A Changing Canada

I remember when I was a kid and hearing that there were four billion people in the world. I never thought about it much until I learned that there are now over 7.7 billion. When did that happen? What else has changed? Seeing change is hard, especially if it happens slowly.

To visualize how things change I created a dashboard-like view of six broad indicators. To put each statistic in context, it often helps to have other related things to compare it to, such as other countries, or average or historical values.

For comparison countries I selected:

USA

  • Canada’s closest neighbour and largest trading partner by far. The country Canada most often compares itself to.

Sweden

  • Everyone looks to Scandinavia to see the result of a society with a larger social safety net made possible through higher taxes.

Japan

  • A modern, technologically advanced but culturally different country. Japan served as a role model for hyper-growth to the four Asian tigers: South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

OECD

  • To remove the criticism of cherry picking countries let’s look at a bundle. Conveniently, there is a group of developed countries, nicknamed the rich nations’ club, that fits well here. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) was founded in 1961 with 20 countries and now numbers 36.

The Founding Countries

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • France
  • West Germany
  • Greece
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Luxembourg
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Turkey
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

Additions
  • Japan
  • Finland
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Poland
  • Hungary
  • Czech Republic
  • Slovakia
  • Mexico
  • South Korea
  • Chile
  • Slovenia
  • Israel
  • Estonia
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania

The dashboard looks at six areas:

Population
How population growth relates to economic growth is a heavily debated topic in economics. It’s important because economic growth ties directly to our standard of living. Two third’s of Canada’s population growth is from immigration. Read why this is great news here.

Population Distribution
It’s not just population that factors into a country’s standard of living. It’s how the ages are distributed. If everyone is old, who is working, paying taxes and funding social services? Be sure to check out the info tab here to see the birth of the boomer generation.

Infant Mortality
The infant mortality rate is the number of children who die before the age of one for every one thousand live births. It’s one number that is often used to serve as a proxy for the health of the population as a whole.

Since it’s only one number it can only tell part of a larger story, however it’s useful because the causes of infant mortality,

are likely to influence the health status of whole populations such as their economic development, general living conditions, social well being, rates of illness, and the quality of the environment. - Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health

Energy
The Canada dashboard gives an historical look at Canada’s production of oil, coal and natural gas. In fact, it shows data going back to 1925 which you probably haven’t seen before. Thanks to the super sleuthing efforts of a librarian at Statistics Canada in Ottawa I dusted off the digital files to show Canada’s early days in the energy sector.

The historical numbers make more sense when you have context of where Canada’s production stands in relation to the rest of the world. Top 10? Middling? Bottom feeder?

1Worldwide Coal Production

Table 1: Top Five Coal Producers Plus Canada (2008–2018)
Rank Country Percent of World Total
1 China 47.4
2 United States 9.4
3 India 9.4
4 Indonesia 6.5
5 Australia 6.3
12 Canada 0.8

2Worldwide Natural Gas Production

Table 2: Top Five Natural Gas Producers (2017)
Rank Country Percent of World Total
1 United States 20
2 Russia 18
3 Iran 6
4 Canada 5
5 Qatar 4

3Worldwide Oil Production

Table 3: Top Five Oil Producers (2018)
Rank Country Percent of World Total
1 United States 18
2 Saudi Arabia 12
3 Russia 11
4 Canada 5
5 China 5

CO2
Climate change is the defining issue of our time and CO2 is a major contributor. Thus, CO2 is an obvious admission to the Canada dashboard.

Many perceive global warming as a sort of moral and economic debt, accumulated since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and now come due after several centuries. In fact, more than half of the carbon exhaled into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels has been emitted in just the past three decades. Which means we have done as much damage to the fate of the planet and its ability to sustain human life and civilization since Al Gore published his first book on climate than in all the centuries—all the millennia—that came before.

— David Wallace-Wells; The Uninhabitable Earth, Life After Warming; 2019

Interest Rates
Canadian banks set their own prime rate, theoretically independently of one another. However they are all basing their rate on the Bank of Canada’s policy interest rate or overnight rate.

The overnight rate is the interest rate at which major financial institutions borrow and lend one-day (or “overnight”) funds among themselves; the Bank sets a target level for that rate.

— Bank of Canada; Policy Interest Rate > Definition

The Bank of Canada has a very clear explanation of its overnight rate here.

The goal of the Bank of Canada when it comes to setting their overnight rate is keeping inflation under control.

The cornerstone of the Bank’s monetary policy framework is its inflation-control system, the goal of which is to keep inflation near 2 per cent - the mid-point of a 1 to 3 per cent target range.

— Bank of Canada; What is Monetary Policy

Interestingly, the level of employment is not an official concern of the Bank of Canada’s monetary policy. Whereas with the Federal Reserve, America’s central bank, employment gets a mention in word, if not always in spirit.

The Congress has directed the Fed to conduct the nation’s monetary policy to support three specific goals: maximum sustainable employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates.

— Federal Reserve; What economic goals does the Federal Reserve seek to achieve through its monetary policy?

The quick summary is that six people on the bank’s Governing Council decide the overnight rate and thus the prime rate eight times a year based on an inflation target of 2%.

This rate impacts variable rate mortgages, personal lines of credit, some credit card debt, and to a lesser extent the exchange rate of the Canadian dollar.

The five year fixed rate is decided completely differently. It is based, indirectly, on 5-year Government of Canada bonds that trade in Canada’s bond market. Here’s a good overview of how it all works.

Final Thoughts on a Quantified World
I ran across some cautionary advice when trying to understand complex things through numbers alone. These authors expand on the famous quote, “Not everything that counts can be counted.”

We have implemented policies that focus narrowly on one value of meaning: We emphasize GDP and efficiency, those things that we can measure, leaving behind the value of those that are harder to quantify - like community, happiness friendships, pride, and integration. 

— Chris Arnade; Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America; 2019

Social media has flooded our consciousness with caricatures of each other. Human beings are reduced to data, and data nearly always underrepresent reality. The result is this great flattening of human life and human complexity. We think that because we know someone is pro-choice or pro-life, or that they drive a truck or a Prius, we know everything we need to know about them. Human detail gets lost in the algorithm. Thus humanity gives way to ideology.

— Tara Westover; Educated; 2018 - Interview in The Atlantic

The Canada Dashboard
Each box has an info tab that has some suggested years to try along with some of my observations and links for further exploration.

Have a look here.