It’s come to my attention that I’m having the same conversation over and over again, and only recently have I figured out why.
In almost every conversation of consequence I’ve taken part in recently seems to have a common thread.
My wife and her co-worker were talking about being short-staffed, a continual, ongoing issue across the medical field.
On March 23, my neighbour, who manages an oilfield services shop, said they’re short-staffed. I got a call from the Kindersley Chamber of commerce. They would like me to do a story on how they have several companies in need of workers, and some will even provide accommodations. Watch for that down the road.
And every day now I’m seeing my social media is filling up with posts from various companies looking for workers.
In most conversations I’ve had with advertisers, the issue of labour shortage is ever-present. Talking to a dirt-moving contractor the other day, they could really use skilled operators. The same goes for service rig companies.
Indeed, I’ve built that into my business model. When companies advertise on Pipeline Online, I usually make them two versions of the ad. The first being “We’re a great company, you should hire us.” And the second is “We are hiring today! Call us now.” When they need staff, I’ll run the careers ad. Otherwise, I’ll run the regular ad. I anticipate by summer that one-third of my advertising on Pipeline Online will be career ads.
But what’s behind all this? It’s not just the rebound of the economy coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. And it’s not just the oilpatch coming out of a horrific seven-year downturn. It’s pretty much everywhere I turn, in every sector I look at.
In recent years, I’ve closely followed Colorado-based geopolitical strategist Peter Zeihan. To book him for the keynote speaker at your conference (back when they still had in-person conferences), you had to drop something like $25,000 for a one-hour presentation. And about 80 per cent of that presentation was his boilerplate, and the remaining bits were tailored to the audience. There’s literally dozens of these presentations available on YouTube, and I’ve compiled a lengthy playlist here, if you’re so inclined.
I’ve also listened to the audiobook version of all of his three books, The Accidental Superpower: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder (2014), The Absent Superpower: The Shale Revolution and a World Without America (2016), and Disunited Nations: The Scramble for Power in an Ungoverned World (2020). His next book, due out in June, is The End of the World is Just the Beginning: Mapping the Collapse of Globalization. Ominous title, no doubt.
Zeihan talks a lot about how geography and demography dictate the world we are in. And the reason I have become particularly enamored with him is how accurate his predictions have become. If you watch those videos in the playlist, you will find that he accurately predicted, to the exact location, Iran’s attack on Saudi Arabia’s biggest oil processing facility in 2019. And chapter 6 of The Absent Superpower, published in 2016, details in great length how Russia would invade Ukraine, and then its other neighbours to the west. Hopefully he is proven wrong about the second part.
The reason he gives is demographics. A collapsing birthrate, AIDS, tuberculosis and declining education system have led to what Zeihan calls a collapse of Russia’s demography. If Russia wanted to secure its borders into a more defensible position, it had to do it basically now, while it still had enough young men to make up an army sufficient to the task. And that’s precisely what happened on February 24th.
But let’s circle back to how demography is impacting Canada and its workforce. About six or seven years ago, Zeihan spoke in Calgary and touch on this at some length. He’s also referenced Canada in passing on occasion.
From 2019, picking up where Zeihan gets into the demography of Mexico, Canada and Japan, among others:
And from here, on Feb. 15, 2022, just nine days before Russia invaded Ukraine:
For reference, he uses these terms: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials (sometimes called Gen-Y), and Zoomers (also called Gen-Z). At 47, I’m a Gen-Xer, my retired mom is a Boomer, my 25-year old sister is a Millennial, and my teenage kids are Zoomers. With me, so far?
The Boomers in most nations, but particularly in United States and Canada, are the largest generation, by far. And three years ago, Zeihan pointed out that, in three years, the boomers would be retiring in droves. Mom, born about midway into the Baby Boom in 1955, retired a few years ago, so that’s about right.
Gen-X was substantially smaller. In the US, the Millennial generation almost matched the Boomers for size. But in Canada, it absolutely did not, as seen from this population demographic pyramid.
This is the population pyramid for Canada. A population pyramid illustrates the age and sex structure of a country’s population and may provide insights about political and social stability, as well as economic development. The population is distributed along the horizontal axis, with males shown on the left and females on the right. The male and female populations are broken down into 5-year age groups represented as horizontal bars along the vertical axis, with the youngest age groups at the bottom and the oldest at the top. The shape of the population pyramid gradually evolves over time based on fertility, mortality, and international migration trends. CIA World Factbook
A demographic pyramid starts at a young age as its base, and has one sex on the on the left, the other on the right. As populations age and die off, it eventually tapers off to nothing around the age of 100.
What’s worse is the Zoomers in Canada are substantially lower in number than the previous generations. Enormously lower. If you look at the pyramid, you’ll find that there are hundreds of thousands fewer people in their late teens and early 20s entering the workforce than there are retiring.
Those chiseled out lower corners? That’s your holidays. They’re gone. There will be no one to backfill you if you want to take time off.
Where are the babies?
How did this happen?
We became more educated. One of the most significant indicators of prosperity is when women become more educated and empowered, pretty much anywhere in the world, the birthrate declines drastically. It’s happened in every industrialized economy. So, in Canada, we stopped having babies. Birth control became commonplace. Abortions, that thing no one ever want to talk about, took roughly 100,000 babies each year from 2007-2017. And in 2017, Canada had 377,308 live births, and 94,030 abortions, one fifth of all pregnancies.
Whatever you want to say about abortion, it’s undeniable that every abortion results in one fewer potential worker down the road. And in one decade, that total in Canada was around a million. The 98,762 babies aborted in 2007 would be turning 15 this year, just about to enter the workforce to flip burgers.
So here we are. Our live births has wobbled between 402,533 in 1991 to 328,802 in 2002, back up to 384,100 in 2014, and then down to 358,604 in 2020. In that same time period, our population has grown from 27,854,861 in 1991 to 37,908,599 in 2021, an increase of just over 10 million people.
The Baby Boomers are starting to die off, it seems. Last year, we just crossed the 300,000 deaths per year threshold, with 307,000 dying, up 87,000 per year compared to 2001.
According to Statistics Canada, our fertility rate fell to 1.47 children per woman in 2019, which was bad enough, but dropped even further to 1.4 in 2020. “If the country’s fertility continues to decline further in the coming years, Canada could join the ‘lowest-low’ fertility countries—a situation associated with rapid population aging and increased stress on the labour market, public health care and pension systems,” wrote Ana Fostik and Nora Galbraith for Statistics Canada.
It’s widely accepted that you need each woman to have an average of 2.1 kids to maintain a stable population, and we’re so far beyond that, we can’t even see it in the rearview mirror.
Since we forgot to have babies, it’s principally due to immigration that our population has grown that 10 million. The 2016 census said immigrants made up 21.9 per cent of the population that year.
That 1.4 fertility number is shocking. Even it everyone who could have a baby got busy right now, it would still take 18 years and nine months to make a real impact on this dilemma. That’s a long time to go short-staffed.
Let me put it another way: without immigration, a 1.4 children per woman fertility rate means in a few generations, Canada will whither to nothing.
Immigrants, you’re our only hope
Remember that population pyramid? That includes all those millions of immigrants. Even then, we still have an enormous gap of young people. In 2020, we had 562,084 fewer people aged 15-19 (Zoomers) than we did aged 30-34, the peak of the Millennials.
So where does all this bring us? Increasingly, individual business and the economy as a whole will have to become dramatically more efficient, just to keep pace. Not a little bit, but efficiency gains on a scale rarely ever seen in our history, and do so in the next few years. Efficiency gains that could be nigh onto impossible. This means making do with less people – a lot less people – and likely no relief in sight.
There is another option, though. We can dramatically open our doors to immigration and the reception of refugees. Not a little bit, but a lot. Like double. Maybe more. Maybe a lot more. And we especially want to bring in families with young children. Indeed, we should prioritize families with more than two children. Don’t worry about how much training they have, or where they’re from. Just let them in. Stop worrying about skilled labour. We need everyone.
The Saskatchewan government tacitly acknowledged this in its March 23 budget. “This budget also includes $1.5 million to develop recruitment initiatives including a settlement and relocation incentive program, to recruit 150 health care workers to Saskatchewan from the Philippines. It is the first year of a two-year program aimed at recruiting 300 health care workers from the Philippines,” Finance Minister Donna Harpauer said in her budget address.
Remember that 562,084 fewer people gap identified above? In 2019, the last pre-pandemic year, Canada brought in 313,601 immigrants of all types. Not all of them were young families or young people. And that gap was AFTER you included the immigrants that had arrived.
To everyone who has said things like, “The UN is trying to take over Canada through immigrants!” or “The Liberals are bringing in immigrants to vote for them!” just stop. Your xenophobia is shooting yourself in the foot. If you ever want to be able to take a holiday five years from now, you had better pray they let in more immigrants, and fast.
This brings us back full circle to Ukraine. Remember Zeihan said Russia was going to invade Ukraine because of its own collapsing demographics? There are now, at the time of writing, 3.5 million refugees, principally women and children, who have fled Ukraine, according to the UNHCR. A lot of those people are not going to want to go back, or will be able to go back. And when the fighting stops, their husbands and fathers will likely want to join their families, wherever they end up.
I am saying, today, we should welcome Ukrainian refugees by the hundreds of thousands, especially the families with children. The Government of Canada should be chartering airliners right now and bringing them over right frickin’ now. And along the way, we might want to consider bringing in all those Afghans we forgot to rescue. There’s still plenty of refugees from Ethiopia, Burundi, Central African Republic, Congo, Iraq, Nigeria, Rohinga, Sahel, South Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen.
I’m working with some of my columnists – Steve Halabura and Brian Crossman, to do our little part to make the way ready for refugees here. You can read about it in one of Halabura’s columns here.
We cannot, and will not, pop out babies fast enough to deal with what will soon grow to be our own demographic crisis. The only way we, as a nation, can cope is to enormously increase our immigration and refugee intakes, particularly of young families.
If we don’t, plan on working short-staffed. Forever.
Brian Zinchuk is editor and owner of Pipeline Online. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.