By Neil Reynolds

People will need to work longer and harder, which will restore the ethic that once made Canadians an extraordinarily productive people

In his illuminating new book, economist Brian Lee Crowley anticipates a historic restoration of the principles by which the country governed itself in the past – among them, the classically liberal principles of limited government and personal responsibility. Entitled Fearful Symmetry: The Fall and Rise of Canada’s Founding Values, Mr. Crowley’s contrarian assessment explains why, demographic step by demographic step.

The fading of Quebec nationalism will combine with an eroding population to reverse the dysfunctional trends of the past 50 years. Put simply, Canada will soon lack the workers necessary to fund Big Government. The only alternative will be less government and more personal responsibility.

The two facts that will most significantly determine Canada’s economic future, Mr. Crowley says, are the fact that Canadians do not have nearly enough babies to sustain Canada’s approaching peak population and the fact that immigrants can’t make up the difference. The probable consequences are: (1) Canada gradually loses influence in the world as its population shrinks and (2) Canada’s standard of living stagnates.

Mr. Crowley, most recently the Clifford Clark Visiting Economist with the Department of Finance, says people will need to work longer and harder, which (though difficult for people desperate to retire at 55) will restore the work ethic that once made Canadians an extraordinarily productive people. Canadians can expect less government because government won’t be able to subsidize people who choose not to work harder and longer, he says. We can expect more personal responsibility because economic survival will require it.

But Canadians won’t increase the country’s birth rate merely by working longer and harder. Nor will government. The implications are dramatic – especially when contrasted to the United States, whose population will expand as Canada’s falters. By 2050, Canada’s projected population will be 44 million; the U.S. projected population will be as high as 550 million, reflecting a birth rate that The Economist magazine has described as “astonishing.”

Canada and the U.S. will diverge in other ways. Canadians are already massing into three or four big cities; Americans are dispersing to outer suburbs and to the countryside, but places more distant from the U.S.-Canada border. In 2050, the median Canadian age will be 42; the median American age will be 36. The “shape” of the Canadian population will be like a vase – narrow at the bottom (reflecting the lack of children), wide at the shoulders (reflecting the higher percentage of older people); the “shape of the American population will be almost cylindrical. (By 2020, the proportion of children in the U.S. population will surpass China’s.)

Canadians must anticipate that the “prosperity gap” between the two countries will grow much larger. Mr. Crowley observes: “Half a billion Americans, with the highest productivity in the world; a relatively young, flexible and highly educated work force, and a willingness to spend a significant share of GDP on defence would be a superpower perhaps even more formidable in 2050 than today – and possibly less inclined to pay attention to Canada’s interests.” (In these circumstances, Canada might be wise to negotiate a mobility-rights treaty with the U.S. – either to give Canadians an escape route or to give Americans easy entry to our labour force.)

Canada’s falling birth rate, Mr. Crowley suggests, has many causes, but he adds a couple of his own to the usual list (the zeitgeist, the contraceptives, the two-worker family). “Overweaning government,” he says, “has undermined families for the last 50 years.” He attributes part of Canada’s falling birth rate to the struggle to keep Quebec in Confederation and the creation of “pseudo-jobs” to absorb the surplus workers of the Baby Boom generation. Government, he says, has itself operated as a contraceptive.

All this sounds serious and sombre. Mr. Crowley’s profound optimism, however, arises from the inevitable withering of the state that lies directly ahead, a withering already under way. “We are on the cusp of a tremendous renaissance,” he says, “if we want to seize the moment.” The disappearance of surplus workers will bring with it the disappearance of the government programs that purported to create jobs, “pulling hundreds of thousands of people out of dependency, pseudo-work and premature retirement.” Real work will once more become the norm. Family will become important again, as will marriage.

Governments will increasingly revert to “the kinds of policies that underpinned our great success as a nation in our first century.” The ensuing power shift will diminish the influence of Quebec and increase the influence of British Columbia and Alberta; in this way, the country will move “closer to the traditional values of our founders.” Other provinces will move in the same direction: “Saskatchewan will almost certainly become more like Alberta,” he writes.

“In a few short years, the values of the left-liberal welfare state will seem a quaint echo of a receding past,” Mr. Crowley says. “Politically, any party that can capture the high ground of Canada’s traditional values will likely become the country’s dominant party. … The low rumble that you hear is the traditionalist juggernaut gathering force across the land. … It will leave nothing as it was.”

We can only hope.