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

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Chapter XV - The Dynamic (Post) Staples State: Responding to Challenges—Old and new - Adam Wellstead


Canada’s relatively abundant natural resources continue to an important thread of its cultural, economic, political, and social fabrics. Typically, traditional staples such as agriculture (Skogstad in Chapter 2), fisheries (Hoogensen in Chapter 4), forestry (Thorpe and Sandberg in Chapter 6) mining, electrical energy, and oil and gas production defined the Canadian image to the world as “hewers of wood and drawers of water.” Over the past twenty years, resources such as offshore petroleum (Clancy in Chapter 11) and aquaculture (Rayner and Howlett in Chapter 5) have emerged as new staples whereas the issue of bulk water exports to the United States, as highlighted by McDougall (Chapter 12), has become a controversial subject of much debate. Since resource exploitation began in the mid 17th century with fishing in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the New France fur trade, trade issues have dominated throughout the entire resource sector. Trade related issues such the restriction of live beef exports, the softwood lumber dispute, and the sale of electricity remain at the forefront of contemporary governmental agendas. New issues, in particular climate change and genetically modified foods, have emerged, resulting in potentially negative impacts on their respective sectors (Moore – Chapter 3) (Brownsley – Chapter 10). A number of notable influences have been identified as common threads within all natural resource sectors: new forms of state engagement, transnational organizations, globalization and subsequent trade liberalization, environmental group pressures, First Nation’s land claims, and the threat of domestic resource depletion. Related to these influences is the growing degree of complexity involved in understanding each of these sectors. Complexity within resource sectors can be explained in part by the overlapping of the above issues and sectors, the increased number of non-state actors vying for influence combined with the willingness of state officials to share power with them, and the evolutionary impacts of federalism upon resource sectors (Lindquist and Wellstead 2001). Despite these changes, state involvement remains a cornerstone of Canada’s natural resource sector. This chapter examines the evolution of the contemporary staples state.

This chapter has two interrelated goals. First, it seeks to examine the emergence of a new form of staples state resulting from regional and global asymmetries. In the previous chapter Thomas Hutton chronicled the importance of the post-staples economy as the driving force behind new political and social identities. Hutton succinctly argues that the “rapid growth and hegemony of metropolitan cities, new rounds of industrial restructuring and attendant opportunities and destabilizing tendencies, processes of globalisation and transnationalism, the environmental movement and its nascent political affiliates, and redefining shifts in the nature of political discourse and policy practices” are strategic to the restructuring of 21st century Canada’s “social identity and political economy” (2005). Hutton’s argument is based on empirical examples that are either from a national or a British Columbian perspective. He also acknowledges his research is nascent and that further investigation is required. After reviewing the chapters in this volume Hutton’s post-staples state thesis is amended by adopting the unique position that the staples state still remains important within Canadian political economy research. While the contemporary staples state is faced with the same influences as the post-staples state, this staples variant continues to be dominated by path dependent properties that are different from those trends that direct the country and British Columbia. Predominately staples dependent regions, most notably Atlantic Canada and the Prairies, require a conception of the state that reconciles the contemporary with its past. To do so, Bob Jessop’s discussion of the competitive state’s ascendancy is examined in its relationship to both staples and “post-staples” states. There are two forms of competitive states that are relevant to a discussion of the Canadian (post) staples state: the Schumpeterian and Richardian competitive states. The main characteristics of the Schumpetarian competitive state as well as its development closely correspond to Hutton’s discussion of a post-staples state. The importance of the Schumpetarian competitive state is the focus of The Future of the Capitalist State. The Richardian competitive state receives only a passing reference (one paragraph). However, its characteristics leads to the argument that it in fact describes the contemporary staple’s state that continues to flourish throughout many parts of Canada. Below, we describe these two images of the competitive state and its relation to the Canadian staples context.

The second goal of this chapter is to make clear linkages between macro-level analyses of the competitive state with meso-level policy frameworks—more specifically the policy-making process. Nearly all the chapters in this volume touch upon both the role of the state and public policy implications. A simultaneous understanding of both is critical because policy decisions are precipitated by larger state factors. For example, Netherton (Chapter 8) describes the closed hydro-electric policy regime characterized by path dependencies within the context of trade liberalism. In this chapter, a neo-pluralist theory of the state permits political scientists the opportunity to engage at both levels of analysis while preserving theoretical rigor but permitting mid-level theoretical empirical examination.

This chapter first outlines the economic importance of contemporary staples production at both the national and provincial level. The next section chronologically defines the staple’s state in relationship with popular characterizations of from its pre-20th century form to the present competitive state. The competitive state is examined in greater detail, in particular, the Schumpetarian and Richardian variants. The third section discusses the importance of governance and the forms of coordination within competitive states. An overview of neo-pluralism and the anthropological aspects of the state follow this macro-level discussion of the state. From these two sections, an analysis of staples policy communities is examined.

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