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An airplane takes off from Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto in October, 2021. Although Canada is a champion of democracy globally, democracy has been in retreat, writes Lisa Lalande of the Century Initiative.CARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

Lisa Lalande is the chief executive officer of the Century Initiative.

We live in deadly serious times. The assault on Ukraine by the authoritarian Russian government is only the latest example of attacks on democracy and the rule of law.

But this is only the most recent – and violent – example of a worldwide trend.

Although Canada is a champion of democracy globally, democracy has been in retreat. Canadians are waking up to global and domestic threats to freedom, to the rules-based international order and to our national security. Canadians are prepared to do more about it.

We already command a degree of global influence – we are the world’s 10th-largest economy, hold seats in both the Group of Seven and G20, and are internationally respected.

But the simple fact is that bigger and more prosperous countries are better able to advance their interests – and global security – than smaller ones.

Their sanctions hit harder. They are more able to defend their supply chains. They have more cultural influence. They have more resources to build bigger militaries. And they are more able to exert “soft power” and mobilize resources to defend their interests.

At Century Initiative, we believe that Canada should be home to 100 million Canadians, with the physical and social infrastructure needed to support them.

We recently released our National Scorecard on Growth and Prosperity, where we track Canada’s progress toward achieving that goal – and identified action items for stakeholders across Canadian society to make the goal a reality.

There are bright spots: Canadian support for immigration remains high, and a point of social consensus. Our education system is among the world’s best, and our international brand continues to attract students and entrepreneurs worldwide.

But to achieve the vision of 100 million Canadians, much work needs to be done. That means maintaining immigration levels – but it also means building a country that many more people can call home.

Our first order of business must be to invest in our aging infrastructure.

This means repairing our roads and bridges – and making them resilient against weather events driven by climate change.

But it also means building housing – and much more of it.

While there are many factors influencing the price of housing, in our view, the primary factor – and the factor we can do most about – is that Canada suffers from a housing shortage.

Are our housing prices driving away the founder of the next Narwhal (companies best poised to become world class)? Are they keeping Canadians out of our most productive job markets, dragging down our national productivity even further? And are they forcing Canadians to make the difficult choice to have fewer children than they’d like to?

Our proposed solution goes beyond just intensifying major economic centres such as Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. We believe that in addition to cities loosening restrictions on development, Canadian immigration policy should seek to direct newcomers to cities where new workers are badly needed. Smaller cities across Canada continue to suffer from an aging population and the strained budget that entails, resulting in declining prosperity.

Our second order of business must be to focus on productivity.

Simply put: Businesses do not invest enough, either on productivity or in research and development. The business sector must lead, making the investments necessary to spur innovation, increase our competitiveness and attract and retain the talent we need to do business – and win – worldwide.

And finally, we must do more to close gaps in outcomes that have developed based on race, gender, indigeneity and immigration status.

This will require effort across the public and private sector. There is an income gap between immigrants and those already living in Canada – which requires government to speed recognition of foreign credentials, and which requires business to end discrimination. There is an educational outcome gap experienced by Indigenous people, and the government must act on it to make reconciliation real.

A prosperous Canada means prosperous Canadians – and far too many Canadians are left on the outside looking in.

There are two futures open to Canada. One is a future of decline – where our population ages, our productivity and prosperity diminishes, our influence abroad wanes – and we are less able to protect democracy and the rules-based international order.

The other is a future of growth.

A bigger, bolder, more prosperous Canada is one that can defend its interests and advance its values – both at home and abroad.

The world needs more Canada. And that means that we need more Canadians – and we need to put in place the physical and social infrastructure to support them.

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