top of page
  • Writer's pictureKeith Fraser

Go North Young Man and Grow Up with the World

Nearly every Canadian is familiar with the statistic that 90% of Canada’s population lives within a narrow, 100 mile wide strip adjacent to the Canada/U.S. Border. The numbers are more or less correct and it has been so since the day Canada was founded. There has been much debate, also since the day Canada was founded, over how much Canada’s identity and culture has been shaped, and even maligned, by this fact. That most Canadians are keenly aware of the statistic itself illustrates how it has become embedded in the Canadian psyche. Professor Norman Hillmer of Carlton University evoked the statistic in his thoughtful summary of Canada and Canadians: “We are a Border People. The border is our livelihood. The border is our identity.”

The 21st Century promises to change all that. Two factors all but guarantee it. One is the geo-political shift away from a uni-polar world dominated by the United States to a multi-polar one with several emerging economic superpowers. The other is the increasing accessibility and the increasing global importance of Canada’s northern region.

Canadians currently live close to Americans because they do a lot of business with them. With a ready market of over 300 million people, friendly relations and relatively stable, generally favorable trade agreements, the United States is and will continue to be an important market for Canada.

But other markets beckon. These are the emerging economic giants of China, India, Russia, Brazil and the European Union. As emerging powers, they all have an insatiable hunger for Canadian resources. Compared to the more mature U.S. market, that hunger will likely continue to grow as the century progresses and as these economies reach their full potential. Canada has already seized this opportunity. In June of this year, Canada formally began talks with the European Union regarding their broad free trade agreement, the scope of which is destined to surpass that of NAFTA. Canada has always had close relations with China and has reaped enormous benefits from China’s rise. Not only has Canada’s exports to China surged; Canada’s northern port in Prince Rupert has become the entryway of choice for Chinese imports destined for North America. Also, in the wake of booming exports to South America, Canada has gotten the jump on the U.S. by beginning to forge trade agreements with Colombia, Peru and other South American countries, including the powerhouse of Brazil. As a result, the importance and benefit to Canada’s trade of any one of these new powers will soon outweigh the importance and benefit to Canada of the United States.

Furthermore, the global financial meltdown hit the United States particularly hard. This knock-down blow to the U.S. economy has served to hasten the global economic shift away from the United States to these other emerging powers. More importantly, it has changed the economic landscape in the United States. The U.S. economy is expected to be hamstrung for years as it digs itself out from trillions of dollars of bailouts, stimulus packages, and deficit spending. The United States of today is in a position similar to that of Germany in 1946. The United States needs to rebuild its bombed-out financial house. By all accounts this will mean drastic changes to the U.S. marketplace. Even the ever-dependable American consumer is no longer a sure thing. Such changes can be seen now with the implementation by the U.S. of various protectionist measures, including “Buy America” provisions which are already proving harmful to Canadian exporters.

Whatever version of the U.S. economy emerges over the next several years, it is sure to look very different from the U.S. economy of the late 20th Century, the one that has served Canada so well. It will also be playing catch-up with those other emerging economies that are better able to hit the ground running after the economic crisis. It is those same emerging economies that have already come courting Canada.

Accordingly, Canada can, should and will be looking elsewhere to sustain its economic growth other than south of the border. Canada will simply not need, or even want, the United States as much as it has in the past. Then, at least in a figurative sense, Canadians will be less inclined to remain closely huddled along that 100 mile strip.

Canadians will be moving away from that strip in the literal sense as well. The reason is climate change. Without downplaying the harmful effects of global warming to the planet as a whole and to Canada’s North in particular, it cannot be ignored that climate change has the potential to be a net positive for Canada. To be sure, there are serious challenges ahead for Canada with respect to global warming. They include environmental degradation; threatened habitats for numerous species of plants and wildlife; and pest infestation of valuable forests. Accordingly, Canada should remain committed to fighting these and other adverse impacts of climate change. Yet, Canada should also commit itself to exploiting every benefit that climate change will bring to Canada’s vast northern region. Simply put, the approximately 3.5 million square miles situated north of that 100 mile strip are about to become a lot more productive, a lot more habitable and lot more valuable.

This has not gone unnoticed. The National Intelligence Council’s recent report “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World” touted Canada as a “Climate Change Winner.” The report, an attempt by the U.S. Government to identify key developments likely to shape world events in the near future, recognized that Canada will be spared several serious climate change problems that are destined to affect the U.S. and other countries. The report also concluded that increased temperatures will mean that millions of square miles of territory in Canada’s north would open up for development providing Canada with more arable land, more living space and in general more hospitable living conditions. The report acknowledged that growing seasons will lengthen, energy demand for heating and cooling will drop, and forests will expand. And the biggest geopolitical and economic bonus of all: the opening up of Arctic Ocean shipping lanes.

In other words, in a century where living space, farmland, viable commercial ports, and critical energy and natural resources will become increasingly rare and increasingly valuable, Canada’s available supply of all of them stands to increase! As addressed in the Council’s Report, everywhere else on the planet, countries will be forced in the next decades to address serious demographic, ecological, economic and humanitarian challenges, all of which will be exasperated by Climate Change. Canada will be largely free from these challenges and will instead be given the opportunity to vastly expand and grow its empire all within its own borders. No other country on earth will have this capability.

This northward expansion has already begun. Luring many Canadians northward is the 175 billion barrels of proven oil reserves of the Northern Alberta Oil Sands. Next to Saudi Arabia’s, these reserves are the largest in the world. Improved climate and high oil prices have now made it feasible to access these huge reserves. As a result, over $100 billion is expected to be invested in that region over the next ten years. Much of the investment will be in transportation, technology and communications infrastructure. Thanks to its valuable energy resources, Northern Canada will quickly become connected to the rest of Canada. As important as developing the Oil Sands is, it is but a first step into Canada’s North and should be seen as paving the way for further crucial development and settlement northward into the Canadian Arctic.

In the Canadian Arctic, things get even better. Canada’s Arctic coastline, which has remained virtually unused, will eventually be the most important commercial waterway on Earth. The reason is that shipping times across the oceans will be significantly reduced. For example, shipping time from Scandinavia to Japan will be halved. In an ever broadening and connected global marketplace, control over such a waterway has incalculable value. As the century progresses, Canada’s third coastline promises to become Canada’s busiest. To add to this embarrassment of riches, under the Arctic Ocean, locked within Canada’s continental shelf, lays even greater reserves of energy and natural resources. It is all up there just waiting for Canada to rightfully claim it.

Challenges remain of course. Canada’s Arctic region will remain a less than hospitable environment. But the balance has shifted. The area remains too important to both Canada’s future and to a 21st Century world for Canada not to venture into it, develop it and inhabit it. Also, not surprisingly, other Arctic countries like Russia, Denmark and the United States are already making various claims to Canada’s Arctic maritime rights. As will eventually be borne out however, the strongest claims, in terms of international law, are held by Canada.

A century and a quarter ago, the United States was a lot like Canada is now. It was a little over a hundred years old. Its population then was similar to Canada’s population now. It was entering an era where the world’s then reigning superpower, Great Britain, was beginning to decline. At that time, the U.S. possessed vast, untapped territory, which some thought was untamable. But all acknowledged that the territory was filled with promise and the U.S. had a population and leadership that were determined to venture into it. Over the following few decades, the U.S. answered its call of Manifest Destiny and the century that followed became far and away the American Century.

Today, Canada stands at a similar juncture. It is coming of age at a time when global economic, political and natural events are combining to work in Canada’s favor. More so than at any time in its history, Canada’s strengths and its future are less confined to, and less defined by, that 100 mile strip. Canada’s course of empire is northward. Canadians can now answer their own call. From Sea to Shining Sea to Shining Sea.

Canada’s enduring and uniquely special relationship with the U.S., best illustrated by that 100 mile strip, must and will surely continue. Yet, Canada is now an integral part of a greater, global community. It must recognize this. It must also recognize that Northern Canada will play a key role in shaping that global community. Canada’s global stature will likewise be enhanced only by a movement northward, away from the ties that bind it so strongly to the U.S. If Canadians follow their country northward, the Canadian Century will also follow. Canada’s southern border will still be there but it will be regarded simply as just one of Canada’s boundaries, and perhaps not even the most vital one. Canada is the world’s second largest country and has the world’s longest coastline. The new century will see it make full use of these gifts. Canadians are no longer just a Border People. Canadians are now for the first time, and in the fullest sense of the term, a Northern People.


Top Stories

Check back soon
Once posts are published, you’ll see them here.
bottom of page