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Ask Dr. Weld 1 - Demography 101


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): The Good Men Project

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/03/12

Madeline Weld, B.Sc., M.S., Ph.D., is the President of the Population Institute Canada. She worked for and has retired from Health Canada. She is a Director of Canadian Humanist Publications and an editor of Humanist Perspectives.

Some of the basic premises of the world of demographics and demography as a field of study is the statistical outlook of the field dealing with births, deaths, diseases, marriages, and so on, of the population(s).

Weld’s interest is in the areas of the growth of the population and the ways in which continually growth-oriented humanity may or may not be having a negative outcome on the biosphere. The net migration of a country, such as Canada or the United States, will reflect this, where net migration is defined as both immigration and emigration – and also linked to the number of births and the number of deaths to define “population growth” of any country, or population.

Weld, in describing how she became interested in the field, stated, “As far as being concerned about population growth goes, I can say all of my life — at least as soon as I started to consciously think about things. I can’t remember too much from my very early years. But when I was two months short of five, my dad, who was in the foreign service, was posted to Brazil (November 1959 — June 1962), and I became acutely aware of the extreme differences in wealth in that country and the sprawling favelas.”

Weld also was recognizing the way in which the separation between the poor and the rich could, at times, be completely arbitrary. Why do some live in rich areas while others live in potential squalor? This is a young inquisitive and ethical mind.

At the time while living in Pakistan, Weld noted the population was only about 60 million, circa 1965-67. Now, the population is about 200 million. When she was younger, the teacher would talk about the “vast” forests and oceans including the resources available to humans in them.

“As far as being officially active in the area of population, that didn’t start until 1992, when Population Institute Canada was founded under the name “The Ottawa Family Planning Project” by the late Dr. Whitman Wright (a professional engineer who also founded Planned Parenthood Ottawa). I was the vice-president and then in 1995 became president,” Weld said.

The Ottawa Family Planning Project became the Global Population Concerns Ottawa, and then the Global Population Concerns Ottawa became Population Institute Canada, which is its current incarnation. Weld has been active and petitioning the government to support family planning for a long time, especially in its international assistance programs. Weld also argues for the protection of the biology and agriculture of Canada.  The world is neither an infinite resource holder or bottomless trash can.

Weld earned a B.Sc. in Zoology from the University of Guelph, and an M.S. and a Ph.D. in Physiology from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. In her time as an academic-in-training, her main focus of course work that could somewhat relate to the demographic career was in Ecology. The research into how animal populations can expand and then get knocked down as they rise because of predators, disease, and the like.

“The topic of human population was my own ‘extra-curricular’ interest. Whenever I would read newspaper articles or hear news reports about conflicts iis dealing with Ecology. In particular regions or about some environmental problem (erosion, deforestation, depleted water supplies, pollution), I’d note how the population growth aspect of the problem was either completely overlooked or, very occasionally, mentioned in passing as something inevitable,” Weld stated.

Some of the basics of demography within a Canadian context, as laid out by Weld, came with the caveat that the internert, not, makes the life of any independent research much easier. One can find out about the net population growth in Canada, and, in turn, the number of emigrants, immigrants, and the rate of births and deaths. It is a wonderful achievement and testament to the technological age in which we find ourselves.

Weld explained, “It’s noteworthy that Canada’s population increased over 5-fold over the 20th Century. It was almost 5.4 million in the 1901 census, and almost 30.7 million in 2000 (a 5.7-fold increase). The current population is almost 37 million. But our population could have stabilized a long time ago at well under 30 million because our total fertility rate has been near or below 2 children per woman since 1970. We have been driving Canada’s rapid population growth with high levels of immigration.”

One problem is the ability to find some critical analysis of the policies set out by the government with direct, or even indirect for that matter, impacts on the status of the population, in the short-term and the long-term. There is no official policy around population in Canada. However, other policies throughout the governments, federal and otherwise, do impact the eventual population of Canadian society.

“Canada’s immigration policy as of 1990 has increased Canada’s population by about 1% a year, and under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, our intake is being upped even more. But there is no public discussion about the costs of those policies — the loss of wildlife habitat and greenspace in cities,” Weld stated, “the congestion and ever-increasing amounts of time that people spend stuck in traffic, the stresses on social services (such as health care) and on infrastructure, and on those seeking jobs. Our immigration policy benefits the few (developers, bankers, businesses that benefit from cheap labor, some politicians courting the ethnic vote) but the costs are borne by everyone.”

The “de facto policy” of Canadian society and, in particular, the Canadian federal government functions against the scientific evidence, according to Weld. In that, in 1976, the Science Council of Canada in Report #25 entitled “Population, Technology, and Resources” recommended or suggested, or “advised,” the Canadian government to implement and the Canadian public to support a restriction on the level of immigration, as this would conserve the limited resources of the nation-state in addition to stabilizing the population.

Remembering, of course, this was way back in 1976. For younger cohorts, it is important to develop a sensibility of a timeline of decades and centuries to comprehend the current social and political, and so policy, landscape of the nation, not simply in Canadian society but elsewhere too.

Weld explained further, “In 1991, the Intelligence Advisory Committee with input from Environment Canada, the Defence Department, and External Affairs, produced a confidential document for the Privy Council, called ‘The environment: marriage between Earth and mankind.’ It states that ‘Controlling population growth is crucial to addressing most environmental problems, including global warming.’ It notes that while Canada’s population is not large in world terms, its concentration in various areas has already put a lot of stress upon regional environments in many ways.”

There was research by Fraser Basin Ecosystem Study done by Michael Healey and others through The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, British Columbia. It was published in 1997. They found that the rapid growth in the urban centre in British Columbia, Canada, would overwhelm – eventually – and degrade the environment, where this was beginning to be seen at the time. Once more, this is more than two decades ago. Prior generations have been warning and working on these issues. However, there has not been sufficient governmental and public pressure and activism on it.

“When the study was released, Michael Healey said, ‘The lower Fraser basin exemplifies all the social, environmental, and economic problems of modern industrial nations. These problems are not going away and it is high time that we faced up to them,'” Weld stated, “Some people have written critically about Canada’s immigration policies. The late Martin Collacott wrote extensively about the need for reform, and economists Herb Grubel and Patrick Grady estimated that recent immigrants cost the government $30 billion more in services than they pay in taxes each year.”

She – Weld – spoke about Who gets in, a book by Daniel Stoffman from 2002, which talked at length about the immigration policy of Canadian society. Same with Immigration: the Economic Case by Diane Francis, also from 2002. The basic stipulations within the texts are debunking or dismantling the economic arguments made for the growing of the Canadian populace with Canadian society not necessarily becoming richer with immigration and immigration not changing the fundamental structure of Canadian culture either. In that, immigrants get old too; while, at the same time, the truth of the matter is a growing population is having a negative impact on the environment.

Weld stated, “But the media — and most environmentalists for that matter — do not discuss let alone promote the concept of stabilizing and reducing Canada’s population as an environmental measure. Instead, we do hear about ideas like the Century Initiative, which aims to grow Canada’s population to 100 million by 2100. If this were to come about, it would be to the detriment both of working Canadians and the environment.”

With the continual growth of the human population by more than 80 million people per year and one billion per 12 years now, this is a highly sobering statistics about the rapid growth of human societies and the need to be sober in the evaluation and analysis of the scientific, probably, consensus on immigration and the populations of countries for sustainable living with the surrounding ecosystems that, in turn, sustain and permit human life in the first place. As we’re seeing more and more, the poorer and lesser developed nations of the world tend to having the highest birth rates and the larger negative impacts with the unsustainable growth trajectories of their populations, which can lead to significant issues for the health and wellness, and happiness, and, in fact, wealth on average, of their populations.

“This rapid population growth in poor countries is leading to resource scarcity, unemployment, and conflict, and driving people to risk their lives to immigrate elsewhere, where their welcome is increasingly wearing thin,” Weld concluded, “Witness what is happening in Europe. And for anyone who cares about life on Earth, it is sad to see the devastation of wildlife on land and in the oceans, rivers, and lakes. We should ask ourselves whether we really want to turn the Earth into a feedlot for humanity or preserve some of its natural beauty.”


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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