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CAUT Bulletin Archives

May 2002

Difficult Times Ahead for Many

Janine Brodie

Paradigm Shift: Globalization and the Canadian State

Stephen McBride. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2001; 188 pp; paper $19.95CA.
For the past quarter century Canadians have been mired in a complex process of fundamental change that progressively has eroded, if not erased, long-held assumptions about the nature of the Canadian community, national sovereignty and citizenship rights. In Paradigm Shift, Stephen McBride, of Simon Fraser University, provides a convincing account of how, within less than a generation, the aspirations and institutions of the postwar welfare state have been eclipsed by an uncompromising neo-liberal governing philosophy which both prioritizes markets over politics and denies the possibility or desirability of national economic strategies.

This book recounts the critical milestones that have marked Canada's journey from the social and national state of the postwar years to the neo-liberal and global state of the early 21st century. McBride, for example, revisits the calculated maneuvers of the Business Council on National Issues in its push for continental free trade as well as the Macdonald Commission, which, reporting in 1985, provided a road-map to Canada's governance in the contemporary era.

Pressures for market liberalization, social adjustment, limited government and decentralization, as McBride emphasizes throughout this book, were both homegrown. McBride suggests, "To cast Canada as a victim or unwilling participant in these processes is simply incorrect."

McBride also paints a discouraging picture of how neo-liberal governance has grounded itself in the daily lives of Canadians. Government has been compressed, privatized and commercialized, the economy has been deregulated and then re-regulated by unelected regional and global entities such as the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement, and, with the progressive gutting of social programs, life has become tougher for a growing number of Canadians.

The social exclusion arising from the income gap between Canada's richest and poorest families has exploded while minuscule growth in after-tax incomes in recent years is almost entirely attributable to the fact that Canadians are working longer and harder than before.

Readers will find McBride's examination of the new trade constitutionalism especially valuable. He reminds us that the promotion and consolidation of capital mobility and, at the same time, the creation of a global governance structure that entrenches corporate rights on a global scale are works in progress.

The WTO has a built-in agenda to pursue the liberalization of trade in services. The apparent determination of international financial institutions to expand the General Agreement on Trade in Services potentially has much deeper implications for Canada than free trade in goods. Almost three-quarters of jobs in Canada are in the service sector, including health, education and other services that are part of the public domain.

A new and broader definition of services currently on the negotiating table promises not only to further decimate the public sector but to strike debilitating blows to fundamental Canadian institutions and values such as public education and universal health care.

Paradigm Shift takes issue with two themes that commonly weave through popular accounts of globalization. One is that the dramatic shifts in governance that have occurred in virtually all liberal democracies in the past two decades have been imposed by outside forces. The second is that the national state is locked in a process of terminal decline.

The so-called full or hard globalization thesis argues that national state has been eroded by, among other things, open borders, supranational authorities, transnational corporations and capital mobility. National states, so the argument goes, no longer control what happens within their borders while an ever growing number of political issues are beyond the capacity of any single national state to resolve.

McBride, in contrast, argues that "Canada's integration into the global economy, and the domestic policy changes associated with that integration, are matters of choice rather than necessity." He also points out that national states retain a great deal of power in the face of intensifying globalization.

That successive Canadian governments have been active architects of the paradigm shift in governance from Keynesian welfare state to neo-liberal globalism is beyond dispute. Choices were made, but they were made within particular contexts in relation to specific problems of governance of both domestic and global origins. It is now abundantly clear, however, that the neo-liberal experiment has exaggerated old problems and generated new ones.

Future historians undoubtedly will puzzle over one of the most glaring contradictions of the late 20th century. Although there has been almost complete consensus among global policy makers about how to achieve growth and prosperity, neo-liberal "solutions" have made these goals ever more elusive for the vast majority of the world's population.

Kuhn argued that the search for a new paradigm begins when theory and lived experience no longer mesh. Talk about alternatives now resonates in spaces as diverse as the World Bank and the World Social Forum. National states, however, have neither the choice nor the capacity to revive the postwar welfare state or to shield their borders from the outside. The national is now, more than ever, infused with the global: it is an imagined political space.

As the neo-liberal governing paradigm proves increasingly unable to contain its contradictions, we are challenged, as McBride rightly argues, to embrace human security, broadly defined, as a foundational principle of governance in this new century.

Janine Brodie is chair of the department of political science at the University of Alberta.