When deciding to apply to migrate to Canada, it is only natural that a lot of questions arise in your mind and that you want as many answers as possible in order to make the right choices and give your application the best possible odds. Not all questions are equal, however. Some are more factual – specific information about Canada, it’s economy and culture that you might not be aware of should know. Others are a little more open-ended questions where you might have a range of options and you need some more information before deciding on a course of action. And others might be specific, targeted questions that often have to do with the rules and regulations that deal with immigrating to Canada, and/or with other aspects of life in Canada, like how the Canadian job market works.
So, to help you prepare for what will be one of the biggest decisions in your life, we have three features: 5 facts, 5 questions, and 5 crazy questions about immigrating to Canada.
5 Facts About Canada
Canada is a Monarchy
Yes, you heard that right. Canada is indeed a monarchy, a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth the 2nd as our sovereign, as well as a Federation which is a written agreement between the provinces of Canada and the Federal Government. Now, that doesn’t mean we need the Queen’s signature on legislation, or even have her open our parliamentary sessions. We have a Governor General for that. Originally a British official who often was a titled nobility in years gone by, the Governor General nowadays is a Canadian and who represents the Queen in Canada and opens parliament among other things and whose power is largely symbolic, but actually may exercise important decisions in a parliamentary crisis. No, we never had a Viceroy like in India. Canada was never seen as a key member of the British Empire, the way India was, and Canada’s independence was gained by a slow institutional process that has taken over a century to bring the country to its current status. There were a few revolts, in Upper Canada in the mid-19th century and in what would become Manitoba in the 1880’s, one that ended with the tragic hanging of Louis Riel. But there was never a revolution.
Our Government’s Cabinet is actually the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and the Cabinet is drawn from the Privy Council and is composed of Ministers of the Crown of the party that forms the government. Usually the majority party, but not necessarily. We have a House of Commons very similar to Westminster’s in London, but we have a Senate rather than a House of Lords, although it resembles the House of Lords more than the U.S. Senate, for example. Senators are appointed not elected and have far less power than their equivalents in republican forms of government.
When you arrive at Pearson International, for example, and see a CBC channel on the screens around the airport, that’s what we call a Crown Corporation. You want stamps with the Queen on them? We’ve got them! You want to look at a rendition of the Queen’s image? Open your wallet and take out a $20 bill. A Canadian 20-dollar bill of course. She’s still there, even after the re-design, along with various Canadian historical figures (Prime Ministers mostly) on the other bills.
Yes, we are a monarchy. Not a republic.
Welfare in Canada
Officially, there is no program that’s called a welfare program in Canada. The Canadian Government calls them Social Assistance programs, but they are often colloquially referred to as welfare both in Canada, and the United States. Social Programs in Canada cover everything from healthcare to education to direct assistance to people with low incomes. The latter is what people are referring to when they say welfare in Canada. Officially this sort of direct transfer to low-income people is called by a number of names, because the programs are run by the provinces, and each province has a slightly different set of rules for their program:
- BC Income Assistance: as with all provincial/territorial social assistance programs, you must demonstrate a real need, and so-called welfare fraud is something authorities are always on the alert for.
- Alberta Income Support: this provides individuals and families with support to pay for basic expenses like food, clothing, and shelter. Again, you must demonstrate a strong need before applying for this program.
- Saskatchewan Assistance Program (SAP): as in the previous cases, this program is only for people who need help covering basic expenses. Some of the reasons for this can be: unemployment, illness, disabilities, or low income.
- Manitoba: Employment and Income Assistance: this gives support to those who have no other way to support themselves or their families, much as the other programs above.
- Ontario Works: provides financial and employment assistance to people in temporary need. It should never be viewed as a long-term support program.
- Quebec Social Assistance and Social Solidarity Programs: these programs provide last-resort financial assistance only. Again, they are very similar in scope and purpose to the other province’s programs.
- New Brunswick Social Assistance Program: This is for people who have no other income to meet their basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter. It is the payer of last resort, like the other programs listed above.
- Nova Scotia Income Assistance: Provides people with assistance for basic needs because of low income. Similar to the other programs.
- Prince Edward Island Social Assistance Program: provides people with assistance for basic needs when they are unable to. Evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
- Newfoundland & Labrador Income Support: provides financial benefits and other services to eligible low-income people to assist with daily living expenses.
A word of advice. Do not mention welfare in any immigration or job interview. If you express the slightest interest in how any province’s welfare program works, you are unlikely to ever be selected for either temporary work visas or permanent resident status. Welfare is there for emergencies which you hopefully will never have to deal with.
Canada’s Job Market
Don’t just blindly start sending resumes the minute you unpack your bags in your rental unit. You should already have researched the job market and have explored Job Bank, to see how your skills might be needed in Canada. As well, the application process at Express Entry will oblige you to think a little bit about how your skills match up with job opportunities. So, if you don’t have a job offer lined up or a provincial nomination with a job offer attached, you need to do a little research. Provincial settlement agencies can be very helpful here. As well, there are generally 3 reasons that you don’t get hired by a Canadian company if you are a recent arrival to Canada:
- Lack of Canadian work experience: Canadian employers need their workers to be reasonably familiar with federal and local regulations and with business practices in your field of work. This is a tough one, and you may have to start at a lower position than your current job in order to gain experience and give your employers confidence you can perform at the level they expect. This takes research, effort, persistence, and a little luck. It also will depend on how crowded the job market is in your field of work.
- Lack of certification: In this case you can always attempt to get certified when you arrive in Canada, and this is definitely something you should research beforehand. See if the trade or professional association in your home country has any links with its Canadian equivalent. Also check out the Canadian Centre for International Credentials (CCIC) to see if they can provide assistance. You may have to wait until you arrive in Canada, and then take additional training and courses and pass an exam in order to be certified. This can take a number of months, or even years especially in the case of physicians.
- Lack of language skills: You should always be looking to upgrade your English and/or French language skills by taking English courses in your home country aimed at improving your IELTS (or other suitable test) scores, for example.
Overall, remember this when it comes to Canada’s job market: the competition is intense and Canadian employers are a little more cautious about new hires than their American counterparts, as similar as our societies may be in lots of others respects. Persistence and patience will be key in order to land a good job.
Why You Should Fill Out an Immigration Application form Completely
Fill in every field. What that means is you should answer every question, even if it involves writing N/A or not applicable when you don’t know the answer or when the answer does not apply to your case. If, on the other hand, your answers are too long to fit in the space provided, use a separate sheet of paper and make sure you write down on that sheet of paper: the question number and the exact form on which the question appears.
If you are filling out your application form online and you need more space to answer a question you should:
- Open up a new document on your computer and type in the additional information there and save it.
- In your online account with IRCC, go to the Optional Documents section of your document checklist, open it and choose Add Letter of Explanation and add the document.
Does this seem like a trivial fact to you? Remember that incomplete application forms are usually returned and will result in delays in your application or even a refusal. All because you forgot to write N/A in one or two fields in your application form.
If you are applying online, and in most cases when dealing with Express Entry or IRCC in general, you will be dealing with Canada’s immigration authorities online, then you should know about GC Key. This is essentially your password to use the Government of Canada’s online services. It is comprised of 3 elements:
- A username you choose
- A password you choose
- Security questions that you pick in order to ensure that it is you who are using the service which is linked to your GC Key and which you will have to use to recover your account should you forget your password, for example.
You will need your GC Key for the following online government services:
- Your online account
- The Authorized Paid Representatives Portal – allows your paid representative to complete, pay for, and submit your application
- The Employer Portal – for Employers who hire temporary workers through the International Mobility Program to submit offers of employment for those jobs that don’t require a LMIA (Labour Market Impact Assessment)
- The Provincial Territorial Partner Portal (or IRCC Portal: Provinces & Territories) – this allows provinces or territories to access and nominate candidates through Express Entry in order to meet local labour needs.
Go here and scroll down and click on the dark blue Continue to GCKey button near the bottom of the page in order to register your account, where you will choose a username and password as well as some security questions. As more and more of the entire process of applying to immigrate to Canada goes online, more and more features will require you to have a GC Key. Whether you like it or not, GC Key is the future of your relationship with Canada’s immigration authorities and Canada’s government in general.
5 Silly Question It May Be Really Useful to Ask When Immigrating to Canada
An important part of adapting to life in Canada is asking the right questions and getting answers to those questions. Sometimes it might seem like some of the questions you have are silly or irrelevant but fear not. Don’t worry about whether a question is important or not. If it seems important or if it’s nagging you, then just ask it and you’ll learn something new about Canada.
As a matter of fact, we’ve put together 5 Really Silly Questions that actually turn out to be very important. So, let’s take a look and see why they may look silly but are important.
1. Why the Heck do I Need to Keep a Travel Diary?
Let’s say you have recently obtained Permanent Resident Status and have arrived in Canada a few months ago. However, your job with a large multinational requires you to travel abroad a couple of times a year. You’re a successful, well-paid professional who’s applied through Express Entry and maybe even obtained a Provincial Nomination which shot you to the top of your candidate’s pool. You’re in, with bells and whistles on, as we say. And you have a shiny, new PR card.
And now the Canadian Government is suggesting you download a free travel journal?? What’s next? Suggest that you tie a red ribbon around your pinky to remind you to phone home when you’re overseas?
Not at all! What’s up here is that you need to carefully record when you travel abroad and why you’re travelling abroad, and sometimes who you’re travelling abroad with. This, of course, is to ensure you comply with the residency requirements that apply to all permanent residents in Canada. Until you become a Canadian citizen, you must travel on your foreign passport with your PR visa and you must comply with the residency requirements which can get a little tricky at times. Consider the following table:
Residency Requirements for Permanent Residents
|Days required to be physically present in Canada||730 non-continuous days every 5 years, mimimum|
|Exceptions that count towards your days physically present in Canada||
Let’s consider the case we outlined above: someone who works for a large multinational and travels abroad a lot and who is a recent PR card holder who arrived in Canada a few months ago. Let’s say you also plan to travel back at least once a year to your home country with your family (wife and 2 kids aged 16 and 20 years old with the oldest in 2nd year at university). The whole family applied for PR status at the same time and all 4 of you are PR card holders with PR status. Sometimes your wife will travel with you on business. Sometimes your eldest child might travel back alone to your home country to visit family and friends.
You can see how tricky it can be to ensure that you and your spouse and two dependent children are complying with the residency requirements for permanent residents in Canada. That’s why there’s a free travel journal you con download here.
Do yourself a favour and download one today if your situation is anything like the one that we describe above. Use it every time you travel or any member of your immediate family travels and download a new one when you fill up your current one. It will avoid any unpleasant surprises that may delay your becoming a citizen. When, and only when, you become a citizen and have your new Canadian passport you can throw away your travel journals. Or keep them on file as a reminder of what life was like before you got your citizenship and passport.
2. Why do I have to file an income tax return if I haven’t worked in Canada?
Using our same family as an example, let’s say the spouse does not work or receive any income of any type (whether investment income, or interest income, or dividends etc.). The spouse naturally wonders why he or she should file a tax return, right?
If your younger child has a disability, for example, in order to receive the child tax benefit which includes the child disability benefit (although you have to apply for the disability benefit with Form T2201 that has been certified by a medical practitioner and be approved by CRA); then both the spouse and the income-earning member of the family have to file tax returns. This is also true of the GST/HST tax benefit (a rebate on the federal and provincial value-added taxes), as well as the Guaranteed Income Supplement.
Now with the income-earning member being a well-paid professional, it is doubtful that – aside from the child disability benefit which helps pay for medical and other costs associated with that disability – the benefits amount to much money. But there’s a much more important reason for the spouse to file his or her taxes anyway.
To be eligible for Canadian citizenship one of the requirements is that you have to file taxes in the 3 years previous to your application. If it is discovered that you haven’t filed taxes when you should have, this can delay your citizenship application and may in some cases result in your being ineligible if, for example, you have committed tax fraud by not declaring income or capital gains etc.
In other words, file your taxes in the 3 years previous to applying for citizenship if there’s any doubt at all as to whether you should file. Play it safe and file them and your citizenship application will go far more smoothly.
Go here to see a list of the situations in which you’re required to file income taxes in Canada.
3. My Spouse and Dependent Children are Staying behind. Why do they have to take a Medical?
You’re the only one applying for permanent residence in Canada because your kids and spouse are staying in your home country. You plan to work for about 5 years in Canada, and then return to your home country with additional experience and qualifications as well as improved language skills while your spouse raises the kids back home. You plan to visit them a few times a year of course, depending on the demands of your job.
Why in the world do they have to take a medical exam?
Here’s how IRCC views your situation. Your spouse and dependent children may someday suddenly wish to join you in Canada. Situations change and people’s plans change especially if your work in Canada is going well and you’re earning a large enough salary to comfortably support them. So, when you first apply for permanent residence, IRCC wants to know the state of health of your dependants (spouse and children), in case IRCC have to evaluate their admissibility to come to Canada at a later date.
There are a number of reasons why a person may be deemed inadmissible to come to Canada, among them medical reasons:
- Danger to public health: if you have an infectious disease like tuberculosis for example.
- Danger to public safety: this may involve:
- Sudden incapacity = loss of mental physical capabilities
- Unpredictable or violent behaviour (which may be associated with certain psychological problems).
- Excessive demand on health or social services: this is the case where your condition requires services what would:
- Cause large wait times in the provincial healthcare or social service system where you are living
- Cause excessively large expenses beyond a threshold level in that same healthcare system or in another social service.
If your dependants are deemed inadmissible to come to Canada, your own application for permanent residence may be denied. It is important, therefore, for you and your dependants to undergo a medical exam with a panel physician. This is a doctor approved by Canadian authorities to perform medical exams for immigration purposes. Go here to find one in your country. Please remember that you cannot submit a medical done with a physician who is not a panel physician.
4. I have a European passport and a PR card. Why would I need a Canadian passport?
Consider this story about a Dutch passport holder named Cornelis Ruijter. He had his PR card and his Netherlands passport that he used in order to travel. And on a recent trip, he went to Italy where somebody stole his passport and his PR card. Here’s the problem for Cornelius: he has lived in Ontario since 1961. In other words, he moved to Canada as a 7-year old kid from Holland. (He moved in May and has a birthday in November.)
But you know what?
He never bothered getting Canadian citizenship. So, he had to spend a frantic few weeks in Italy, Holland, and Vienna in order to get the necessary documentation to return to Canada. It took about 5 weeks for him to get the Dutch passport and then a permanent resident visa stamp in his new Dutch passport which was done in Vienna.
Now he’s giving people advice, telling them to make sure they take out citizenship as soon as they are eligible.
So why did Cornelius Ruijter have to go through so much trouble in Europe before he could return to Canada?
In order to return to Canada, a permanent resident needs to have a valid travel document along with their PR card, usually a passport from their home country. However, that can be tricky if you haven’t been a resident of your home country for a number of years. In the case of Cornelis Ruijter, he hadn’t lived in Holland for over 50 years. While the Dutch government went out of their way to speedily issue him a new passport, people from other countries might not be so lucky, and it might have taken months or even years to replace a stolen passport from another country.
So, because he had both his PR card and his Netherlands passport stolen, he had to:
- Prove he was a Dutch citizen
- Prove he was a permanent resident of Canada.
You should avoid this, if possible, by always applying for citizenship as soon as possible and always keeping your documents close to you or in a safe. If you’re going to spend the rest of your life as a permanent resident of Canada, it makes sense to apply for Canadian citizenship, regardless of what country your original passport comes from.
As for permanent residents who still have to travel with their home passport and a PR card, if your PR card is stolen overseas you should:
- Go to the nearest visa office. Go here to see a list.
- Apply for a permanent resident travel document.
- When you return to Canada, continue with your application for a new PR card to replace your stolen one.
5. I thought Canada had Public Health Care! Why do I have to pay for Dental Care?
Good question. One which has been asked off and on over the years. Some provincial healthcare programs have attempted to at least provide partial coverage for dental care. But these programs, like one tried in BC in the early ‘80s, only lasted a short while before being cancelled. Basically, almost all dental care in Canada is private. You pay directly or you or your employer have an insurance plan that covers your dental costs.
So, the question becomes: are their any examples of public dental care in Canada?
Because the details of healthcare in Canada are managed at the provincial level (each province has its own healthcare system that follows the general rules set by the federal government), it makes sense to take a look at some of Canada’s largest provinces in order to see when you might be eligible for public dental care.
In most cities in Ontario, the local community or public health department will offer some basic dental care. For example, in Toronto you must go to the Toronto Public Health dental clinic to be assessed as to your eligibility. Then if you qualify, your children and you may use a network of clinics for basic dental care. Go here for more information.
- Adults (19 years and older) eligible for the following programs:
- General Health Supplements
- Disability Assistance
- Persons with Persistent Multiple Barriers
Are eligible to have basic dental costs covered.
- Children under 19 years of age in families on assistance have basic dental coverage.
You can apply to the Alberta Health Services Dental Clinic which is for reduced-fee dental care for families in financial need. You will need the following to apply:
- Public Health Dental Income Assessment Form (completed)
- A form that confirms you don’t have the Students or Workers Dental Plan
- A Notice of Assessment from CRA proving your income level
- If your income was above the low-income cut-off, then you must fill out the Temporary Eligibility Assessment for Reduced Fee Dental Care form.
In the Winnipeg area you have a choice of several clinics which accept patients on the following social assistance programs:
- Employment and Income Assistance
- Non-insured Health Benefits (First Nations and Inuit)
- Interim Federal Health Program (refugees)
- Private insurance.
Not every clinic may accept all the social programs listed above. Go here for further information.
You may be eligible for basic dental care if you are enrolled in the following income-support programs:
- Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID)
- Saskatchewan Assistance Program (SAP)
- Transitional Employment Allowance (TEA)
- Provincial Training Allowance (PTA).
In other words, when it comes to healthcare most permanent residents or new Canadians (just like most Canadians in general) will have an insurance plan or pay out-of-pocket for their dental care. But in case of financial difficulty there are some options for free or reduced-fee dental care in Canada.
5 Impossible Questions
What will a major Canadian city like Toronto look like in just over 50 years? Say in 2071, in the 2nd half of this century. What kind of urban life will await your grandchildren or even great-grand children? What kind of future are we creating in Canada, and around the world for the coming generations?
As always, that depends on a large number of factors that we can rarely accurately predict. But trying to understand the future is something we as a species have always done; whether reading tea leaves, listening to oracles on the mountain sides of Greece, or reading our favorite financial blog on the markets in the hope it will lead to gains in our investment portfolios.
So here are 5 Impossible-to-Answer Questions about the future, as seen through the eyes of a fictional Hindu-Canadian Shondra Gupta, who is born in India 2025 and moves to Canada as a young child with her family.
1. Are Killer Asteroids Coming?
What are the odds of a meteorite hitting Toronto directly and pulverizing you and your home (whose mortgage you just finished paying off last week) during your lifetime? Very, very low indeed. But that hasn’t stopped astronomers from studying and estimating the possibility. For example, did you know the following?
- There are half a billion near-earth-asteroids; which means objects larger than 1 metre in diameter orbiting within 50 million km of Earth’s orbit. Which is like being in the same neighbourhood when it comes to our solar system and outer space in general.
- Of those 500,000,000 near-earth-asteroids, about 1 million have a diameter of 30 or more metres, large enough to do plenty of damage to a fairly large area of Earth, never mind a single city like Toronto.
- One of those million 30-metre-plus near-earth-asteroids is called 2000 SG344 and it has a diameter of 37 metres. It also is estimated to have a probability of 1 in 1100 of hitting Earth in 2071.
So let’s say your family back home in Kolkata will produce a grand-niece of yours who we’ll call Shondra Gupta, who gets born sometime around 2025 and migrates with her family to Toronto as a young child. She’s bright and a bit of a nerd and goes to University of Toronto and graduates with a master’s degree in astronomy and along with her partner, slaps a down payment on small 2-bedroom way north of the 401, with a 20-year mortgage.
How worried should Shondra and her partner and the rest of human civilization be about the possibility of 2000 SG344 hurtling in from outer space and destroying her home and a good part of the Great Lakes region in North America? And does Manulife have a policy to cover moving expenses in a hurry, which involve heading to South Africa or Patagonia or Shimla with 72 hours notice?
Hard to say.
1/1100 equals around 0.000909%, a small percentage to say the least. And that’s the chance of 2000 SG344 hitting Earth somewhere, anywhere really. Antarctica, Brussels, Miami, or the middle of the Pacific Ocean, among a few million other possible impact locations. You’d have to multiply the odds of SG (as we’ll call our asteroid) hitting Earth with the possibility of it hitting Toronto directly. Which would give you an infinitesimally small percentage. Statistically insignificant, but astronomically significant, as Professor Gupta would no doubt remind us all.
So, as an astronomer Shondra Gupta should indeed worry. But as a homeowner, she would be wasting time and effort and would be better off making sure the mortgage gets paid and any windfalls she gets investing on the TSX are used to lower the balance of her home loan. Because there’s no way anyone can answer the question of how soon a larger asteroid will impact Earth. We just don’t really know.
2. Forget About the Population Explosion – What’s a Population Implosion?
Some people think that the real problem that future generations of homeowners will have to worry about is a collapsing population. Even among those who worry about over-population and its effect on the world’s ecosystems, there is a general consensus that our planet’s population will level off at around 10 or 11 billion by the end of the 21st century and then begin to decline. But some population experts are saying it’s already happening.
In fact, you may be reading this very article because of that implosion. Allow me to explain. We are obviously a website that explains about and offers services relating to immigration procedures and policies for Canada. Canada’s fertility rate – which is the number of children born to women of child-bearing age – has declined significantly since the early 1970s. It now stands at 1.563 which is 172nd out of 200 nations for which we have sufficient data. The replacement rate that maintains a stable population is slightly over 2 children, so we are significantly below that and falling. Demographics affects public finance in all sorts of ways – the cost of healthcare for older Canadians, the pension systems and more – as well as affecting the health of the economy. So, as part of a broader solution, Canada encourages immigration as well as raising the retirement age and trying to plan for costly changes in social programs, among other things.
If the implosion-advocates are right, then immigration will remain one of the key issues for the 21st century. That’s because it is generally the OECD nations, which tend to be the wealthier nations, that are experiencing the most dramatic declines in population. One could argue that everything from robotics to artificial intelligence to mass flows of immigrants, stem – in part at least – from the declining fertility rate of OECD countries.
But what is less talked about are the declining fertility rates in non-OECD nations. Consider Brazil, where poverty, corruption, and inequality co-exist with a large and growing economy. Brazil has a fertility rate of 1.705, surprisingly low for a South American country. But it’s not alone. Chile has a fertility rate of 1.765. Costa Rica comes in at 1.764. Colombia 1.827, and Mexico at 2.136 which is just around the replacement rate. Then there’s China, of course, at 1.635. Taiwan, surprisingly because it is not a communist-run nation, has the lowest rate of all 200 countries, at 1.218 per woman which is even lower than the poster-child for population implosion, Japan at 1.478.
Consider this: Poland – which was home to his holiness John Paul II – has a lower fertility rate than Japan, at 1.29 children per woman, ranking 196th out of 200. Spain is 189th at 1.391 and Portugal is even lower than Poland at 1.241 children.
Asian tigers and mid-level powerhouses like Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Thailand are all in the 20 lowest fertility-rate countries, well below the replacement rate. The UAE? They have a fertility rate of 1.725, lower than Denmark, and lower still than Norway and Australia. Brunei comes in at 1.848 which is just above Australia’s and just lower than the UK’s. Qatar has a fertility rate of 1.861, just below the US which is at 1.886. All these rates are below the replacement rate.
How about Shondra Gupta’s home: India? Academics have been using India as an example of demographic disaster for as long Bollywood has been churning out hits. India’s fertility rate is now a rather modest 2.303 children per child-bearing woman. That’s slightly above the replacement rate. It has clearly dropped significantly over the last few decades and will almost certainly keep dropping as more women join the workforce and scale up their education and training.
Yes, Africa does have a number of countries with high fertility rates, like Nigeria at 5.417. But if these rates start to decline over the coming decades the way they have in countries like India and other parts of Asia, we very well could see the population implosion cover most of the world’s countries.
And that should concern Shondra Gupta, as a home owner above all. What if falling birth rates and increasing prosperity in their home countries (something that’s already happening around the world although at different rates depending on the region and country) mean less people want to migrate to Canada by the time she thinks of selling her home and buying a condominium in Oakville? What if by 2071 the demand for new housing is practically zero? Imagine all those pricey condos at Harbourfront or on Bay Street begging for buyers. Great! Shondra and her partner can pick up one at a bargain.
Oh. Wait a minute. No one really wants to buy her 2-bedroom in Thornhill, unless she chops 40% off the selling price.
3. Are Karoshi and Kodokushi Coming to Canada?
We’ve been assuming that our Shondra Gupta will find a life partner and form a live-in relationship or even perhaps get married. Should we be making such assumptions about high-paid professionals living and working in Canada in the mid-21st century?
Turning once again to Japan, which may be a predictor of at least some social trends for other developed countries, we find ourselves faced with 2 phenomenon that might make it harder for Shondra to engage in a committed relationship or even to live a long and happy life. The first one is called karoshi and it means literally working oneself to death. While the human species has tragically worked people to death in slave-based societies from Europe to North America to Asia to Africa and the Middle East, karoshi is different in the sense that skilled professionals in a very structured, developed economy sometimes succumb to the physical and psychological stress of their jobs and can even die in the process.
Yes, some jobs can get very stressful in Canada, and some people are so dedicated to their careers that the rest of their lives tend to suffer. But so far, a reasonable balance (if not at every point in one’s career of course) is something most Canadians manage to achieve, or at least come close enough to achieving, that dropping dead from work-related stress is not a crisis in Canada. But it does happen occasionally. Perhaps more than we realize. Even in really cool jobs, like for example, a video-game developer who spends 18 hours a day at their job in the final 4 months before the release of a hot new game, making sure the countless potential bugs are mostly ironed out. No one can claim that’s good for your health, and it burns out people in the best of cases.
Will this situation get bad enough in Canada so that when Shondra is a 40-year old astronomer who works 60-hour weeks, karoshi will be a non-trivial threat to her life?
Or will the threat be to her social life instead? Whether you’re a multiple-gig worker who strings together a handful of part-time online jobs to make ends meet, or an ambitious professional who’s trying to stand out in a hyper-competitive labour market, you just don’t have time to socialize much nowadays. And that leads to more and more people living alone.
And dying alone. It’s called kodokushi, and it describes a situation in Japan where an elderly person who lives alone dies in their home (usually an apartment) and remains undiscovered for days or even weeks because there’s no one (or no one has the time or makes the effort) to check up on how they’re doing.
The collapse of Japan’s traditional multi-generational family structure and its low birth rate are factors that, along with a high-tech, stressful work environment, have contributed to this disturbing phenomenon.
So maybe when Shondra sells her house with her partner (assuming she has the time, energy, and a socially conducive environment in which to find someone) she’ll face a choice of moving into a nursing home or risk facing the possibility of kodokushi, especially if her partner dies before her. Or if she never finds a partner and lives as a single adult from the day she graduated from U of T and joined the labour force. Something that reportedly happens in Japan with increasing frequency.
4. Is HAL 9000 Still Alive and Looking for Revenge?
In Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi classic 2001 A Space Odyssey, an operating system named HAL 9000 is so developed that it not only solves problems of all sorts and runs the spaceship but turns against the crew when it reads their lips as they discuss disconnecting it because of the emergence of some troubling errors in its reasoning and diagnostic powers.
HAL stands for: Heuristically-programmed ALgorithmic Computer. HAL is capable of the following skills:
- Speech and speech recognition
- Facial recognition
- Natural language processing
- Lip reading
- Art appreciation
- Interpreting emotional behaviors
- Automated reasoning, and
- Playing chess.
In an unforgettable scene, the remaining surviving astronaut manages to shut down HAL and the artificially intelligent operating system regresses backwards and ends up dying while singing Daisy, Daisy. According to the accompanying novel, HAL was conflicted between its mission to keep the crew informed on all the daily details of the mission, and the need not to tell the crew that alien life forms had already been contacted because of the fear that it would compromise the mission. It decides to kill the crew in order to resolve its conflicting emotions.
Now, imagine that Shondra’s partner dies at a relatively early age and seeing she has no children and no immediate family left, Shondra has to make the decision whether or not to sell their condominium and move into a nursing facility. But she has heard all about AI-enabled robotics that can be installed in one’s home and enable one to live alone despite being elderly.
Should Shondra watch 2001 A Space Odyssey and be very afraid?
Not likely. Programmers, developers, engineers, and scientists are finding out how hard it is to truly replicate our brains’ ability to reason and to perceive and transmit emotion and send subtle signals. But they’re getting better at it with each passing year. And Japan is perhaps one of the nations most invested in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics in order to deal today with what we’re imagining might happen in Toronto in the latter half of this century.
So maybe Shondra should indeed have her newly purchased heuristically-programmed algorithmic computer system installed in order to care for her in a number of convenient ways. We’re already talking with our devices. It’s only a matter of time before Alexa starts feeding us our meds and cooking our meals as well as stocking our refrigerators. It won’t be the same as having a real human do these things, but between dying unnoticed and alone in one’s apartment, or on the other hand, having your AI-home system calling paramedics as well as letting them in order to save your life, I’m sure Shondra would go for the Artificially Intelligent Robotics.
Just as long as a real live repair person checks the system from time to time.
5. When will we cure all diseases and live forever?
Imagine Shondra at 105 years old, taking her autonomous vehicle to the gym where she does yoga 3 times a week. The Earth’s average temperature has cooled a degree and a half because scientists have finally found ways to both produce fusion-based nuclear energy with far less toxic by-products and solar and wind have become reasonably cost-efficient. As well, internal combustion engines are mostly based on hydrogen fuel cells and those that aren’t have near-zero emissions. We’ve planted so many trees, using drones that fire seed pellets, that the level of forestation is higher than it has been for centuries.
Armies have been down-sized and every nation in the world has some form of representative government. Family sizes have grown slightly as fertility rates have approached the replacement rate so that after collapsing to less than 5 billion people, the world’s population has essentially stabilized. Barcelona still has an annoying habit of winning the Champions League and Arsenal is still trophy-less in that regard. And India managed to just beat Pakistan in a controversial cricket series.
Oh yes. And cancer has been, if not completely cured, then reduced to a manageable disease as doctors and scientists have also expanded the productive human life span by a couple of decades.
Which means that Justin Bieber is still alive at the end of the 21st century, with 2 kids, 3 grandkids, and 5 great grandkids. His last tour in 2092 was a little disappointing but sold out anyway, seeing it played smaller theatres.
Ok. Hold on a second.
Arcadi Navarro is a research professor at Pompeu Fabra University and has reportedly identified 25 genes that are responsible for the aging process in human beings. However, before you have visions of skiing at 120 years old, you should perhaps dampen your optimism with a little humility. Professor Navarro believes that we have already made tremendous gains in our lifespans as a species. This has been as a result of what he believes were favorable environmental factors during our evolution, as compared to other primates. At best he sees the possibility of a 10 to 20% increase in our typical lifespan. That’s not bad but 20% of 80 means that if you expect to live to at least 80 in 2019, then maybe Shondra can expect to live to her late 90’s. Maybe even 100 or more.
No, she won’t be skiing at 99 likely, but she may be reasonably alert and healthy. And the fact that the Earth’s population has stabilized means she’s still able to get support services for her home robotics system. Thank goodness for that.
So, there you have it. 5 outlandish questions that give rise to all sorts of speculation that may turn out to be true, but most probably won’t be anything like what the world will actually be like in 2071. That means that our Shondra Gupta will just have to make her way through life and see what comes next and plan for the future as best as she can. Like the rest of us.