The Post-Staples State: The Political Economy of Canada’s Primary Industries



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Part 5 – Conclusion: Toward a Post-Staples State?

Chapter XIV - Contours of the Post-Staples State: The Reconstruction of Political Economy and Social Identity in 21st Century Canada - Thomas A. Hutton




Introduction: the post-staples hypothesis in context

Staple extraction has been central to Canada's development, dating from the age of European exploration and the early colonial period, and has constituted a foundation of the national economy throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.131 Forestry, mining, fishing and agriculture (included here in a generous definition of staples production) evolved as key elements of regional growth and comparative advantage throughout much of Canada. Associated resource processing, manufacturing, and ancillary industries represented critical features of regional development, with respect to higher value-added output, labour formation, and economic base (export trade) impacts. Beyond the sites of staple extraction in the peripheral regions, resource development contributed to the growth of allied industries and employment within Canada's cities. These included specialized service industries such as banking and finance, business services, and transportation, as well as the secondary manufacture of resource commodities.

This resource-led development trajectory in Canada, together with its characteristic socioeconomic features and spatial asymmetries, was powerfully captured in the theoretical scholarship of Harold Innis fully seven decades ago. Innis identified the recurrent pattern of staple extraction and export to distant markets as the defining attribute of the Canadian economy, with the 'result that the Canadian economic structure had the particular characteristics of areas dependent on staples—especially weakness in other lines of development, dependence on highly industrialized areas for markets and for supplies of manufactured goods, and the dangers of fluctuations in the staple commodity' (Innis, 1933: 6). Further, the staple development experience incorporated regional disparities within the Canadian economy, depicted in the classic core-periphery model comprised of an industrialized, urban core region, and highly dependent staple regions within the national periphery. At the national level, Innis described the key asymmetrical features of the core-periphery model as comprising the dominance of the industrial metropole expressed in terms of corporate 'command and control' functions, flows of capital and financial returns favouring the core region, and the relatively truncated nature of peripheral economies mired in the so-called 'staple trap'.

Over the 1960s and 1970s a new generation of Canadian scholars synthesized the Innisian model of staples dependency with a Marxist posture then in vogue within the academy to explain persistent underdevelopment. These ‘new political economy’ proponents abandoned the idea of the state as an essentially neutral factor in the national development trajectory, concerned primarily with basic administrative and technical functions, and instead positioned the state in relation to structures of class and corporate power. Leading figures in this new political economy discourse (notably Watkins, 1963; MacKintosh, 1964; Naylor, 1972; Clement, 1975) proposed a strongly nationalist policy response to the agendas of global capital (see Wellstead et al [this volume] for a more extensive discussion of this important theoretical debate).

These represent problematic features of the staple economy structure as seen from an historical perspective. From a contemporary vantage point, it seems clear that the resource economy (and many dependent primary regions and communities) in Canada is in a position of secular decline vis-à-vis the advanced industrial (and post-industrial) sectors concentrated within the larger city-regions (Coffey, 1994). It is possible to overstate this 'staples in decline' syndrome in the Canadian context. After all, a number of resource sectors, notably oil and gas, forest products (including highly engineered, high-value wood and paper products), and high quality grains represent important export commodities, generate considerable earnings, incomes, and tax revenues. Among the four western provinces, a large proportion of export revenues are derived from staple exports, and resource trade values for other provinces are by no means negligible. There are also encouraging new opportunities for staple-led development, including diamond extraction in the Northwest Territories, and (perhaps more environmentally problematic) oil and gas deposits in British Columbia's offshore zone.

But the rhetoric of development for Canada as a whole in the early years of the 21st century emphasizes the centrality of advanced industrial activity, specialized services, and 'knowledge production' (both theoretical and applied) to national economic progress. Broadly, this hegemony of high-value goods and services (and implicit subordination of staple production) within the national development trajectory is commonly attributed to (1) the role of Canada's cities as sites of leading edge growth and change, and more particularly the urbanization-industrialization development nexus, reflecting the centripetal tendencies of urban agglomeration, scale economies, and human and social capital factors among advanced economies; (2) problems of regional staple production in situ, including resource depletion, overall environmental degradation, cost factors, and out-migration; and (3) a range of exogenous factors, including competition from resource-rich (and typically lower-cost) regions, changes in staple consumption patterns among principal export trade customers, the globalization of commodity production and markets, and declining terms of trade for staple exports relative to industrial end-products and specialized services.

No doubt these factors account for a large measure of the relative decline in the position of Canada's staples sectors and dependent regions, as addressed in many of the compelling substantive chapters of this volume. But in this essay I will be advancing an argument that the national development trajectory is in transition from a 'mature staples' phase to a 'post-staples' era, signifying not only a new phase of industrial restructuring, but also profound shifts in social development and the structures and operations of the state. This emergent development trajectory is shaped by a mélange of influences which includes new rounds of industrial restructuring, the repositioning of cities and settlements within the Canadian urban hierarchy and (more decisively) international networks, and influential social movements (including multiculturalism and environmentalism). More specifically we can acknowledge cultural change as a cardinal influence both on Canada’s emerging development modality and on the structures and orientation of the state. Successive inflows of international immigration since the mid-1980s especially have produced an increasingly multicultural society, fundamentally reconfiguring regional labour and housing markets, and reinforcing the competitive advantage of city-regions by enhancing the entrepreneurial potential of the urban economy and the city’s linkages with international markets and societies. ‘Transnational urbanism’ (as defined by the political scientist Michael Smith, 2001), with its emphasis on complex, multi-layered social, economic, political, and cultural networks linking international cities, has largely supplanted both the ‘regional central place’ concept and the ‘national core-periphery’ framework as the situating spatial matrix for Canada’s largest city-regions. The cumulative force of these processes serves to underpin the ascendancy of new epistemic communities (including policy professionals, the scientific community, and other knowledge élites) which increasingly privilege cities and urban interests over those of resource industries, settlements, and allied constituencies. In the aggregate, these new (or reconfigured) processes serve not only to diminish the status and prospects of resource regions and communities, but also to marginalize the staple economy in the shaping of the public consciousness, in the ordering of priorities within the agencies of the state and among influential policy communities, and in the formation of social identity.

Following this introduction, the paper offers a restatement of the 'conditions of mature staple economies', extending conceptual work undertaken a decade or so ago in the British Columbia context (Hutton, 1994), but seeking as well broader Canadian applications. Next, an inventory and elaboration of new social, cultural and political processes will be presented, together with an articulation of some defining outcomes and issues for Canada’s prospective development as a post-staples state. Finally, the conclusion will set out some implications for development policy, in part as an acknowledgement of the deeply problematic and socially divisive outcomes of the 'post-staples consciousness’ of 21st century Canada.



The 'state' of the 'advanced staples state': defining conditions

Before advancing to an articulation of the new (or emergent) processes influencing the fortunes of Canada's resource sector and dependent regions and communities in a 'post-staples' development scenario, it may be worth briefly restating some of the defining conditions of 'advanced' or 'mature' resource economies, as follows.

1. Spatial recalibration of the core-periphery framework. The Innisian analysis applied categorically to the national scale, where Canada's extensive peripheral regions supplied resources (minerals, forest products, energy, foodstuffs, and water) to the manufacturing and commercial heartland of Canada, largely concentrated (then as now) in the metropolitan Toronto and Montréal regions and their industrial satellites. As a corollary of this asymmetrical relationship, these peripheral regions and constituent communities served as 'captive markets' for end products (goods and services) from the industrial metropoles in Central Canada (Innis, 1933). Over the last century the core metropolitan regions in Canada have experienced considerable (if temporally and spatially uneven) development, as well as growth. Development in this context connotes transformative industrial change, transitions to higher levels of human capital formation and more specialized employment and occupations, and a richer, more diverse socio-cultural base. Most peripheral regions, in contrast, tended to achieve far more limited development outcomes, and have been subject to deeper and more recurrent recessions.

By the middle of the 20th century, this core-periphery construct could also be discerned at the provincial scale (Ley and Hutton, 1987). To illustrate, the author has proposed a model of core-periphery relations in British Columbia comprising linkages between metropolitan Vancouver as the provincial core and 'industrial metropole' and the 'periphery' (or more pejoratively 'hinterland') regions. These include not only 'control functions' (i.e. head office, financial and business services), but also 'production linkages', incorporating Vancouver's role as processing and secondary manufacturing centre for resource commodities; a strategic transportation role, notably the export of some 40 to 50 million tons of staple commodities annually; consumption interdependencies, including a considerable flow of staples from the Interior to the consumer markets of the Lower Mainland; and socio-cultural relationships, including the influence of the staple economy and resource industries on the formation of class and community structures in Vancouver' (Hutton, 1997: 70-71). The parameters of this provincial core-periphery framework are neither universal nor immutable,132 but some of the basic linkage patterns described in the British Columbia case can be discerned in the prairie provinces, in the Maritime provinces, and in Québec.133

2. Problems of resource endowment depletion. While Canada's natural resources have been subject to extraction for several centuries, a marked acceleration of rates of depletion for many key staples has occurred since the mid-20th century: first, with the stimulus of industrial production and derived demand for resources during the second world war, 1939-1945, including key minerals and timber required for the production of wartime matériel for Canada and its allies; a second resource boom occurring during the period of postwar reconstruction, exemplified by the greatly increased harvest of softwood timber for new housing in an increasingly urban Canadian society; and thirdly, heightened demand for Canada's natural resources associated with the rapid growth of manufacturing industry in Canada over the third quarter of the 20th century, and with growth in export markets.

By the end of the last century, numerous key staple stocks in Canada had been seriously depleted following these cycles of accelerated exploitation, both in renewable and non-renewable resources. In the case of mining, this has often meant reliance upon lower-grade ores, while in forestry, severe depletion of high-quality fibre has forced an exploitation of second- and third-growth timber, often in less accessible areas, as in the examples of Québec and British Columbia. Some important fisheries, exemplified by the fate of the historic Newfoundland cod fishery, had been effectively exhausted by the 1990s. Typically, 'mature' resource economies such as Canada's are characterized by increasing resource management problems in the face of increasing pressures on the resource stock, often (as in the case of the New Brunswick and British Columbia salmon fisheries) from multiple user groups.

3. Increasingly capital-intensive resource extraction processes. A salient feature of advanced, mature staple economies is the relentless application of capital and technology to extraction and processing, in order: (1) to increase production efficiency (as in investments in seed grain research, and in harvesting technologies, among the prairie provinces); (2) to extract greater value from resource inputs (exemplified in the forestry and forest products sectors of Québec, Ontario, New Brunswick and British Columbia); (3) to access resources requiring technologically-advanced extraction systems (e.g. petroleum deposits embedded within the Alberta tar sands); and (4) to compete effectively in increasingly globalizing commodity markets. This capital intensification is required to sustain Canada's competitiveness in resource extraction, but these advanced production technologies have tended to displace labour within the resource economy over the past quarter century. Increasingly, the survival of staple communities implies acceptance of a Faustian bargain of continuing rounds of plant contractions and layoffs as a price of new investments in leading-edge production technologies.

4. Increasing competition from foreign staple producers. Canadian staple industries and their constituent producing regions operate under increasing pressure, both from other advanced staple producers (as in the case of highly-engineered, high value-added wood products from Germany and Scandinavian countries), some of which also exhibit lower cost profiles (as in the case of the southeast U.S. softwood lumber producers); as well as from jurisdictions with huge, largely untapped natural resource endowments and significantly lower labour costs (notably Russia). In the case of mineral exploration and mining, Mary Louise McAllister has observed that new competitors in the world market, ‘such as those in Latin America, presented a serious challenge: they offered rich, readily accessible deposits, an inexpensive labour force, and welcoming governments anxious for the investment dollar to build their developing economies’ (McAllister, this volume). As Michael Porter has stated, staple regions within developed societies can thrive in the global economy, but to do so they will need to be at the leading edge of productivity (Porter, 1990). Stated starkly, Canadian staple producers must increasingly compete within global commodity markets both on price and quality.

5. Evolution from 'pure' extraction to secondary processing and manufacturing. Over time advanced staple economies tend to engage more in secondary processing, specialty resource production, and allied service industries, as exemplified by the high-technology paper and wood product industries in Québec, British Columbia, and New Brunswick, in the production of high-value specialty grains in Saskatchewan and Alberta, and in the expansion of organic agriculture in Ontario, B.C., and other provinces. Grace Skogstad offers a compelling illustration of this tendency favouring downstream manufacturing and service industries in Canada’s agricultural sector: ‘[f]ood processing now surpasses primary (commodity) production in economic importance in all provinces east of Manitoba’ (Skogstad, this volume). While acknowledging Krakar’s finding (2003) that food processing constitutes the third largest manufacturing industry in Canada (and the largest in no fewer than seven provinces), Skogstad underscores the rapid rise of allied service sector industries and employment by noting that ‘the retail, wholesale and food services now account for a greater share of Canadian jobs and GDP than do food production and processing combined’ (Skogstad, this volume) At the same time, however, the globalization of principal commodity markets has in some cases retarded the development of advanced resource processing, as instanced in the export of raw logs to the U.S.134

6. Industrial diversification within resource communities. Over time some resource communities among advanced staple economies achieve a measure of industrial diversification, including higher value-added industries linked to local staple production. These notable success stories of diversification include producers of high-quality wines in southern Ontario and the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, tourism (including eco-tourism), and the expansion of regional administration and public services, including higher education. In these cases favourable developmental factors can include high levels of local amenity (for example Kamloops and Kelowna in British Columbia, Red Deer in Alberta, Niagara on the Lake in Ontario, and Lunenburg in Nova Scotia), and public investments in higher education in support of regional development in the periphery (such as the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, and the recent establishment of a University of British Columbia—Okanagan campus in Kelowna).135

7. Pressure from environmental groups . Environmental advocates and effective lobbying have served to promote greater constraints on staple industries and regions in Canada, as seen in the creation of new wilderness areas, the reduction of allowable resource yields in key staple sectors, and the introduction of higher standards of resource extraction and processing. Some of this pressure is derived from concern about specific depletion effects, while at a more general level environmental advocacy includes an insistence upon principles of 'full-cost accounting' (including social and environmental costs) of resource development. Broadly, too there is a generally higher public appreciation of the 'existence values' of natural resources, including the increasing utility of natural resources in tourism, observation, scientific research (including medicine as well as fundamental or basic research), and regional cultural expression.136

8. Search for resource substitutes and 'synthetic' stocks. Concern about the depletion of major resource stocks in Canada, an attribute of mature (or advanced) staple economies, has stimulated an aggressive exploration of artificial or man-made stocks and resources. These include substitutes for key mineral resources, as well as more contentious interventions such as plantation-style cultivation of softwood timber, and coastal and estuarine aquaculture. Each of these may to a degree relieve stresses on extant natural stocks, but they also generate their own sets of problems and pressures, as evidenced in the debate about the impact of Atlantic salmon farming on wild salmon stocks on the southern coast of British Columbia. To elaborate, Jeremy Rayner and Michael Howlett describe aquaculture as a archetypical ‘post-staples’ resource industry, incorporating high capital intensity and sophisticated technology, but point to the hinterland location and heavy export reliance as factors perpetuating the classic problems of the staple economy (Rayner and Howlett, this volume).137



This inventory of defining attributes of 'advanced' resource economies and illustrative applications to the Canadian experience is by no means exhaustive, but may serve to indicate some basic typological parameters for understanding the 'state' of the mature staple state. The overall profile is strongly suggestive of a marked progression of largely problematic features of the Canadian staple economy: increasingly capital-intensive production, with attendant and ongoing contractions of labour; serious depletion (and in some cases near-exhaustion) of key resource stocks; exposure to increasing competition from both other advanced staple producers and lower-cost regions with major untapped endowments; exigencies of increasingly forceful and complex regulation (including significant yield adjustments); and increasing conflicts among diverse user groups. There is evidence of industrial diversification among some resource regions and communities in Canada. But this has tended to be a highly selective experience, favouring settlements situated within the ‘urban field’ of large cities; smaller communities possessing high levels of natural, recreational and cultural amenity; and cases of successful local entrepreneurship and innovation.138

New dynamics of regional divergence in the post-staples state


The subordination of Canada's staple economy to the advanced industrial and post-industrial trajectories associated with city-regions has been a salient feature of national development for at least several decades. This profile is familiar enough, and can be seen as a feature of other advanced staple economies, notably in resource-dependent regions of the U.S. and Australia. But I am going to argue here that the last decade or so has seen a dramatic and profound reshaping of development factors which further marginalizes Canada's staple economy and constituent regions and communities. In the early years of the 21st century we are at the advent of a 'post-staples' state, in which resource extraction is increasingly seen by policy-makers and the broader public as a residual of the national economic structure, a vestige of an historical development path which sustained many Canadian regions and communities. The historic staple economy construct was spatially represented by a system of inter-regional and inter-industry linkages, and patterns of co-dependent social constituencies, which to some extent at least connected the fortunes and public consciousness of Canada’s diverse regions, and legitimized the state’s commitment to national support and stewardship programs. These traditional linkages—substantive and symbolic—are appreciably diminished, and continue to weaken, in the face of social, cultural, market and policy factors, operating at the global, national and regional scales. Some of the more consequential forces underpinning regional divergence and the formation of the post-staples state may be described as follows.139

1. The power of city-regions: from urbanization to 'metropolitanization'. The growth of cities in Canada (and more specifically the shift of population and labour from rural to urban areas) is often cited as a marker of the diminished role of the staple sector and constituent producing regions in Canada. Against this backdrop of a secular process of urbanization in Canada, there is now a need to underscore the particular significance of metropolitan cities (or city-regions) in the national economy, society and state. Here, the descriptor 'metropolitan' signifies not simply attainments of crude population thresholds, but rather expressions of corporate power, industrial scale and specialization, multicultural values and cosmopolitan sensibilities, and a growing, complex global-local interface and interdependency.

At the peak of the national urban hierarchy, Canada’s city-regions encompass disproportionately large and growing shares of the national population, skilled labour, propulsive-scale corporations, knowledge-intensive firms, leading educational institutions, innovative production spaces (including science parks), media Including ‘new media’), and global connectivity (as measured principally by international air connections and the quality of telecommunications infrastructure and systems). These metropolitan cities also, to be sure, confront serious problems and adjustment issues, but their populations, electoral constituencies, and growing political representation provide a growing platform of influence within public as well as private sector executive bodies and bureaucracies. Cities within this echelon of dominant metropolitan city-regions indisputably include Toronto, Montréal, and Vancouver. But over the last decade or so other city-regions have achieved a more compelling metropolitan character in terms of population and economic development, notably Ottawa (just over 1 million population) and Calgary (just under 1 million), while others (such as Edmonton and Halifax, with important university, research, and government clusters) may be at a threshold of influence and power. Over time this process of 'metropolitanization' will increasingly dominate the development fortunes of Canada at large, and will indirectly suppress the status of staple regions and industries within Canadian society.140

This growing structural disparity in the political influence of regions in Canada is also likely to be exacerbated by the development of executive government at the federal level, in which power is increasingly concentrated within the cabinet (and more particularly the PMO), relative to MPs, even those in the governing party. The locus of power in this executive government model is heavily weighted toward the interests and constituencies domiciled within the major metropolitan cities (Ottawa, Montréal, and Toronto, and to a lesser extent Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton). This in turn tends to narrow the 'scope of vision' of the federal government across Canada's society and space-economy in policy-making processes, and in the allocation of the state’s discretionary resources.141

2. New rounds of regional industrial restructuring. Resource and urban regions alike have been subject to wrenching experiences of industrial change since the 1970s, including both cyclical (short-term) and structural (more far-reaching shifts in the composition of industry and labour) change. In some serious recessions, such as that experienced in British Columbia in the early 1980s, and in the greater Toronto and Montréal regions in the early 1990s, downturns encompassed both cyclical and structural elements. Restructuring in many resource regions has entailed major plant closures (associated with resource depletion, plant obsolescence, the rationalization of production capacity, and corporate downsizing) and attendant contractions in employment and household income, typically followed by difficulty in securing new industries and investment, although (as noted earlier) there are some spectacular exceptions to this syndrome.

Canada's urban regions have experienced negative consequences of industrial restructuring, exemplified most notably by the collapse of traditional Fordist industry in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as the 'dot.com' boom and bust of the late 1990s and early years of this decade. These restructuring episodes cost many thousands of jobs, resulted in structural unemployment and serious losses of revenues and income, and compromised the viability of urban neighbourhoods and communities.

But in contrast to the fortunes of most staple-producing regions, Canada's city-regions have succeeded in securing new bundles of activity or economic 'vocations', and have thus been able to attract (with varying degrees of success) new investment, business start-ups, and employment formation throughout a sequence of restructuring episodes. This sequence has included (1) growth in service industries, related in part to the expansion of services demand associated with growing urban populations (e.g. retail, personal, and public services, including education and health services); (2) the subsequent expansion of intermediate or 'producer' services, including legal, accounting and consulting industries, which comprised the fastest-growing employment sectors among most advanced societies over the fourth quarter of the 20th century, reflecting inter alia the agglomeration advantages of cities over rural regions and smaller settlements; (3) the expansion of advanced-technology industries, closely associated with skilled labour pools and the presence of advanced research institutions which tend to be situated in major urban (or suburban) centres; (4) the growth of the New Economy, comprised of ‘new media’ and telecommunications industries, over the last decade; and (5) the rise of the 'cultural economy of the city’ identified by Allen Scott (2000) as an important new trajectory of urban development, and encompassing what Richard Florida (2002) has described as a large, fast-growing, and culturally- and politically-significant urban 'creative class'. Some resource-dependent regions and communities have been able to attract a measure of these 'growth sectors' over the past two decades, but have generally lacked the agglomeration economies, facilitating institutions, and specialized labour markets required to take full advantage of these opportunities.142

3. Global processes of economic growth and change. For staple industries and regions, the effects of globalization have included both the integration of resource production within global (rather than national) commodity markets, as well as a series of resource corporation mergers and acquisitions which have shifted the locus of control from regional or national centres to higher-order 'world cities'. Global commodity market integration has tended to underscore the status of staple-producing regions as 'price-takers' rather than price-leaders (Hayter and Barnes, 1990), exerting in many cases downward pressures on commodity prices and profits, rendering somewhat precarious the viability of high-cost resource extraction operations in an era of relentless global competition.

City-regions in Canada also experience dislocation and destabilization accruing from engagement in global markets.143 As Saskia Sassen and others have observed, globalization effects in cities can include social polarization, housing market inflation, and the exacerbation of an urban underclass problem (Sassen, 1991). But metropolitan areas possess significant advantages over resource regions and communities in negotiating terms of engagement with global forces. These advantages include urban scale considerations, market concentration and industrial diversity, and city-region population expenditure thresholds and local capital (public, corporate, and household). This platform of metropolitan attributes and assets presents a measure of insulation from the destabilization of global processes, and offers the potential for higher levels of endogenous economic development. As another point of contrast with staples regions, cities—especially larger metropolitan cities—can exercise a measure of choice in engaging with global markets and societies, having recourse to significant powers and resources not available to smaller communities. Increasingly, Canada's metropolitan cities deploy these local powers and resources to foster engagement with international and global markets, cities, and societies, in the process promoting a greater measure of divergence from traditional regional resource regions and communities.

4. The emergence of transnational urban society. Allied to the concept of the global city, but in important respects representing a distinctive genre of urban-regional development, is the idea of the transnational city (or society). The conventional usage of the global city concept is ineluctably tied to corporate head office, banking and finance, global networks and flows, and the international division of labour (although some more recent interpretations allow for a broader set of global roles and functions),144 but transnational urbanism connotes as well more diverse (and highly nuanced) social interdependencies and cultural relations. Key processes in the formation of transnational cities include: international immigration, from an increasingly diverse range of foreign nations, societies and cultures; the role of kinship in the establishment of linkages between cities; multiculturalism as an agency of multi-dimensional urban transformation (for example in reconfiguring housing and labour markets, the built environment and cultural landscapes; civic participation and citizenship); the workings of ethnic and cultural non-governmental and community-based institutions (NGOs and CBOs) in assisting immigrant communities in job markets, and in securing access to housing and services; the rapidly-increasing representation of new immigrant community members in electoral processes and political representation; and the impact of international immigration on the shaping of new urban identities and imageries.

As is well known, these processes of transnational urbanism have deeply influenced the reshaping of Canada's urban communities over the past two decades especially.145 There is of course a flow of immigration to smaller communities and resource-based towns, where immigrants contribute to local culture, society and the economy; but overall the directionality of immigrant settlement is powerfully linked to urban areas, and more especially to Canada’s metropolitan cities. Among the chief impacts of transnational processes are injections of entrepreneurship, investment, and creativity into urban economies and labour markets, related in part to the idea of the multicultural city as a site of inter-cultural production and transmission, along with more problematic features. But the effects of transnationalism also include a powerful reinforcement of an external reorientation for many Canadian cities, as expressed in the proliferation of international linkages between ethnically-defined communities and originating societies (as well as between immigrant and 'host' communities within Canada), engaging immigrant cohorts described by Stojanovich as ‘mobilized diasporas’146. To some extent these social and cultural relations, coupled with international tourism and travel, foreign direct investment (FDI), and other expressions of economic globalization, support a shift in urban imagery and social consciousness away from long-established linkages with resource (or hinterland) regions toward a more comprehensive transnational affiliation. The 'staple constituency' within Canada's cities therefore becomes ever weaker, relative to transnational and global cohorts, dislodging the historical sense of interdependency and connectivity that has at least in part characterized Canadian society.

(5) The social inculcation of environmental values. While there is to be sure an important global dimension to environmentalism, reflected in widespread concerns about (for example) the degradation of the Amazon Rainforest, and the encroachment of the Sahara Desert, and in the convening of important international conferences by the UN and other bodies, there is a very strong (and likely growing) Canadian constituency within the environmental movement. Canadians have been active in the establishment and development of Greenpeace (established in Vancouver in the 1960s), the Sierra Club, and other environmental associations, and this engagement is observed in national and regional political discourses, as well as in the media and in community dialogues. Recent polls place the support for the Green Party at about 5 per cent nationally, and as high as 10 per cent in British Columbia, where environmentalism is strongly rooted in decades of protest and a contemporary discourse of sustainable development. To a large extent the strength of this environmental sensibility is associated not only with public 'usage and experience', but also with the ‘imagined’ connections of Canadians to the iconic value of the boreal forests, coastal ecosystems, the Arctic as metaphor for the Canadian frontier, and the distinctive regional environments of the prairies, Great Lakes, Canadian Shield, and the Maritimes.

Although the value structures among adherents of the environmental movement are both diverse and complex (and in some cases perhaps contradictory), a core social preference is for sharply reduced, and tightly managed and regulated, resource exploitation. In part this may reflect the urban bias of environmentalists based in cities, where there may exist (as William Rees has suggested) a 'mental disconnect' between the constructed belief in a self-contained urban lifestyle, and the reality of continuing dependency of city-dwellers on resources (water, foodstuffs, staple inputs to consumer goods and services) derived from the 'regions'. There are of course significant environmental constituencies within resource regions and communities, but they are likely to comprise a minority of the local population, particularly in cases where regional resource dependency ratios are high, although their influence in shaping progressive environmental policies cannot be discounted. (We can reference here the role of local environmentalists in the Tofino region of Vancouver Island , and the commitment of First Nations communities in the protection of wilderness assets in British Columbia's Clayoquot Sound.)

Broadly, though, it is likely the case that attitudes concerning acceptable natural resource harvesting thresholds constitute a major fault line between communities within rural/wilderness regions and city-regions. To the extent that many city-dwellers think about resource-based regions, it is likely to occur in the context of a symbolic connection to the imageries of Canada's wilderness areas, or a selective experience of recreational visitations, rather than an appreciation of the quotidian realities of making a living from the land and the resource base. The urban 'staple constituency' of social groups directly engaged in the management or processing of resources has appreciably diminished, while the numbers of city-dwellers owning 'country cottages' or second homes in high-amenity rural areas is rapidly increasing. Urban residents tend (when afforded the opportunity) to express a preference for policies which enhance the existence values of natural resources over more permissive harvesting regimes required to maintain the viability of resource-dependent communities.

(6) Changing state policy priorities and discourses. Here we can discern critical interdependencies—conflicts as well as complements—between the state, markets and society in the formation of a putative post-staples economy in Canada. There is a kind of reciprocal causality at work in this process of generative change, as the multilevel ‘state’ clearly functions as an ‘actor’ in the restructuring of the economy, society, and polity; but the state is itself subject to reformation in the face of the processes cited in the preceding narrative: the rise of the metropolitan city, transnational urbanism, the growing influence of global processes, and the social diffusion of environmental attitudes. An exposition of the full range and complexities of changes in the ‘post-staples’ state is beyond the scope of this essay (and these developments are anyway addressed in several of the preceding chapters of this volume [q.v.]); but we can illustrate some of the principal new policy orientations as follows.

The first key shift in policy discourse and practice relates to assumptions underlying regional development policy at the federal level. From the generous (some would say profligate) policies of the Department of Regional Economic Expansion (DREE) and Department of Regional Industrial Expansion (DRIE) programs of the Trudeau era, which incorporated substantial subsidies for regional development and diversification for lagging regions,147 the recent federal practice has embodied a more constrained vision in this sphere, and a corresponding privileging of deficit control, production efficiency and global competitiveness. The outcomes of the Trudeau-era programs were for the most part limited in achieving regional development goals and in enhancing socioeconomic welfare in resource regions (both in terms of resources allocated, and also in comparison with the effects of direct transfers and taxation measures). But it is the shift in underlying vision and priorities that underpins a more parsimonious attitude toward structural problems of regional disparity that is of cardinal relevance here. This more truncated sense of federal obligations to the ‘regions’ is of course compounded by the erosion of federal powers and spending in key policy portfolios vis-à-vis the provincial order of government since the Mulroney governments of the 1980s.

Secondly, there is a shift in assumptions concerning the development potential of principal industrial sectors. Here we can acknowledge a marked transition from a traditional view of staples as a lead sector of national development, buttressed by a Ricardian perspective emphasizing Canada’s comparative advantage in raw resource endowments, to a more aggressively Schumpeterian competitive (i.e. ‘induced’) advantage model, with an advanced-industrial/technocratic bias. As Skogstad notes, since the 1980s ‘changes in the international political economy, domestic fiscal deficits, and ideological shifts have precipitated a new competitiveness model . . . .Strategies that are market-oriented and give incentives to adding value to raw commodities are in vogue’ (Skogstad, this volume). There is a need of course to acknowledge staples as essential production inputs, but there is also a changing positioning of input criticality to consider: the value of ‘human’ or man-made inputs (technology; human and social capital; amenity and cultural attributes) has markedly increased relative to raw natural resources.

Thirdly, the regional (or industrial) policy agenda of the federal government, to the extent that it can be said that one exists, is clearly shifting to the problems and opportunities within Canadian cities and city-regions, rather than those of resource and wilderness regions. This emerging regional policy sensibility is clearly linked to the 'metropolitanization' phenomenon identified earlier in this essay, to the centrality of immigration and multiculturalism to the federal agenda (as well as to the electoral prospects of national parties), to the growing cultural and political power of cities and urban constituencies, and to the critical nexus between cities and new processes of industrial restructuring. Future federal policies are likely to be linked to individual cities rather than articulated and delivered in the classic 'national policy' manner of the Trudeau era. But it seems likely that cities will be the prime beneficiaries of policy innovation and programmatic largesse, rather than the lagging resource regions in the periphery. Further, insofar as a vestige of the old Liberal industrial policy paradigm can be said to exist, the federal commitment appears to lie principally in supporting 'lead' or propulsive, export-oriented multinationals, such as Bombardier and SNC Lavalin (whose Montréal base is likely not incidental to ongoing federal support), rather than regional resource corporations.



Conclusion: normative dimensions of the post-staples state


Over much of the 20th century a robust staple economy supported a distinctive model of economic development in Canada. The balance of benefits and opportunities was almost always weighted in favour of the leading industrial metropoles, especially major central Canadian city-regions, but staple extraction supported a viable way of life and development culture within resource regions and constituent communities. Moreover, the clear chains of linkage and interdependency between the peripheral resource communities and the industrial cities of the national core provided a measure of 'communal consciousness' in Canada, expressed in (among other things) a political commitment to regional development programs, in the interests of encouraging industrial diversification. The purpose of this essay has been to suggest that while many of the structural asymmetries of the core-periphery staple sector are still features of the Canadian economy, society, and polity, a new (or emergent) set of forces is sharply exacerbating the divergence of regional fortunes, and is shaping the contours of a ‘post-staples’ state and society.

In historical terms, we can construct a sequence of staple regimes in Canada together with social affiliates as follows:



First, an initial period of staples development (fisheries, furs, timber) in the period of European exploration and the colonial enterprise, with the extraction of resources acting as a leading influence on social formation and settlement patterns, characterized by conflict both between contending powers (France, Britain and the U.S) and trading companies over territory and resources, and marked by widespread displacement of First Nations societies (i.e. Canada as a staple frontier state and society);

Secondly, an expansion of agriculture, forestry, fisheries and mining in the first three-quarters century following Confederation, based on comparative advantage in natural resource endowments; incorporating the formation of a national core-periphery staples economy described in compelling terms by Harold Innis; dominated by the industrial metropoles of Montreal and Toronto and their satellites; and with the extraction of staples constituting a lead development sector (investment, employment, community formation) for the national periphery (i.e., Canada as the ‘classic’ or archetypical staple state);

Thirdly, the rapid expansion of staple extraction dating from the second world war, facilitated by new industrial production technologies and Fordist labour organization; stimulated both by domestic and export market demand; coincident with the growth of ‘core’ cities linked to resource peripheries at the national and provincial scales; and culminating in the formation of the mature staples state; and

Fourthly, a set of new conditions influencing the trajectory of staple development in Canada since the 1980s, including: increasing pressures on resources and allied staple sectors and communities derived from resource depletion, global market pressures, the relentless substitution of capital for labour, and social factors (notably environmentalism and its variants); a context of increasing metropolitan hegemony and transnational urbanism; manifested in part by a growing cultural, spatial and experiential social divide; cumulatively suggesting the incipient reformation of Canada as a post-staples state in the early years of the 21st century.

Given the relative abundance of natural resources in Canada, and the future demand for staples associated with (for example) the unprecedented scale of industrialization in China and India, staple production will always occupy a higher place in national GDP and exports, relative to other advanced OECD nations.148 But the capacity of staples to lead development in the Canada of the 21st century will be severely limited not only by the depletion (and even exhaustion) of key resource stocks, but also by the job-shedding characteristic of advanced-technology resource industries striving to maintain competitive positions within global commodity markets, and by the increasing social and political hegemony of the larger metropolitan city-regions.

The contemporary forces of change described in this essay underscore the likelihood of increasing regional divergence in a putatively 'post-staples' Canadian society, characterized by a sharper divide in the socioeconomic welfare of resource-dependent communities vis-à-vis urban society, a growing sense of social alienation and isolation, and a national policy and governance structure dominated increasingly by urban (and more especially metropolitan) interests. These ascendant urban constituencies include not only the ‘new middle class’ (after Ley, 1996) of élite service industry managers and professionals, and a more recent cohort of ‘New Economy’ creative workers defined by synergies of culture and technology, but also by the diverse populations of Canada’s multicultural communities. Recent immigrants experience major (and likely increasing) problems (for example in penetrating labour markets; see Travers, 2005) as well as success, but arguably enjoy higher levels of social status and political representation than the traditional staple constituencies of the periphery. From the viewpoint of the dominant city-regions, there may be grounds for a thesis which now positions resource workers and communities as the (exotic) ‘other’ within Canadian society, subject to ‘outlier status’ and marginalization within state political discourses, redefining social and cultural processes, and the narratives and focal points of the media.

Indeed, the primary (extractive) resource industries are increasingly viewed as outliers even within those areas of Canada beyond the large city-regions. There are many stories of local-regional transition and diversification, but these tend to encompass services and higher-value industries (as Skogstad describes in her chapter on agri-business, this volume), regional administration, health care and higher education, and creative and ‘New Economy’ industries and occupations, rather than extractive industries per se, suggesting new processes of inter-regional divergence and a post-staples orientation for many of Canada’s non-metropolitan areas (see Polèse and Shearmur [2002] for an insightful discussion on opportunities for, and constraints upon, peripheral communities in the Knowledge Economy within Québec and the Maritimes).

Given the normative dimensions of a prospectively post-staples Canadian development trajectory, it seems clear that remedial interventions and measures should be actively investigated, although the scale and complexity of problems (including shifts in Canada’s political economy and social identity) suggest that remedies will not be easily obtained. A detailed prescriptive treatment is beyond the scope of this essay, but perhaps a modest beginning would include (first) examining the experiences of similar jurisdictions, notably Australian (federal, state, and local), to see what we might learn about common problems and responses (see for example O’Connor, Stimson and Daly, 2001); secondly, establishing a serious dialogue with resource communities, to mutually explore models of transition and (re)development that might be both attractive and feasible; thirdly, undertaking a review of contrasting provincial regional development strategies and models, taking advantage of progressive and innovative approaches, as in the case of the interesting new capacity-building program in Nova Scotia; and, finally, working with universities, NGOs, and other interested parties to develop advanced regional policy and community planning capacity within Canada's staple-producing regions in situ. The complexities and differentiation of the 'staple region experience' will tend to militate against generic policy templates characteristic of earlier periods of regional policy experimentation, and against directing 'solutions' from the seats of political power and economic privilege ensconced in the metropolitan archipelago of the Canadian south.

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