, Narridgewalk And other Tribes within His Majesties Province aforesaid and their Natural descendants respectively All their Lands, liberties & properties not by them Conveyed or sold to, or possess’d by any of the English Subjects or aforesaid As also the Privelege of Fishing, Hunting & Fowling as formerly.

The Treaty of 1752 reaffirmed the relationship of peace and friendship, stating that the terms of the treaties of 1725 and 1726

are hereby from this time forward renewed, reiterated, and forever Confirmed … That all Transactions during the Late War shall on both sides be buried in Oblivion with the Hatchet, And that the said Indians shall have all favour, Friendship & Protection shewn them from this His Majesty’s Government … It is agreed that the said Tribe of Indians shall not be hindered from, but have free liberty of Hunting and Fishing as usual and that if they shall think a Truck house needful at the River Chibenaccadie … they shall have the same built and proper Merchandize, lodged therein to be exchanged for what the Indians shall have to dispose of and that in the meantime the Indians shall have free liberty to bring to Sale to Halifax or any other Settlement within this Province, Skins, feathers, fowl, fish or any other thing they shall have to sell, where they shall have liberty to dispose thereof to the best Advantage.

The 1760–61 treaties also provided:

No person or persons belonging to the said Tribes shall at any time hereafter aid or Assist any of the Enemies of His most Sacred Majesty King George the Second or of his Heirs and successors nor shall hold any Correspondence or Commerce with any such His Majesty’s Enemies in any way or manner whatsoever and that, for the more effectually preventing any such Correspondence and Commerce with any of His Majesty’s Enemies, the said Tribes shall at all times hereafter Traffic and barter and exchange Commodities with the Managers of such Truckhouses as shall be established for that purpose by his Majesty’s Governors of this Province at Fort Frederick or elsewhere within the Said Province and at no other place.

While there are differences between the terms of the agreements negotiated with the Wabanaki Nations as understood by those nations and the terms recorded in English, it is clear from both understandings that the Peace and Friendship Treaties did not impede the freedom of the Wabanaki peoples to hunt, fish, trap and gather as they had always done. Nor did they transfer what the common law would understand as “ownership” of their territories and the fruits of those territories to the British Crown.

Rather, the treaties established and confirmed the military alliance between the Wabanaki and the British, and provided that British settlers who had already occupied lands would be allowed to continue to occupy those lands while the rest of the Wabanaki territory not sold to British settlers would remain Wabanaki land. The treaties guaranteed the Wabanaki the right to continue to hunt, fish, trap and gather on their territories as they had always done. The later treaties also promised that the Wabanaki would trade all of the goods that they wished to sell to the British and that “truckhouses” (trading posts) would be established to allow them to do so, so that they did not trade with anyone else.

As the Supreme Court of Canada noted in the 1985 case of Simon v. the Queen,

The Treaty was entered into for the benefit of both the British Crown and the Micmac (sic) people, to maintain peace and order as well as to recognize and confirm the existing hunting and fishing rights of the Micmac … The Treaty, by providing that the Micmac should not be hindered from but should have free liberty of hunting and fishing as usual, constitutes a positive source of protection against infringements on hunting rights … Article 4 of the Treaty appears to contemplate hunting for commercial purposes when it refers to the construction of a truck house as a place of exchange and mentions the liberty of the Micmac to bring game for sale.¹⁴

As well, the Court stated, “None of the Maritime treaties of the eighteenth century cedes land … The treaty was an exchange of solemn promises between the Micmacs and the King’s representative entered into to achieve and guarantee peace. It is an enforceable obligation between the Indians and the white man.”¹⁵

Thus, logic dictates that the terms of the treaties prevent the Crown from regulating the hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering of the Wabanaki, as such regulation would “hinder” their freedom to hunt, fish, trap and gather “as usual.” Only the Wabanaki have the authority to regulate the hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering of Wabanaki people. Indeed, the Treaty of 1752 says that the Wabanaki can sell anything that they have to dispose of to the British at truckhouses or, until truckhouses are built, at Halifax or any other settlement “where they shall have liberty to dispose thereof to the best Advantage.”

A way forward: Fisheries comanagement

The Wabanaki could simply rely on the terms of the Peace and Friendship Treaties and insist that, since their right to fish as they always had, unhindered by the Crown, is primary, the non-Indigenous commercial fishery must accommodate the Indigenous treaty fishery, not the other way around. The treaty texts (including the English texts) suggest that this is a perfectly valid argument. Furthermore, the history of Indigenous fishery litigation in the United States Pacific Northwest presents an interesting parallel suggesting that such an argument might be worth making in seeking a negotiated solution.

In February 1974, Federal District Judge George Boldt decided a legal challenge by the U.S. federal government against the state of Washington designed to protect the treaty fishing rights of the First Nations that fished in Puget Sound. Judge Boldt decided that the treaty provisions authorizing the First Nations to fish “in common with the citizens of the (Washington) territory” meant that the First Nations had the right to catch half of the harvestable salmon and steelhead trout in their traditional fishing grounds beyond their reserves and that the treaties guaranteed the protection of the salmon’s habitat from destruction.¹⁶

Washington state challenged the decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but in 1979 the Supreme Court upheld Judge Boldt’s decision, with its interpretation of the 1853 Stevens Treaty that gave the First Nations significant control over their traditional fishery grounds.¹⁷ This decision led the First Nations of the Pacific Northwest to establish the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission to regulate the treaty fishery in an orderly way and act as the voice for the Northwest First Nations in fisheries management and conservation matters.

Ultimately, this Commission led to the establishment of fisheries comanagement, first through Fishery Advisory Boards and finally, in 1983, through the establishment of a formal fisheries comanagement regime between the state government and the First Nations. In establishing such a regime, the state government acknowledged the First Nations’ right and capacity to regulate their fishery.¹⁸

In Atlantic Canada, to retain the amity that is at the heart of the Peace and Friendship Treaty relationship and avoid conflict, the treaty parties need to recognize that they have an obligation to consult with each other. Consultation should be required for any activities that each party wishes to undertake that could harm the other or that, if undertaken by both parties in an uncoordinated way, could harm the land, water or air (along with beings that are part of the land, water or air). In this way, the parties would come to shared regulatory decisions.

For the Wabanaki Nations, the U.S. v. Washington decision could be a useful example supporting insistence that the federal government create a fisheries comanagement regime, if Ottawa persists in engaging in an unproductive dispute. Wouldn’t it be better, though, for the federal government to simply emulate fisheries management in Washington state in the aftermath of U.S. v. Washington and establish a genuine comanagement regime through negotiation?

This would certainly be the approach most consistent with the federal Attorney General of Canada’s Directive on Civil Litigation Involving Indigenous Peoples. Litigation guideline #3 in this directive states,

Litigation is by its nature an adversarial process, and cannot be the primary forum for broad reconciliation and the renewal of the Crown-Indigenous relationship. One of the goals of reconciliation in legal matters is to make conflict and litigation the exception, by promoting respectful and meaningful dialogue outside of the courts … Working with the client and other departmental counsel, counsel must develop a coordinated approach with the aim of achieving a resolution that avoids litigation.¹⁹

According to litigation guideline #4, “Counsel’s primary goal must be to resolve the issues, using the court process as a last resort and in the narrowest way possible … Counsel must work with client departments and agencies to develop problem-solving approaches that promote reconciliation. These approaches should include alternative dispute resolution processes such as negotiations and mediations.”²⁰

In regulating the use of the fruits of their territory, the Wabanaki may well have a duty to consult with the officials of the Crown, as do the officials of the Crown with the Wabanaki, and negotiate agreements on how the two parties will fairly and sustainably share the fruits of Wabanaki territory to abide by the relationship of peace and friendship that was at the root of the Peace and Friendship Treaties.

This approach would also be consistent with how the Wabanaki traditionally made decisions about how the fruits of the lands, waters and air of Wabanaki territories were to be used. Traditionally, Wabanaki clans were assigned hunting territories by the grand council, consisting of the Grand Chief, village Chiefs, Elders and Clan Mothers (or in some cases, by village Chiefs, Elders and Clan Mothers after discussion). Regardless of which group made an individual decision, it was always emphasized that conservation of resources such as game, fish, medicines and wildlife in general had to be considered. This was “Seventh Generation Thinking” or, in Wolastoqey, “‘Ciw Weckuwapasihtit.” This traditional process of managing resource use would be a valuable guide to modern sustainable resource management processes.

The best approach to managing the Atlantic fishery would be for the Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik to negotiate a joint process for determining catch limits and seasons with the federal government. In this way, overfishing as a consequence of uncoordinated regulation of the East Coast fishery could be avoided. Such a joint process will require the Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik to have the resources necessary to allow them to contribute to the comanagement process based on evidence about sustainable harvesting levels, for example.

From existing Canadian jurisprudence on the Crown’s duty to consult and accommodate Indigenous interests, we know that a party’s duty to consult another party does not give that other party a right of veto over the consulting party’s chosen course of action. Nor does the treaty relationship give the federal government a right to veto the Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqey governments’ decisions about managing the Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqey fishery. It certainly does not give them the power to impose licensing regimes, seasonal restrictions and “moderate livelihood” catch limits on Mi’kmaq or Wolastoqi fishers. Thus, DFO’s current attempts to restrict the Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqey lobster fishery are, simply, inconsistent with the terms of the Peace and Friendship Treaties, which are – let us not forget – part of the Constitution of Canada.

Ian Peach is a constitutional law and public policy scholar who has worked as a policy adviser and negotiator in federal, provincial and territorial governments across Canada. David Perley is cofounder of the Wolastoq Lanquage and Culture Center, Tobique First Nation, New Brunswick.

Continue reading “Finding a Way Out of the Federal Lobster Trap”

Image: the pictures of Damien and Myles Sanderson shown by the RCMP during a September 4th 2022 press conference.

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On September 4, ten people were stabbed to death in the James Smith Cree Nation and the nearby village of Weldon, Saskatchewan, midway between Prince Albert and Melfort. Police identified two brothers, Damien and Myles Sanderson, as the suspected killers. The next day, Damien was found dead with multiple wounds. Myles was taken into custody on September 7 and died of a drug overdose hours later. Police eventually determined that Myles Sanderson was responsible for all the deaths, including that of his brother.

John Richards wrote an op-ed on the tragedy and shared it with the Inroads listserv. It sparked a discussion, highlights of which are presented here. This version of John’s op-ed was revised and expanded by Pierre Fortin and appeared under their joint byline in French in Le Devoir on September 12 and in English in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix on September 27, and subsequently in Saskatchewan’s other major newspaper, the Regina Leader-Post.¹

John Richards | September 6

Gabriel Wortman, who killed 22 in Nova Scotia, was White. Myles Sanderson, who has killed 11 and injured 18 in the James Smith reserve east of Prince Albert, has Indigenous ancestry. I have no insight into the factors that predispose people to go on a killing spree. Pathological killers are, fortunately, a very small share among all ethnic communities.

However, there is more to this tragedy than analyzing the psychology of Myles Sanderson. Over the years 2016–18, the average annual number of homicide victims in Canada was 472. Nearly a quarter of all victims (109) were Indigenous; among the Indigenous victims, two thirds (73) were in the Prairie provinces. Overall, the Canadian homicide victim rate is low. Among the non-Indigenous, the average annual rate was just above 1 per 100,000. Among Indigenous people living outside the Prairies, the rate was just below 5 per 100,000; among Indigenous people in the Prairies, the rate was 14 per 100,000. The Prairie homicide victim rate is not low! What is the explanation?

Harold Johnson, a First Nation lawyer who grew up in northwestern Saskatchewan, was for many years crown prosecutor in the northern half of the province. In 2016 he published his memoir, Firewater: How Alcohol is Killing My People (and Yours). The title refers to the dominant theme throughout the book – the need for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders to address the abuse of alcohol and drugs among Indigenous peoples in northern Saskatchewan. We could blame it all on White settlers and residential schools. But, he argued, that implies history is the only relevant explanation for today’s problems: Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders have no agency, no ability to undo the damage. He emphasized rehabilitation of Indigenous identity and temperance – “safe houses” where the residents commit to abstinence.

Johnson’s policy recommendations deserve serious attention. A third way of looking at the syndrome of high homicide, suicide and alcohol/drug abuse rates is to attack the persistence of high unemployment rates, low education rates and low earnings among those in remote Indigenous communities – in particular in the Prairies.

Based on careful analysis at the county level in “rust belt” U.S. states over the last quarter century, Angus Deaton concluded that factory shutdowns were a central factor in explaining increased local rates of suicide, alcohol/drug abuse and low health status. Factory shutdowns led to higher local unemployment rates and lower wages for those with a job. On the basis of this work, Deaton won the 2015 Nobel Prize in economics. He insisted that his wife, Anne Case, deserved half the prize. They have summarized their analysis in a widely read book, Deaths of Despair. They do not claim that the deterioration of social conditions over the last quarter century in small towns is the only problem, but undeniably “employment at good wages matters.”

The chief of the James Smith reserve east of Prince Albert has acknowledged that use of drugs and alcohol on his reserve is widespread and amounts to a very serious problem. Maybe the motivation of Myles Sanderson’s murders was his participation in the drug trade. Maybe the explanation lies elsewhere. Whatever his motivation, the underlying lack of employment in many remote reserves, such as James Smith, is a factor conducive to “deaths of despair.”

I conclude with a quote from a 2017 parliamentary report on suicide:

For those living in remote communities, the Committee heard there is clear connection between unemployment and hopelessness. For example, when the Weeneebakyo Area Health Authority (near James Bay) asked a young First Nation woman why there are many suicides in her reserve she replied, “It is simple, no jobs, no future and no hope.”

Frances Abele | September 7

Another perspective appears on the op-ed page of this morning’s Globe, written by Ken Coates.²

John, I would respond to you that you are presenting only part of the truth. What you leave out are the sources of strength and positive change.

Steven Davis | September 9


Education and jobs on reserves, you say, are part of the solution. I suppose that the possibility of a job is part of the motivation for someone to get educated, but what kind of jobs can there be on remote reserves? Not all of them have natural resources nearby that can generate jobs.

John Richards | September 9

I wrote an op-ed on the James Smith Cree reserve tragedy on Tuesday. Frances admonished me for presenting only part of the truth and advised me to read the op-ed by Ken Coates in the Globe. Ken has written a great deal about economic development on reserves that succeed in establishing business arrangements, often with resource-sector firms. I agree that this is happening. A comprehensive exploration of “communal capitalism” is Tom Flanagan’s latest book, The Wealth of First Nations (a clever play on Adam Smith). The trouble with Ken and Tom is that they pay attention only to the “sources of strength and positive change.” Tom undertakes an assessment of all Canadian reserves and emphasizes that only two dozen have the administrative capacity to assure success with communal capitalism. He and Ken are reluctant to discuss the severe social problems and the evident close association of “deaths of despair” with low levels of employment and education.

Le Devoir has agreed to publish my op-ed. Its editor requested further detail on regional Indigenous homicide rates across Canada. Here is my original paragraph reworked with revised statistics for 2016–18:

However, there is more to this tragedy (in the James Smith Cree Nation) than analyzing the psychology of Myles Sanderson. Over the years 2016–18, the average annual number of homicide victims in Canada was 580. A quarter of all victims (146) were Indigenous; among the Indigenous victims, two thirds (95) were in the Prairie provinces. Overall, the Canadian homicide victim rate is low. Among the non-Indigenous, the average annual rate over the three years was just above 1 per 100,000. Among the Indigenous in the Prairies, it was 14, which is not low! Other than the Territories, the average annual Indigenous rates were high but much lower than in the Prairies: Atlantic (1), Quebec (4), Ontario (5), B.C. (5), Territories (19). Among all homicide perpetrators, approximately a third were Indigenous. Among both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, the great majority of victims were killed by family members and acquaintances.

Incidentally, Tanya Talaga, an Indigenous frequent contributor to the Globe, has an op-ed today. Her title sums up the reality on many reserves: “The Beast of Addiction in Indigenous Communities Remains Untamed.”³ I acknowledge the importance of cultural rehabilitation and affirmation. I acknowledge that some communal capitalism ventures are succeeding. I would like to see acknowledgement that employment and education matter, and that two thirds of those who identify as Indigenous do not live on a reserve; over half live in a city.

Geoff White | September 9

I have been following the discussion of John’s draft op-ed with interest.

I am inclined to agree with John with respect to the need for improved education, but what form should that take? On First Nations territories (formerly known as reserves), there would appear to be a need for a major investment in facilities and hiring of teachers, especially for primary schools. This should be under the leadership of First Nations residents and give space to traditional Indigenous knowledge. Still, mathematics, science and literacy in one of Canada’s official languages (appropriate to location) must lie at the core of the curriculum.

I am not familiar with achievement rates of Indigenous students not living on First Nations territories relative to their non-Indigenous peers in public education. Since I expect the rates are lower for Indigenous students, additional resources need to be injected under the clear leadership of members of the Indigenous community, but once again stressing mathematics, science and literacy.

With respect to employment, I admit to having doubts similar to others with respect to there being so little opportunity for economic activity on a large number of First Nations territories. Can this be remedied in this era of remote “working from home” by vastly improving the digital infrastructure on First Nations territories? Whatever the case, remote workers must be invested with some sense of the meaningfulness of such work, including feeling a positive connection with life outside of their territorial homes.

Frances Abele | September 9

I’d like to offer two observations:

  1. In April 2020, Gabriel Wortman killed 22 of his neighbours in Portapique, Nova Scotia. The impact of this murderous spree is of course still being suffered by the people there. But one thing that they have not had to suffer is being pathologized as members of the same ethnic group as the killer. No one introduced statistics about literacy rates, murder rates or drug abuse rates in their region, and no one offered employment programs and the like as a means of avoiding future murders. No one assumed that they all needed the same treatment that might have suppressed Wortman’s insanity.
  2. Ken Coates’s article in the Globe and Mail – the one I recommended for reading – was not a discussion of economic development as a solution. It was an attempt to help people see beyond the murders to the normal and hospitable community that endured this horror. Ken had been there for a visit with some students (international and Canadian) just a couple of weeks before the murders. He was attempting to head off group pathologizing and to help us see the people who were harmed as people, like us. The community leadership did the same thing. Chief Mark Arcand of the Saskatoon Tribal Council, whose sister and nephew were murdered, talked through his pain in a similar effort. Why? I think it is because they know how quickly “Oh God, innocent people murdered!” turns into clinical discussions of “What is wrong with these people? What can we do to fix them?”

This happens again and again in our country and it needs to stop. It’s damaging.

Claire Durand | September 9

With my student, I carried out an analysis of education, employment, income and housing in 26 Quebec First Nations and surrounding communities.

Our conclusion: With the same level of education, First Nations have a similar employment rate and an income that is only slightly lower. The problem is access to education. I have been in a few First Nations communities and noticed how there is now much emphasis on education. The federal government failed incredibly in providing real access to education to First Nations. In fact, when First Nations communities are near a city, people in these communities are often more educated than in communities around them. The problem is access in isolated communities.

Anecdotally, a friend of mine worked as a teacher in Nunavik in the 1970s. They looked for the most educated person in the village to teach Inuktitut to the kids. The most educated person had completed Grade 3!

The second problem that we could see in our data is housing. People were 40 times more likely to live in an overcrowded residence in First Nations communities than in the surrounding communities. This means that any problem – mental health, alcoholism, etc. – has an effect on many more people in First Nations communities. In Manawan, for example, there are 300 houses for 2,300 people.⁴

Finally, in another research project, we analyzed income in different First Nations communities in Quebec. The Cree had much higher incomes on average (seven times the average income of Abenakis). They are the only ones who have some control over development on their territory because of the James Bay and “Paix des Braves” agreements. They have agreements with companies that want to establish mines on their territories. They get part of the profits and the companies need to train and hire First Nations people, usually a third of their employees.

We tend to think that there are no jobs up there. It is not quite true, at least not all the time. There are mines where they bring workers from the south – the “fly in fly out” system – instead of hiring First Nations people who live nearby. When communities can control their territories, they can start to change things.

Henry Milner | September 9


I am trying to understand your post. Are you saying that it should be irrelevant that this crime was committed against Indigenous members of a particular community by one of its members? Are you saying that the circumstances of life in that community and the background of the killers should not be taken into account? This is probably the sentiment of most Canadians, but I didn’t think it was yours. I thought you supported the Supreme Court’s position that an individual’s Indigenous identity should be taken into account in sentencing. Clearly that was the rationale for the relatively lenient treatment of Sanderson, which left him free to go on a murderous spree.

Frances Abele | September 9

Thank you for trying to understand me. I will try to be clearer. This means I might be offensive. I am sorry for that.

I was not objecting to taking a murderer’s life circumstances into account in understanding his behaviour. I was noticing that the standard and practice applied to Indigenous people are different from those applied to the rest of us, and I was inviting all of you to think about whether that is okay.

When we marshal all of those statistics in response to a tragedy, we lose sight of the humanity of the people who were involved. An Indigenous person or community should not be reduced to a syndrome or a social problem. It is dehumanizing.

If you could know the people involved, you would know they are like any other Canadians. Further, like all of us, they have the capacity to respond to tragedy – you can see that this week. They do not need us to fix them. They need our solidarity and, in particular, they need us to get out of their face while we listen and learn. That is all.

These are my own views. I don’t mean to judge or chide. I was hoping to provoke thought, to see if a crack would appear between our confident analyses and the human lives we are talking about.

Arthur Milner | September 9

I would add:

The killings in Portapique were treated as an aberration, as was the motor vehicle accident that killed 16 young hockey players in Saskatchewan in 2018.

The murders at James Smith reserve were also an aberration, and perhaps they should have been treated as such, followed only by further police investigation and a long period of concern and caring for the victims and their families. Perhaps it was rude to turn immediately to the alleged causes of violence on the James Smith reserve. Is that what you’re saying, Frances: that no one should have called attention to “literacy rates, murder rates or drug abuse rates”?

But that was never going to happen. James Smith Chief Wally Burns quickly commented on the reserve’s drug problems, and Tanya Talaga wrote about addiction problems in the Globe article John cited.

The murders presented an opportunity to talk about violence on reserves. Are you saying Indigenous observers should not have taken it

Jared Milne | September 11

Building on Professor Durand’s point, isn’t another part of the problem the fact that Indigenous housing, education, etc. are grossly underfunded by Ottawa compared to what the provinces spend on their own housing and education systems for non-Indigenous populations?

It’s also kind of hard to make financial decisions when so many reserves are under third-party management.

This may or may not be germane to the discussion, but I wonder if part of the problem too is that Indigenous people are constantly scapegoated as being solely responsible for all the problems their communities face, despite much of it coming from non-Indigenous government activities. It’s assumed that Indigenous people prefer to sit on their backsides getting sloshed than do any honest work, that they can’t be trusted to manage themselves or money responsibly, that they need “proper oversight.”

This, sadly, is nothing new in Canadian history.⁵

Claire Durand | September 11

Fully agreed.

I started my research on Indigenous statistics after a student came to my office stating, “We are sociologists, we know that any society cannot be only negative. So why do we see only negative statistics about Indigenous people?”

It started a research project with three students that lasted a few years. I called it “The Social Impact of Statistics.” When you look at averages, White people are always first, and White men even more. There are perceptions and representations that remain in people’s minds when they see these statistics.

So I told my students that they were forbidden to do research about Indigenous people’s “problems.” There are enough people speaking about their problems; we were going to do research about what goes right. Why do some people manage to get by? Why are some Indigenous communities functioning very well?

These communities usually decided to stop relying on the government. They bought outfitters, campgrounds, etc., as in Essipit, or they managed agreements with Hydro-Québec, as in Masteuiash, or they could profit from the resources on their land, like the Cree people. These communities have no unemployment and they even are more educated and have more jobs than non-Indigenous people in surrounding communities. The villages are clean and you don’t see any drunk people around.

The point is that when we speak of a group of people as if they are all the same, we homogenize and essentialize them, as if it was a question of culture, while there is heterogeneity among Indigenous people as among non-Indigenous people.

Continue reading “Tragedy in the James Smith Cree Nation”

Dale Eisler, From Left to Right: Saskatchewan’s Political and Economic Transformation. Regina, SK: University of Regina Press, 2022. 392 pages.

John Richards

The peak number of farms in Saskatchewan was 127,000, in 1941. At the 2016 census, the total had declined to 35,000. Corresponding to the decline in number of farms is an increase in farm size, from an average of three quarters of a square mile in 1941 to three square miles in 2016. You write, “There can be no denying the importance of productivity growth.” You qualify the value of productivity (per farmer) with a discussion of dying rural towns and lost sense of community among those who remain. We have more or less accepted this loss of rural community life in the Prairies. In continental Europe, policy has been protectionist; the decline in farm numbers is much slower than in the Prairies. Should we have copied Europe? Should we have treated Prairie grain farmers as we have treated dairy farmers?

Dale Eisler

For several reasons I don’t believe that a small Canadian province like Saskatchewan, even though it is a major grain producer and exporter, could have resisted the forces of the market-based policies emerging globally. You might recall the Uruguay Round of GATT negotiations in the 1980s, which focused heavily on reducing trade-distorting agricultural subsidies. So for a trading nation like Canada, which sought to expand export access to global markets, it didn’t make sense, for economic, political and social reasons, to resist the forces of change.

The comparison with the European Union and its approach to the agriculture sector is really apples and oranges. In the case of Europe, agriculture and the social pattern of rural life were deeply embedded in its culture and economy over many centuries. Such was not the case on the Canadian Prairies. The Saskatchewan farm economy was fundamentally different, economically and socially.

It was a recent immigrant settler society and a largely one-crop grain economy. Consider the simple fact that in the 1980s much of the Saskatchewan farm economy was only in its second, or early stages of its third, generation of farmers. It was an economy where scale was critical to viability, land for expansion was plentiful, and post–Second World War mechanization had transformed agriculture.

Productivity grew rapidly as equipment replaced labour, making larger farm units inevitable. When you couple that with the rise of globalization, the opening of world markets, and the fact that farmers by their nature are private landowners, entrepreneurs and risk takers, the constraints of orderly marketing were doomed.

The proof is in the outcome we see today. For governments to resist those facts was not politically sustainable, which explains in large measure why the NDP lost power in 1982 and has never been able to regain its foothold in rural Saskatchewan.

While it might be nice to romanticize family farms and the pattern of rural life that made small rural communities viable, to believe that that society was economically and socially sustainable is misguided. The mechanization of farming that greatly increased productivity while dramatically reducing the number of people needed to work on farms, coupled with the global inertia to expand trade, meant rural Saskatchewan had little choice other than to adapt if it was to be a modern farm economy and society.

John Richards

One important theme of your book is Saskatchewan as a small place, subject to international market realities that have condemned to death most mid-20th-century rural communities. A second theme is your portrayals of Saskatchewan premiers – from Allan Blakeney in the 1970s and early 1980s to Scott Moe, the current Premier. If any of the premiers tried to be Canute and preserve farmers from drowning with the rising tide of farm technology, it was Blakeney. He hoped that the “family of crown corporations” would create new jobs for displaced farmers. His successors, including the two NDP premiers after him, were not interested in this strategy. Now, the sombre reality facing Saskatchewan arises from climate change: phasing out of oil and gas, rising summer temperatures and drought. Am I right about Blakeney? How successful are more recent premiers in addressing climate change?

Dale Eisler

I must say that “condemned to death” strikes me as an excessively subjective term to describe the evolution of a modern 21st-century agricultural economy. We’re producing more from Saskatchewan farms than ever and doing it with fewer people. Granted, it inevitably led to larger farms and rural depopulation, which some might characterize as the inescapable byproducts of economic progress.

But leaving that aside, I agree with your point that, as Premier, Allan Blakeney sought to preserve the rural society and economy of the 1970s as much as possible. The core to achieving that was saving the “family farm,” which was the foundation of the rural society and economy built in Saskatchewan in the early decades of the 20th century. It is why Blakeney’s government staked so much of its agriculture policy on “orderly marketing.” The most critical dimension was “saving the Crow,” the statutory grain freight rate that set in law the amount railway companies could charge Prairie farmers to ship their grain. By 1980, the rate was about 20 per cent of the cost of grain transport, and it hadn’t changed for much of the 20th century.

While nostalgia and the desire to prevent economic disruption can be a powerful urge, especially for a politician in power, the question is whether that’s sound, visionary policy. One effect of the Crow was to stunt diversification in the farm economy. Keeping grain freight rates artificially low ensured producers did not diversify into other crops and impeded investment into food processing. Admittedly, economic progress in the form of higher productivity, which drives higher standards of living, inevitably brings winners and losers. The role of government is not to prevent progress, but to help smooth economic transition by assisting those negatively affected by it.

You mention Blakeney’s family of crown corporations as instruments to provide gainful employment for displaced farmers. I don’t recall that being cited as a key justification for the public investment in crowns, although I would grant it could be a result. What I would say is that private sector investment in the resource sector in the province since the 1970s has been massive.

Potash is a prime example. There has been huge expansion of existing mines, and creation of new ones. A current example is the Jansen mine under construction. A $7.5 billion investment by Australia-based BHP Billiton, it will be the largest potash mine in the world and is expected to employ 600 people. In many ways, the growth of the potash mining sector throughout central Saskatchewan, which now totals 11 mines and ranks Saskatchewan as the largest potash producer in the world, is another example of the modernization of the rural Saskatchewan economy. One can argue whether today Saskatchewan gets the royalties it should from potash production, but there is no questioning the employment gains for rural Saskatchewan that have resulted.

As for climate change, it really wasn’t a significant issue on the provincial policy agenda until Justin Trudeau became Prime Minister and made it one of his government’s key priorities. So, judging premiers on climate change really didn’t become an important factor until the latter years of the Brad Wall government, followed now by Scott Moe. Like so much in current Saskatchewan politics, climate change is put into the context of federal-provincial relations and seen as a point of division.

The Saskatchewan Party government, under both Wall and Moe, has characterized Trudeau as someone whose priorities, particularly as related to climate change and Saskatchewan’s energy and agriculture economy, are aligned against the best interests of the province. The prime example has been opposition to the federal price on carbon emissions. Underlying that stance is that many in the Saskatchewan Party government border on being climate deniers and are only willing to do the least possible in terms of policy to address climate change.

John Richards

Recently, an angry middle-aged man in Grande Prairie harassed Chrystia Freeland as she entered an elevator in the city. “What the f—k are you doing in Alberta?” he asked. “You f—in’ traitor! You f—in’ b—ch! Get the f—k out of this province!”

Here is a passage from Freeland’s Wikipedia biography:

Born in Peace River, Alberta, Freeland completed a bachelor’s degree at Harvard University, studying Russian history and literature before earning a master’s degree in Slavonic studies from Oxford University. She began her career in journalism in editorial positions at the Financial Times, The Globe and Mail and Reuters, becoming managing director of the latter. Freeland is the author of Sale of the Century, a 2000 book about Russia’s journey from communist state rule to capitalism, and Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else in 2012.

Freeland is a very smart cosmopolitan woman. Currently Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister, she is MP for Rosedale, probably the most prosperous Toronto riding. The verbal attack on her has prompted considerable media attention, most of it referring to male sexism and pathological violence. Is that an adequate analysis? Her attacker emphasized the idea that she has abandoned her Prairie identity and allied herself with the cosmopolitan woke government of Justin Trudeau, a government that has ignored Prairie interests. What do you think of all this? Had she been visiting, say, Prince Albert, might she have received a similar verbal denunciation

Dale Eisler

The verbal abuse and threatening behaviour that Chrystia Freeland faced must be condemned and never accepted. But when it comes to the current state of politics – in Canada, the United States and many other countries – it can be understood. I’ve long believed that views which many see as abhorrent are now being expressed, whereas before they were not. Many Canadians, many more than we’d like to think, have harboured them for years. They were simply suppressed by the public agenda and the parameters established by those seen as opinion leaders and the traditional media. The rise of the “political correctness” ethic also inhibited people from speaking their true thoughts. All that changed with the emergence of social media and the likes of Donald Trump. Suddenly, people were liberated to express their true feelings and beliefs.

Underlying this development has been resentment of the “educated elites” who were seen as controlling the agenda and setting the terms of acceptable speech. These days it’s popularized as the woke agenda, which many believe characterizes the Trudeau government. As you note, Freeland fits the elite cosmopolitan description. The fact that she’s originally from Alberta, went to the finest international universities, worked in the media and now represents an affluent downtown Toronto riding makes her a prime target in the minds of the angry mob.

Is the treatment Freeland faced somehow unique to Alberta? I suggest it is not. It’s obvious that Alberta is ground zero for the venting of anti–Trudeau government hatred, but I have no doubt that the same sentiment exists in Saskatchewan, particularly but not exclusively in rural areas. It’s important to recognize that grievance culture has long been at the root of Prairie politics. The sense of alienation from the centres of power – whether political or economic – runs deep and has often been expressed by populist parties. The most obvious examples are the CCF-NDP and Social Credit. More recently it was expressed in the rise of the Reform Party.

As you suggest, there is a widespread perception in Saskatchewan and Alberta that Prairie interests are not reflected in the Trudeau government, a sentiment consistent with Prairie populism. I personally believe it is rooted more in emotion than reality, but you need to ask why that perception exists. The Trudeau government, and especially Trudeau himself, have done an extremely poor job communicating that they have the region’s best interests in mind.

Trudeau’s climate change agenda is seen as a direct challenge to the Alberta-Saskatchewan economies built on oil and gas and agriculture. On one of his first visits as PM to Alberta, Trudeau talked about the need to “phase out” the oil sands. While that might some day happen, to deliver that message instead of saying he would have Alberta’s back and defend its economic interests, including the energy sector, was a recipe for ill-will. Add that to the history of his father Pierre’s National Energy Program and the economic misfortune it created for Alberta, and it’s not hard to understand how we got to Chrystia Freeland, the Deputy Prime Minister, being verbally assaulted in her home province.

John Richards

I agree with most of your discussion on the Grande Prairie incident, but not all. Surely, over the next generation, Canada should “phase out” its entire oil and gas sector, not only the oil sands. My critique of Trudeau’s statements on the century’s most urgent policy problem is that they come off as vague woke aspirations. Nearly seven years after his having rushed to Paris (in December 2015), his government has never frankly discussed the scale of economic disruption implied by the Paris Accord commitments – particularly in the Prairies.

His Natural Resources Minister, Jonathan Wilkinson, is another very smart politician. He grew up in Saskatchewan, but has a Vancouver riding. Wilkinson knows a great deal about renewable energy, and has implemented a small carbon tax. There are no prominent Prairie-based politicians in the federal government publicly discussing the economic future of the oil and gas sector. The closest we have is Jason Kenney – now replaced by a more conservative Alberta Premier – generously funding carbon capture and storage so that oil and gas can be a “low GHG” technology for power generation. (At present, this is by far the most costly “green” technology.) I compare Trudeau with Mulroney in the 1980s on fishing out the Grand Banks, admittedly a much less important issue. He let John Crosbie design fantasy fisheries policy – until we fished out the last cod.

Dale Eisler

On climate, my view has long been that we’ve never had anything approaching an honest and realistic debate about what addressing climate change means in practical economic and social terms. What we’re talking about is a fundamental retooling of the global economy in less than 30 years. It is mind-boggling. Nothing of that sort or scale has ever been done in human history. You acknowledge (sort of) that rather large fact with your reference to the cod fishery. But if that’s the best example – which by the way was designed to save the cod fishery, not eliminate it – to argue for an end to oil and gas, I think we need a better case study.

Phasing out our entire oil and gas sector – never mind just the oil sands – over the next generation, I would say, is fantasy. The International Energy Agency, which is easily the most authoritative global voice on the energy issue, says that fossil fuels will still represent a majority source of energy in 2040. The IEA’s sustainable development scenario predicts daily oil consumption will be about 65 million barrels a day in 20 years. That’s down from current levels – which by the way are growing – of slightly more than 100 million barrels a day. I would add that fossil fuels today represent about 80 per cent of global primary energy demand. This is not to say we shouldn’t be getting off fossil fuels. We must. But can we at least be honest about what it means and the effects it is going to have on economies, societies and people, especially those in the Third World who live in conditions of energy poverty? As someone who spends time each year teaching in Bangladesh, I’m sure you know this better than anyone.

I tend to be of the view expressed by Vaclav Smil, the University of Manitoba emeritus professor who has studied energy transitions through history and what energy means to society. Smil delves into the thermal dynamics of energy. He says if we’re serious about climate change, and he believes we need to be (as do I), then we must accept an end to economic growth as we have seen it for the past century. Smil talks of the intractable challenges that come with decarbonization of industries that produce what he calls “the four pillars of modern civilization: ammonia, cement, steels, plastics.”¹

Among Smil’s many books, his most recent is Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities,² which The Guardian calls “an epic multidisciplinary analysis of growth, and why humanity’s endless expansion must stop.” In an interview with the Guardian, Smil says bluntly, “Growth must end. Our economist friends don’t seem to realize that.”³ He goes on to say, “Economists will tell you we can decouple growth from material consumption, but that is total nonsense.” It’s worth noting that Bill Gates, who is deeply committed to climate issues and whose foundation has invested heavily into climate change solutions, calls Smil his favourite author.

Like it or not, cheap, abundant, portable fossil fuels, which are the most energy-dense next to nuclear, have been the foundation for our high standards of living and quality of life. Yet we have this fanciful notion that we can reach net zero emissions in less than 30 years and there will be no massive economic disruptions with social consequences. Much of that belief is based on the idea that new technology, not yet discovered or applied, will make it all possible.

The truth is, reaching our climate goals means lower standards of living. But no government dares speak the words. The reason is obvious. Politicians know that being truthful about what it’s going to take and the impact it’s going to have will lead to a public backlash and electoral defeat. So instead, we’re presented with this fanciful notion that we can “phase out” fossil fuels and reach net zero with “green” sources of energy such as solar and wind, or other sources like hydrogen that are nowhere close to being a practical alternative.
Of course, another factor that makes the politics of climate change such a challenge is what Mark Carney calls the “tragedy of the horizon.” We’re talking about action now and its negative impact on living standards to achieve a goal 30 years or more hence. What’s required is to dramatically change people’s energy consumption behaviour. The carbon price is but a small and insignificant example of that. The carbon price is nowhere near the level it needs to be, and the embedded costs of energy in everything from the food we eat to the clothes we wear to the houses we live in (to name only a few) must be taken into account. So, by all means, let’s pursue policies that will aggressively deal with the climate issue. But can we at least be honest about what is achievable, and the sacrifices it will take to get there?

A final point. My book discusses the Saskatchewan Party’s aggressive opposition to federal climate change policy, and the federal carbon price in particular. The party’s stance against the carbon tax unambiguously reflects the popular will in the province.

Inroads co-publisher John Richards, recently retired from the School of Public Policy at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, was a member of the Saskatchewan legislature in the 1970s. Dale Eisler has been a journalist, novelist, senior federal civil servant and Senior Policy Fellow at the Johnson Shoyama School of Public Policy in Regina; his latest book is on Saskatchewan’s political and economic evolution.

Continue reading “Saskatchewan and International Realities”

Image: Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson. Via Frankie Fouganthin, Wikimedia Commons

How much influence the populist Sweden Democrats will have remains unclear

In mid-September an election took place in a very divided Sweden. The governing Social Democrats and their allies fell two seats short of a majority, opening the door to the right. A month later, Conservative Party leader and incoming Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson announced the signing of the four-party Tidö Agreement, named after the palace in which the negotiations were held. This agreement binds the Christian Democrats and Liberals, who join his government with six and five ministers respectively in the 24-member cabinet.

The fourth party to the deal is the populist Sverigedemokraterna or Sweden Democrats (SD). Though not in the cabinet, SD will have a secretariat in the administration, with a mandate to be involved in drafting bills, directing agencies and carrying on inquiries in all matters connected with crime and justice, immigration, economic growth and household economy, education, health care, climate and energy and a group of disparate issues. It will also have control of the annual government budget on par with the parties in the cabinet. Moreover, SD is well represented in parliamentary committees, several of which its members get to chair. There is an added wrinkle that is striking: the agreement sets out that there will be an “inner cabinet” consisting of the four party leaders. Membership in this inner cabinet will give SD leader Jimmie Åkesson added clout.

SD had a major impact on a number of topics dealt with in the agreement, especially immigration. For instance, repatriation of those who have entered as refugees was brought up, although this issue was not present in the electoral manifestos of the three parties in the cabinet, but has been on the SD agenda for many years.

Many prominent Liberals expressed misgivings about the influence of SD in the government, including one who was appointed to the cabinet – 26-year-old Romina Pourmokhtari, named Minister of the Environment (though it no longer exists as a separate ministry). One appointment that reduced concerns about the direction of the new government was that of a veteran Conservative, unlikely to change course, to head the foreign office. With these and other appointments, there have been mixed signals about the course of the new government. Nevertheless, the overwhelming attitude of the media and opposition supporters has been distrust.

As far as application of the agreement is concerned, the immediate step consists of comprehensive inquiries. The usual procedures are to be followed, which means that any implementation of the reforms will take time and may be put on hold. First on the list is an inquiry into the pros and cons of nationalizing health care. Since the four parties disagree on this issue, it is not likely anything along these lines will happen. Other, less controversial, reforms in health care can be expected. These could to some extent strengthen the position of the national government vis-à-vis the second tier of democratic government, the regions, which are responsible for carrying out health care management.

Though the agreement stresses the new government’s concern about climate change, the energy section’s emphasis on lowering the price of electricity tends to run counter to that objective. There is some focus on research on emerging energy technologies such as carbon capture and storage, but the main emphasis is on nuclear power. A very large sum, 300 billion Swedish kronor ($30 billion USD), is set aside for loan guarantees for nuclear power, while other nonfossil forms of energy such as wind power will need to charge a price based on the full cost of production, including transmission of electricity through the national grid.

Nothing is said about the existing general agreement on climate policy passed by parliament, which includes several programs that especially affect industry, agriculture and forestry. In that agreement, goals are set for five-year cycles of net CO2 emissions gradually working their way to zero. How this will be attained is left vague.

Policies on crime are focused on gangs, shootings and juvenile delinquency. After Ulf Kristersson introduced the new government at a press conference, SD leader Åkesson read out the bits of the Tidö Agreement his party liked best: longer prison sentences, temporary zones in which police have special powers, anonymous witnesses, more frequent deportations. Can a law-abiding society rely on searches of people’s homes without any solid basis of suspicion? Many Liberals, including Romina Pourmokhtari, are uncomfortable with this part of the agreement. The Stockholm district of the Liberal Party has called for a party conference to discuss the agreement, since it violates several “red lines” that the Liberal Party congress decided on prior to the election.

Immigration is, of course, the centrepiece. The agenda includes expelling immigrants from Sweden for breaking the law, belonging to a gang, using drugs and similar actions. Illegial immigrants are to be detected and deported, and immigrants are to be encouraged to return to their ”home countries.”

It is stated in the introduction that asylum should be reserved for those fleeing Sweden´s neighbouring countries, and then only temporarily. People from countries such as Afghanistan, Somalia and Ukraine are out. Asylum should be restricted as far as possible, down to the minimum requirements of European Union legislation. The number of UN-quota refugees welcomed will be no more than 900 a year (down from 6.400). There is a lot more that will discourage fleeing people from coming to Sweden, including a requirement to stay in ”transit centres” as long as the judicial procedure goes on. Asylum seekers will be required to pay for their health insurance, and for interpreters.

If all these reforms are implemented Sweden will get closer to being a police state, one in which anyone can be stopped and searched anywhere at any time. There is, however, some hope that the inquiries planned to take place in advance will temper the actual application of the reforms.

When it comes to education, the schools have come in for criticism for being focused too little on ”facts” and too much on reasoning, critical analysis and independent inquiry. This is where the Liberals, who have pushed for ”fact-based” schooling, have had the most input. Since many of the specific measures are in line with what some Social Democrats have proposed, educational policy will not be a very controversial matter.

Economic growth is to be fostered by limiting household subsidies – though because of the current inflation caused by Russia´s aggression against Ukraine, there will be subsidies to households to compensate them for rising prices of food, electricity and loans. In addition, the program calls for lower income taxes for low- and middle-income earners, while at the same time reducing social benefits. Since lowering social benefits is something SD opposes, it remains uncertain what will come out of this. Various efforts will be made to promote economic efficiency and competitiveness in the form of administrative deregulation (nothing much happened after previous such efforts were undertaken). While there has been talk of reducing corporate taxes, nothing specific is included.

A series of lesser reforms are noted at the end. One is of special interest for anyone who has worked with public administration: reintroduction of a strict code of civil servant responsibility – including being penalized for giving false information.

— Richard Murray and Henry Milner

The debate in the Liberal Party

I circulated a draft of the above to several Swedish colleagues and incorporated their suggestions, most of which were minor. Here I present excerpts from my correspondence with two colleagues who disagreed strongly about the likely consequences of the new government’s taking power. They reflect the divisions within the Liberal Party.

— Henry Milner

An awkward compromise, but not a puppet government under SD

A few reflections from a – probably – dissident liberal.

The governance agreement seems to be the only possible solution to the election outcome. Until now, the growth of SD from an insignificant and extremist party to 20 per cent backing has been extremely unfortunate in that it caused an almost total refusal by all the other parties to grapple with the obvious chaos in the immigration situation. Now the centre-right parties, supported to some extent by the Social Democrats, seem to have endorsed a restrictive policy. It is a compromise and some parts seem awkward, especially to Liberals, but to describe it as a puppet government under SD (as some in the new opposition do) is just rubbish.

The campaign against the three coalition parties, especially in Dagens Nyheter, has been worse than rubbish. SD has been called a fascist, neofascist, protofascist party with Nazi roots by people who seem to think that everything nasty is fascism. There are even allegations of antisemitism – based on false interpretations of the minority laws. There are many reasons to be cautious about SD and some of its followers are simply ignorant, but unfortunately, many more than just the 20 per cent who voted for them favour a tougher immigration policy and are not put off by the party’s antagonistic message.

Listening to Social Democratic leader Magdalena Andersson, I was happy to hear something of a repudiation of the worst accusations against SD for being authoritarian. The loser of this sad story is Annie Lööf and the traditionally agrarian and now environmental-protection-focused Centre Party. Her concentration on ostracizing SD took attention away from the party’s own political program. One such attack was on the SD’s Björn Söder’s statement that the Sámi were Swedish. But in fact, Söder is right: the Sámi in Sweden are a national minority with exclusive rights. They can decide themselves if they want to call themselves Sámi or Swedes or both, but unlike the Kurds in Turkey, they are not expected to be assimilated into the majority population.

— Thomas Lunden

A surrender to the main goals of SD

The Tidö Agreement is not a compromise, as Thomas and the right-wing parties maintain. It is more or less a surrender to the main goals of the Sweden Democrats (SD). Migration, crime policy and denial of the climate threat – those are the main profile issues of the agreement. Admittedly, the Social Democrats were also influenced by the right-wing tendencies – they support allowing searches of people´s houses without any clear suspicions, more control of individuals, intruding ”trojans” in private computers, etc. – still far from what the new right-wing government is planning.

Thomas maintains that the critique the largest morning paper, the Liberal Dagens Nyheter, has presented against SD for being neofascist with Nazi roots is ”worse than rubbish.” But that is exactly true! The leadership has its roots in neo-Nazi groups in the 1980s. As late as January and February 2022, the SD’s very strategic leader, Jimmie Åkesson, could not choose between favouring Putin or Biden! But after February 24 he got quiet …

Thomas maintains that the right-wing coalition with strong SD influence was ”the only possible solution.” Well, certainly for those Liberals who identify as “borgerliga,” bourgeois, as some sort of friendly half-conservatives. But strong social Liberal leaders such as Bertil Ohlin and Bengt Westerberg never labelled themselves borgerliga – they saw their party as a third force.

Unfortunately the right-wing Liberals were able to take over the party in 2019, rejecting the possibility of forming a ”middle” force, as Annie Lööf proposed. So she was left alone to defend Liberal values and stand up against any form of cooperation with the SD. The Centre Party lost many of its traditional regional strongholds outside the big cities to the populists in SD. In my view it was not so much the liberal social values that Annie Lööf stressed that were rejected, but the rather neoliberal economic policy of the party.

Finally, on foreign policy, I think we should be more concerned. The new Conservative Foreign Minister states that Swedish policy will no longer be labelled “feminist” and will concentrate on neigbouring countries and the EU. Moreover, SD will have more influence since it will chair the justice and foreign policy committees and provide the vice-chair of the defence committee – this despite the Conservatives’ promise to keep SD away from foreign policy and defence.

— Olof Kleberg

Last word

Richard and most of my correspondents tended to side with Olof, but my own view is closer to Thomas’s. As I wrote to Olof,

Perhaps because I have been observing Sweden from the outside for 40 years, I am inclined to expect (hope?) that when it comes to action rather than words – which in a multiparty agreement are typically chosen to allow each party to interpret them somewhat differently – more moderate choices will be made. Thomas points out that the new Minister of Justice, Gunnar Strömmer, a respected lawyer and a moderate, has underlined that no law will be enacted without careful and lawful scrutiny of all aspects.

— Henry Milner

Image: Maksim Sokolov, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

On January 15, 2022, the Canadian government announced that American truckers who were not vaccinated against COVID-19 would not be allowed into Canada. A week later, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced a reciprocal ban on unvaccinated Canadian truckers entering the United States. On the same day, convoys of trucks, plastered with slogans calling for “Freedom” and the end of vaccine mandates and other public health measures taken to combat the pandemic, left British Columbia’s west coast for Ottawa. Their funding was unclear and their strategy vague, but they hoped to pick up more support on the trek eastward.

Three weeks later, the “Freedom Convoy” was the biggest story in Canada and was causing ripples around the world.¹ On Valentine’s Day, the federal cabinet invoked Canada’s Emergencies Act for the first time since it was passed in 1988. By the time this happened, central Ottawa had been under noisy occupation for two and a half weeks. The Ottawa Police Department was either unable or unwilling to do much about it. A shorter-lived but highly costly blockade of the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor had been cleared by the Ontario Provincial Police on February 12. Numerous smaller protests at provincial capitals and other border crossings occurred during the same period and afterward, albeit not with the same level of disruption.

The Convoy was divisive. So was the Trudeau government’s response. While public opinion had been turning against the Convoy as the occupation wore on, the declaration of emergency divided the country, largely along partisan lines. Initial polls suggested that about two thirds of the public supported the decision, although support has fallen since then.

The partisan nature of the split in public opinion was dramatic. Supporters of the Conservative Party of Canada and the People’s Party were overwhelmingly either sympathetic to the Freedom Convoy or opposed to the emergency declaration. By contrast, most supporters of the Liberals, Bloc and NDP supported the government’s actions. The occupation coincided with the Conservative Party’s leadership review, in which Erin O’Toole was removed, no doubt in part as a result of his decision to get his party to distance itself from conservative populist opposition to COVID-19 mandates. He is highly likely to be replaced by Pierre Poilievre, who has strongly supported the Convoy in the face of criticism by his beleaguered rival, former federal Progressive Conservative leader and Quebec Premier Jean Charest.

From our perspective, there is plenty of blame to go around. The long-run effect both of the populist upsurge and the Liberal government’s decision to use vaccine mandates and its response to the occupation as wedge issues will probably make our politics nastier and our country more difficult to govern. If Canada could ever claim immunity from the populist waves that have been washing up on the shores of other democracies since the financial crisis of 2008, its holiday from history is now over.

There is no sensible scientific debate about the efficacy and safety of vaccines. They are tested rigorously before approval. Along with antibiotics, vaccines have been an incalculable boon to humanity in its struggle against infectious disease. It is only because of our immense privilege of living in a world with a massive apparatus of scientific medicine that this could even emerge as an issue. Our grandparents faced a crueller world: all the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic pales in comparison with the constant burden of infectious disease that had been the lot of humanity since the agricultural revolution. The speedy development of vaccines based on messenger RNA in the pressure of the pandemic is a modern miracle.

Viruses do not respect individual autonomy. Precisely because no vaccine is perfect, infectious diseases can only be controlled once the population as a whole has sufficient immunity. Because the safety of each depends on the immunity of all, the evolution of new forms of antiscientific disinformation is a threat as grave as the biological evolution of new variants of pathogens. We are completely opposed to people who distort these basic scientific truths.

But however clearcut the scientific issues may be, they do not resolve the value question of how much coercion is legitimate to address vaccine hesitancy and resistance. Vaccination has always inspired scepticism and opposition, no doubt because it asks people to override basic intuitions about avoiding impurity on the basis of scientific principles that all of us who are not experts must take on faith. This was not much of a problem in the high-trust societies that emerged in the West after the experience of the Second World War. Organized vaccine hesitancy began as part of the ecologically sensitized counterculture of the 1960s, in which people were sceptical of “better living through chemistry” and enthusiastic about the natural and organic.

Ideas have migrated between hippie subcultures and evangelical and libertarian ones for decades. As the social trust of the postwar years has eroded on left and right, discredited claims such as that MMR vaccines cause autism have led growing minorities of parents to try to seek exemptions for their children from shots, sometimes leading to outrbreaks of diseases thought to have been suppressed. Long before the COVID pandemic, authorities had to wage battles with dissident health care workers about annual flu vaccines.

The perpetual crises of the COVID years have turned a counterculture into a mass movement. It is therefore unfortunate that partisan politics was injected into this issue, first by Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party and then by the Liberal Party’s decision in the 2021 election to use vaccine mandates as a wedge issue. While it is perfectly reasonable to push and nudge people to use vaccines, and to require those who work with the vulnerable to do so, there is room for legitimate disagreement over the merit of requiring everyone who works in the federal public service or boards an airplane to be vaccinated on pain of losing their job or their mobility rights. While we do not pretend these questions are easy, we regret that long-term thinking about polarization dynamics goes out the window in the political hothouse.

Questions also remain about the proportionality of invoking the Emergencies Act in response to a protest that seriously disrupted life in downtown Ottawa and involved various unlawful activities, but in which no one was hurt. The Ottawa Police Department seems to have been too slow to act, but it is not clear why that creates a federal emergency. Exceptional powers need to be used exceptionally. Pierre Trudeau’s 1970 declaration of the War Measures Act in the face of the October Crisis remains divisive half a century later, and in retrospect seems to have been excessive. It remains extremely unclear why ordinary police powers could not have addressed the Ottawa occupation.

This is not to let the “Freedom” Convoy off the hook. Genuine freedom arises out of a recognition that we live in a society in which we must each respect and recognize one another. People who live and work in downtown Ottawa were disrespected by what became an unruly street party. Some of the leaders of the Convoy – notably Pat King – clearly have ties to the racist far right. All of them failed to make basic distinctions between protest and breaking the law or seeking to overturn the government. While civil disobedience is sometimes morally justified, we do not think the “Freedom” Convoy’s cause is in that league.

The real legacy of these events will be the transformation of the Conservative Party. There has of course always been an antigovernment and populist element on the right of the Canadian spectrum, exemplified by the Reform Party and its successors and domesticated by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. The focus of this antigovernment sentiment has traditionally been public spending and taxes, along with allegedly burdensome regulation of industry and individuals. Poilievre is a part of this neoliberal tradition of right populism, as his enthusiastic embrace of hard money and even cryptocurrency makes clear.

But the Trucker Convoy brought something new into play: a more paranoid sense that the government is not just expensive and intrusive but actively out to make ordinary Canadians sick for mysterious malevolent reasons. The focus is less on economic issues and the enemy becomes urban and educated Canada generally. Traditionally left-wing themes about the “working class” and “freedom” are tied into a hostility to science and technocracy. Whether or not Poilievre really believes in this new kind of populism, he – like Bernier before him – is comfortable talking its language.

As we write, in the summer of 2022, the mandate wars have died down somewhat. There is no guarantee they will not flare up again if, as expected, there is a new wave of COVID infections in the fall and governments feel obliged to take intrusive measures again. But even if they do not, the cleavage in Canadian society exposed by sounds of truck horns and images of Red Ensigns and Confederate flags are not going away soon.

Continue reading “The End of Canada’s Holiday from History”