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

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 The extraction of natural resources was of course also central to the daily life, industry and cultures of the First Nations, but we are principally concerned here with the role of staples in the evolution of Canada’s national economy.

132 To illustrate in the B.C. case, with the erosion of staple processing along the Fraser
River, and the associated decline of cohorts of resource processing workers (principally
forestry and fisheries and adjacent communities, production and social linkages between the Greater Vancouver ‘core’ and resource ‘periphery’ have appreciably weakened (see Hutton 1997 for a more extensive discussion of this phenomenon).

133 For an illustration of the operations of core-periphery linkage systems in Québec, see Polèse 1982.

134 As Peter Pearse has observed, however, British Columbia is in some years a net importer of raw logs (Pearse, personal communication).

135 Some regional development models stressed the essentially binary structure of metropolitan and ‘hinterland’ development trajectories within a provincial core-periphery setting (see for example Davis and Hutton, 1989). But the increasing diversity of Canada’s non-metropolitan communities (including processes of industrial diversification, and the formation of new labour cohorts) suggested by this sample of communities in transition underscores the need to avoid essentializing development modes and prospects for areas beyond the large-city-regions, in favour of a more nuanced appreciation of tendencies toward increasing industrial diversity and differentiation.

136 For a useful elucidation of the concept of ‘existence value’ of resources in a staple economy setting, see Roessler and McDaniels (1994).

137 To the problems cited by Rayner and Howlett in the aquaculture industry we could perhaps add increasing foreign ownership and control represented by multinational corporations, and conflicts with groups dependent on natural fisheries (commercial fisheries, sport fishing, First Nations) concerned about contamination from fish farm waste products and the inter-mingling of native Pacific salmon species with escaped farm (Atlantic) salmon.

138 A well-known illustration of the potential of community ingenuity in creating a post-staples development future is the case study of Chemainus, B.C, described in Barnes and Hayter (1992). Stimulating work on community diversification strategies in Canada also includes the research conducted by the Community Economic Development unit of Simon Fraser University, and a SSHRC-supported project on economic development among medium-size communities directed by Mark Seasons at the University of Waterloo.

139 I deploy the term ‘post-staples state as a descriptor of significant change in Canada’s development trajectory, somewhat in the spirit of Daniel Bell’s social forecast of ‘post-industrial society’ three decades ago. Neither of these concepts—Bell’s post-industrial society, and my notion of a ‘post-staples’ state—is intended as an ‘absolute’, as even episodes of quite fundamental and far-teaching industrial and socioeconomic change necessarily encompass a sublation of conditions, both contemporary and historical, rather than a complete and totalizing break with the past. Rather, these concepts represent ventures in capturing important new phases of economic change, together with the complex social, cultural, spatial and political causalities and outcomes that comprise basic shifts in development mode.

140 Within Canada’s urban system there is a clear hierarchy of influence and power, associated with specialization and competitive advantage, as well as urban scale. A national workshop on Urban Transformation in Canada convened at the University of Toronto in December of 2004 concluded that five major city-regions—the Greater Toronto Area, the Montreal city-region, Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, Ottawa-Gatineau, and the bipolar Calgary-Edmonton corridor—will constitute increasingly the dominant drivers of growth and change in the Canadian economy, society and polity in the 21st century. (see web-site of the SSHRC National Research Cluster on Urban Transformation in Canada)

141 This phenomenon is replicated in some respects at the provincial level, as observed in the ‘structural conflicts’ between provincial governments and the major city-regions (which constitute to some extent an alternative and competing power source); this is exemplified in the political struggles between Toronto and Queens Park, and Montréal and the provincial government situated in Québec City. There are also dynamic (as well as ‘structural’) features of this relationship, influenced by the nature of political control in the provincial government, and the quality of leadership and personality embodied in the premiership and mayoralty, each of which is subject to change over time.

142 That said, medium-size and smaller communities which have attracted culturally-diverse and artistic migrants are becoming increasingly diverse in socio-cultural composition, and have in many cases succeeded in mobilizing both long-established creative talent and newcomers to promote arts and cultural activity. Creative industries and associations within these communities also access the Internet and other media of advanced telecommunications to interact with distant colleagues, partners and audiences. Timothy Wojan has written about the potential of creative industry development in rural areas (Wojan, 2994), while William Beyers of the University of Washington has conducted research on what he terms ‘high flyers and lone eagles’, New Economy exponents working in the more remote districts of Washington State.

143 As examples in the Canadian context, Montréal ‘lost’ both its national primacy in corporate control and financial activity, and its historical ‘Western gateway’ role, in the 1970s; while Vancouver has seen a steady stripping of its head office sector since the acceleration of globalization and de-regulation of the 1980s, producing by 2005 a decidedly ‘post-corporate’ downtown.

144 P. J. Taylor of the Global and World Cities research network in Loughborough University, England, has proposed a sectorally and functionally more diverse nomenclature for assessing rank-order of world cities, including a typology which includes social, cultural, and political (as well as economic) indices of global hierarchy and engagement (Taylor, 2004).

145 For a sampling of the rich and diverse Canadian scholarship on the influence of immigration and multiculturalism on the remaking of Canada’s cities, see the web-site of the ‘Metropolis—Immigration’ RIIM network. [ ]

146 Stojanovich describes a mobilized diaspora as ‘an ethnoreligious collectivity whose elite members are communication specialists . . . diasporas engage in international commerce as insurance against the political risks of privilege in a single polity’ (1994: p. 80).

147 In the classic Canadian style, early DREE and DRIE programs focussed on strategies for the most serious cases of regional deprivation and disparity, but over time (and exigencies of political pressure) evolved to encompass most of the country beyond the largest and most successful city-regions. A similar experience has been observed in the case of the federal Cities Agenda, which initially was designed to address the special conditions (problems as well as opportunities) of the largest cities, but following relentless lobbying and advocacy now includes medium-size and even smaller urban communities.

148 In conducting an assessment of the merits of the competing schools of comparative advantage and dependency theory, Thomas Gunton suggests that given the importance of resource rents, staples can continue to play significant roles in regional development in Canada, although the escalating costs of resource extraction require a tighter scrutiny and management approach (Gunton, 2003). The employment and community viability implications of a steadily shrinking resource sector workforce, however, cannot be avoided in any forecast of the broader development potential of staple extraction in this country.

149 British placed heavy tariffs on Baltic and American timber in favour of Canadian timber (Marr and Paterson 1980).

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