Charting the way forward for our community

Aging in an Age of Innovative Technologies, Global Changes to the Economic Paradigm, and Quebec’s Uniqueness

By N Oji Mzilikazi
(Part 1 of 2)

In December 2004, Statistics Canada released a report that stated, “Canada has changed from a high-fertility society where women had many children during their lives to a low-fertility society where women are having fewer children overall and at increasingly older ages.” And with the current birth rate, in 25 years, the population of seniors 65 and older could be more than double the number of children under 15.
In October 2005, Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew said that Canada’s population must rise to 40 million from its current 31, to compensate for an aging population and retiring baby boomers.
Days before Quebec’s 1995 Referendum, Lucien Bouchard, the leader of the Bloc Québécois stated, “We’re one of the white races that has the fewest children.” The implication: White francophone women must have more children if Quebec is to ever achieve its dream of sovereignty.
In 2001, Quebec recorded the lowest birth rate since 1910. (The low birthrate of white francophone women is at the heart of the fears of French language and French culture dying.) Per government reports, Quebec’s population is aging faster than the rest of North America.
What does a low birthrate have to do with aging?
Workers pay taxes, which in turn provide municipalities and governments the revenue needed to afford the wide range of public and social services and pay salaries. Without a replacement population to ensure a continued and sizeable tax-paying workforce, an aged population will burden our currently free health-care system, which already accounts for a huge slice of the provincial budget.
The maintenance and enjoyment of wealth necessitate having to feed as few mouths as possible, and having fewer people using up resources. Consequently, the more affluent, developed and progressive a society, the fewer children it produces. Canada is an affluent nation.
Add to the mix the availability of birth control and other non-reproductive technologies, abortion, sexual choice, the financial independence of women, female empowerment and freedom from domesticity, plus the decline of the Church in controlling lives and lifestyle, and it’s impossible to confine women to the home or demand they produce babies.
The Canadian birth rate is well below replacement levels. (Population projections show that by 2030, “net immigration may become the only source of population growth.”)
Per a 2010 Canadian Parliamentary report: “A birth rate that is below replacement level over the long term would make the government’s ‘current fiscal structure not sustainable.’ If it continues its downward trend, there would have to be a sharp rise in taxes and major cuts to government services.” (Major cuts could include pensions.)
The latest census data show for the first time in Canadian history there are more people over the age of 65 than there are under the age of 15.
Compounding matters—the ability of Federal and provincial governments to continue to amply cater to the needs of our increasing aging population, as well as maintain its current pension payouts, much more increase it, to keep pace with the cost of living—are the effects of globalization, outsourcing, computerization, automation, free trade and non-stop advances in innovative and information technologies and their industries.
For all their advantages, they are not job creators. They do not spread wealth or support social mobility. (Just look at the devastating impact of Whats app, Facetime and email on the postal service.) They made numerous long-established occupations and skilled trades obsolete, closed factories, laid off million of workers, created widespread employment unavailability/job shortages, and are directly responsible for impoverishing communities, the increase in poverty, homelessness, people on welfare, the increase in drug usage/drug addiction, gravitation to crime, social systems under siege, youths unable to envision a bright future, and government cutbacks; towns, cities and municipalities no longer having a large tax base of workers—adequate financial resources to deliver as well as adequately service the basic needs of the population.
Work enriches both people and society. Work alleviates poverty and is the first step towards prosperity. Work puts time to beneficial use. In doing so, work minimizes criminal pursuit, and by extension, contribute to social stability.
Work; being employed, bestows a positive outlook on life. Work allows one to plan a course and dream of brighter, better and bigger things. Work inspires, engenders self-esteem, the sense of pride, and the sense of worth and accomplishment.
Despite the upsides to work, business do not care about the human condition, their employees’ financial obligations or aspirations, or the negative ramifications of their policies. Business is all about maximum profitability.
To that end, business is continuously looking for new ways to hire labour cheaply, cut expenses, increase profits for themselves and their shareholders, limit legal accountability as well as limit corporate responsibility.
Manufacturing jobs are labour intensive. For decades, factory work/manufacturing jobs was the source of stable employment. They allowed school dropouts and the poorly educated to earn a living, provide for family, own a home, open their own businesses, also ascend to middle-class status. And even though automation, technological advancements and computerization forced reductions in the workforce, manufacturing was still labour intensive, still employed vast numbers of workers.
Blinded by tunnel-vision pursuit of mind-boggling profits, western business elites closed factories and companies, and outsourced—apportioned entire industries and thousands of jobs to countries with less-developed economies and an abundant cheap labour.
In those markets, there are no unions, no minimum wage scale, no employment, health or insurance benefits, and very weak to no worker and environmental protection laws. Monthly salaries do not come close to the daily wage paid to an employee in a rich nation like ours.
Since competitiveness determines success in the global marketplace, outsourcing cannot be reversed. Besides the prohibitive outlay of capital necessary to return those jobs, western nations cannot compete with the cheapness of labour in outsourced markets and the value of life in those countries. As such, industries and jobs exported to Asia and other less-developed nations are permanently lost, regardless of the rhetoric from the likes of Donald Trump about “bringing jobs back.”
The unavailability of jobs and competition over jobs have undermined worker protection, benefits, job security, the power of unions, and cheapen the price of labour. Workers can no longer afford to tell an employer to F – off, and easily find a new job. Workers must contend with having to work and produce more for a lesser salary and with less to no benefits.
And so, technology, advancements in information, automated systems, automation and its role in the loss of skilled, as well as labour intensive jobs, a global marketplace, the inter-relatedness, co-dependency of economies alongside competitive pressures from globalization have irreversibly changed the economic paradigm.

N Oji Mzilikazi is Board member of the Council for Black Aging Community of Montreal. Speech delivered at the MCSO 40th Anniversary celebration on Saturday, November 11.
Part 2 in our next issue