July 9, 2020

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Canadian demographics impact cultural shifts

‘Here we go again" was the first thought while unsealing Darrell Bricker’s newest study from the envelope the Winnipeg Free Press had sent to my isolated home. Surely this new work — Next: Where to Live, What to Buy and Who Will Lead Canada’s Future — would suffer the same cruel invalidation that every other pre-pandemic prognostication must experience in these strange times.

But in a sense, Bricker has dodged a COVID-19 bullet, as his focus throughout this volume is on Canadian demographics, complete with its recurrent reminder of how these mighty, slow-moving and mostly irreversible forces affect society today and tomorrow. Take that, pandemic.

Bricker is CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs, a global marketing research company. This is Bricker’s third book on population trends and follows Empty Planet and The Big Shift, both of which he co-authored with the Globe and Mail’s former chief political writer John Ibbitson. (Disclosure: This reviewer crossed paths with Bricker in the early ’90s while working at what was then the Angus Reid Group.)

Much of the focus of Bricker’s new solo work is on generational groups, particularly on what he maintains are the miscalculated "Perennials" (basically anyone over 55). It is these comfortable silver-haired boomers who continue to dominate and shape our social values and consumer trends, mostly by the sheer potency of their numbers and their relative prosperity.

At the opposite end of this generational spectrum are millennials, who face a grinding existence defined by delayed or disrupted ambitions. At every turn, Bricker asserts, millennials face the discouraging obstacles of escalating tuition fees, prohibitive real estate prices and very real job and career barriers. These challenges are partly a result of the perennials, who now tend to live and work longer than ever before.

Aside from his focus on the generations, Bricker uses an accessible and breezy approach to lead the reader through other major demographic headwaters including the relative growth and influence of Canada’s West, the continued rise of urban (and especially suburban) Canada and the social, political and commercial ascendance of women as a major force.

For all of the aridness that one might expect to colour any discussion of demographics, Bricker is not afraid to take a stand or weigh in on controversial or delicate issues.

For example, in his chapter "Why Diversity Is Not Our Strength," the author deconstructs the drivers of modern political populism and concludes that disadvantage and inequality cannot fully explain "Trumpian" populism or even the U.K.’s Brexit impetus. Rather, Bricker insists, these dark cultural motivations are mostly inspired by kind of "nativism" and resentment of the cultural changes being brought about by immigration.

Disturbingly, this kind of populism may be particularly relevant for Canada’s future, as almost all our population growth now comes from newcomers. And while 46 per cent of Americans now agree that immigration is causing that country to change in undesirable ways, a full 40 per cent hold this same sentiment here.

Next is a well-considered, factually dense and readable book that will be appreciated by those interested in Canadian population, society and our shared future.

Scott MacKay is the President of Probe Research Inc., a Winnipeg-based public opinion and marketing research organization.

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