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How to grow Canada

The Whistler Writers Festival returns with Journalist Doug Saunders and his latest book, along with dozens of other writers



As the international affairs columnist at the Globe and Mail, Doug Saunders is used to exploring the biggest of big pictures in world politics.

His latest book, Maximum Canada: Why 35 Million Canadians Are Not Enough, is a timely look forward into the future from 2017, Canada's 150th anniversary since Confederation.

Maximum Canada's central premise is sure to provoke anyone raised to embrace Canada's open spaces and distant geography (i.e. everyone in this country); Saunders believes that Canada's population is nowhere near large enough to achieve its full potential.

He wants the population base tripled to around 100 million people.

"It would allow us to develop better than we have, better than we had been allowed to historically," Saunders says in a phone interview.

His other books Arrival City: The Final Migration and The Myth of the Muslim Tide, also deal with the movement of people and misconceptions, but Maximum Canada has a broader brush stroke.

"Maximum Canada dovetailed out from them in certain ways. I developed a lot of expertise on how cities grow, how communities grow, and how migration works," he says.

"It certainly grew in parallel with the spirit of these ideas; it grew out of the experience of living outside of Canada for a decade-and-a-half in the U.S. and Britain (for the Globe and Mail).

"I started becoming interested in Canada from a distance. Why did it look different from other settler colonies? Why did it develop differently? Why doesn't it have the same levels of support for institutions that other countries have?

"You notice these sort of things acutely from a distance."

Saunders created a folder on his computer desktop called "Canada book" in 2012, just as he and his family were moving back from the U.K. He noticed as he gathered information on Canadians for his other books that there was no population history of the country.

The first half of Maximum Canada takes a historical look at the failures of lawmakers in helping the nation achieve its full potential. What Saunders learned contradicted the mythologies of this country.

"We think of ourselves as a country of immigration, growth and diversity. In fact, that set of ideas is very recent, and for most of our history we were a country of emigration, a stepping stone that people wanted to leave," he says.

He also looked at the questions and challenges of the country's current population.

"The numbers in all this really did surprise me," Saunders says.

"We basically missed the largest immigration in the world, which was the 40 million Europeans who moved to the New World in the second half of the 19th century. It was startling to see that Canada had a net migratory loss in the decades that this happened."

This had a defining impact on the new country, Saunders said, because the people who made up much of the migration were creators of urban economies.

"These were the people who became entrepreneurial and went into business. It wasn't entirely a story of farmers setting up farms. We missed out on that because we saw ourselves as a country of people who gathered grain and lumber," Saunders says.

The second half of Maximum Canada explores how tripling the population to 100 million would benefit the country, and would counterbalance the country's history of loss.

"I think there is a broad consensus at the moment in Canada that broadly speaking population growth is desirable," Saunders says.

He noted it would be hard to fully predict where public opinion would go, adding that it wasn't a matter of increasing to a policy of large-scale immigration from the 300,000 people per year currently immigrating here.

He would also like to see encouragement for Canadian couples having larger families, though Saunders also recognizes this wouldn't be the only way forward to increase numbers.

For those wanting to find out more, Saunders is taking part in the main reading event at the 2017 Whistler Writers Festival (WWF), When Reality Looks Like Fiction, How Do You Write Your Way to the Truth?, alongside authors Leslie Anthony, Claudia Casper and Gurjinder Basran at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 14, at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.

He is also in the Booklovers' Workshop and Literary Salon II, on Oct. 14, at 4:30 p.m.

The festival takes place from Oct. 12 to 15.

Rebecca Wood Barrett, program manager of the WWF, says this year's festival has a few changes.

"We've expanded the Book Lovers Workshop and Literary Salon to a second day," she says, adding that the participants will have read the authors' books ahead of time, and can participate in discussions about them.

"It will be a more of a book-club experience."

Another new event is a Walk to Lost Lake.

"We were joking around with Grant Lawrence and asked him what kind of sessions he wanted to see. He said, 'Why not the hot-tub sessions?' and we thought that was funny. A lot of authors here make time to go for a hike or a run, so we thought a hike to Lost Lake with 20-or-so people would be great," Wood Barrett says. On the walk, Lawrence will be joined by Terry Fallis, Shelley O'Callaghan and Mark Leiren-Young.

As well, this year 12 authors wrote short pieces on the idea of risk for the WWF blog in order to show how taking risks allowed their careers to flourish.

"For some it was about being gender fluid, another it was about being a Japanese-Canadian writer, while for others it was about physical risk," Wood Barrett says.

"One, Claudia Casper, decided to go spelunking for research into a story, and almost got stuck in a hole!"

Tickets for readings and workshops can be purchased at the festival, or online at www.whistlerwritersfest.com.

Other key WWF events

Comedy Quickies returns for a third year at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 12, at the Maury Young Arts Centre.

Speed Dating: Pitch your Book/Idea to Publishers and Editors at 1:15 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 13, at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Participants get 15 minutes to pitch their books.

Tasting the Divine: Cooks With Books returns at 6:15 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 13, at the Audain Art Museum.

Literary Cabaret on Friday, Oct. 13, at the Maury Young Arts Centre.

Writers of Fiction reading event on Saturday, Oct. 14, at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.

Songwriting Workshop with Shari Ulrich at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 14, at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.

Speaking Our Silence — The Poetry of Courage reading event with Roo Borson, Kevin Connolly, Sandra Ridley and Suzannah Showler at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 14, at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.

Crime Writers Lunch with John Maclachlan Gray, Sheena Kamal, Michael Redhill, Alisa Smith and Jenny D. Williams at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 14, at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.