For much of Canada’s history, the country has had more than enough people to meet its own foreign-policy challenges. But that is no longer the case. Given a rapidly aging population, substantial demographic shifts (rising immigration, growing number of immigrants, shifting aging workforce, shrinking economic base) and the hostile security environment, current policy path threatens national security, says Paul Boothe, a senior fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute and economic adviser to the Union of Quebec Municipalities. “The foreign-policy problems we have are much more difficult today than they were in the past, and I do think we do need to face them,” Boothe said in an interview with The Canadian Press. He called for a national security infrastructure and program similar to that of the United States.
Canada is unique in the world, said Boothe, because it has a safe country, free from the burden of foreign conflicts, but a growing population; the national debt is spiraling out of control; and political stability is being tested. “And we are home to five times as many people per square kilometer than the Americans, and those people have much more mobility,” he said. All of this challenges the tools of Canadian policy, he said.
In the past, Canada’s security infrastructure was not only strong, it was among the best in the world. However, “some in the political and economic establishments say, ‘we don’t have to worry about safety anymore’ ” because the country has incorporated a number of means to protect against terrorism and internal threats. “I’m not sure I would agree with that,” Boothe said. “The top worry about national security … is that your social fabric is not secure. And so the role of the government is to do everything it can to reinforce that.”
Of Canada’s 33 national-security agencies, 31 of them operate at some level independently and possess a mix of national and local identities, he said. The key questions, then, is how can this be changed to improve government effectiveness? The only way to do so, he said, is to alter the sectoral structure of security agencies from one spread across different provinces and cities to one that operates more like the U.S. system.
The preferred model, he said, would consist of two distinct agencies — one for intelligence and security, and one that would build a national border enforcement regime — to join under one umbrella. Additionally, with a large influx of Mexicans, the government should establish a policy of spurring immigration at a time when border security would increase significantly. And there should be more funds for subsidized housing, particularly in the face of a constrained federal social-housing policy.
He said governments should also strengthen the workforce. Policies that encourage the cultivation of talent should also help. Boothe suggested an active immigration policy to bring in entrepreneurs to start companies in other provinces and Canada, and contribute to the country’s economic prospects. With major airports there is an opportunity to increase the number of planes to serve Europe and Asia.
In terms of the way one approaches the refugee issue, Boothe said Canada has a commitment to showing human compassion but is not competing with the United States or Norway to offer the most numbers to newcomers. He said it was too soon to say how much Ontario’s decision to cap refugee claimants coming from the U.S. will affect asylum claims by Canadians. His advice to the federal government: Consider the impact. “Will this political issue … inflame ethnic hatred towards migrants from the U.S.?” he asked. “There’s a reason why politicians in Canada send their children to school in Toronto rather than areas with a large Muslim population, which are already well established areas of communities.”
Canada is still the envy of the world, he said, “but you really have to start building back better.”