National Affairs Rory Leishman

National Affairs Rory Leishman

As the huge costs of caring for Canada’s rapidly aging population become ever more apparent, more and more Canadians are finally beginning to realize that the collapse of the birthrate in Canada over the past 40 years threatens the economic prosperity of future generations.

In a recent report, “Faster, Younger, Richer? The Fond Hope and Sobering Reality of Immigration’s Impact on Canada’s Demographic and Economic Future,” Robin Banerjee and William Robson of the C. D. Howe Institute point out that if current trends continue, there will be scarcely two Canadians of working age for every retired person in Canada in 2057, down from the present ratio of nearly five to one.

Many Canadians suppose that increased immigration can take care of the problem, but that is not so. On average, immigrants to Canada are not much younger than the native-born population. Banerjee and Robson estimate that Canada would have to take in so many additional immigrants, to prevent any further increase in the ratio of retired persons to workers, that the projected national population in 2058 would have to soar to a staggering 210 million.

That’s out of the question. It is exceedingly unlikely that Canada could attract enough additional young immigrants over the next 40 years to prevent any further increase in the proportion of retirees per Canadian of working age.

Increasing the standard age of retirement to 70 from 65 would ease the burden of retirees, but only temporarily. Within a few years, a rapid increase in the ratio of retired persons to workers would resume.

Correspondingly, boosting the productivity of each worker by such measures as slashing government spending and corporate tax rates would help. However, Banerjee and Robson estimate that even a 50 per cent increase in productivity would not solve the aging problem.

There is no escaping the conclusion that the impending crisis of old-age dependency in Canada cannot be solved without a sharp increase in birthrates. For the past 30 years, Canada’s total fertility rate – the average number of children per woman – has remained far below the replacement level of 2.1. According to Statistics Canada, the current rate is just 1.59.

Banerjee and Robson suggest that Parliament and the provincial legislatures safeguard the living standards of future generations by both boosting the standard retirement age to 70 over 20 years and increasing the total fertility rate to 2.1 over the next 10 years.
However, the authors have nothing to say about how our elected legislators might encourage more births. That’s unfortunate. Their only observation is that “pro-natal policies are uncertain in their impact, not to mention politically controversial.”

Indeed so. Quebec has undertaken to boost birthrates by introducing an expensive new system of enhanced benefits for parental leave and child support. However, extensive research in Scandinavia and elsewhere has shown that such measures can only boost fertility by a few tenths of a per cent per woman – not nearly enough to get the Quebec or Canadian ratios back to the replacement level of 2.1.

In Britain, Conservative party leader David Cameron is promising to restore the status of marriage. Among other reforms, he has pledged that his government will refocus tax benefits on traditionally married couples, as distinct from those living common law or in same-sex relationships.

Canadian legislators should do the same. Strengthening marriage would not only promote the well-being of parents and their children, but also serve to boost birthrates. Traditionally married couples are far more likely than singles or common-law couples to beget children.

However, there is no escaping the truth: Canada is never likely to return to a population-sustaining fertility rate without a substantial cut in the calamitous rate of abortions. At present, nearly 30 Canadian babies are deliberately aborted for every 100 who are born alive.

We pro-lifers should never tire of persuading our fellow Canadians of the tragedy of abortion. Above all, we should emphasize that ending abortion is essential to protecting the well-being of Canadian mothers and the very lives of literally hundreds of thousands of their babies.

In addition, we should point out that curtailing the abortion licence in Canada is necessary to sustain the living standards of future generations of Canadians.