Contours of the Post-Staples State: The Reconstruction of Political Economy and Social Identity in 21st Century Canada

TitleContours of the Post-Staples State: The Reconstruction of Political Economy and Social Identity in 21st Century Canada
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsHutton, TA
JournalPolicy and Society

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). My notion of a “post-staples” state – is not 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 totalising 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. It is important to recognise, however, that this “post-staples” political economy is not a “non-staples” one. That is, many regions of the country remain at the stage of a “mature” staples political economy functioning under a Ricardian state system. Moreover, despite the many efforts of Canadian governments to promote “knowledge-based” industries such as software and computer games which have few, if any, material inputs, most of the industries and activities towards which knowledge has been directed in Canada, are classic staples ones such as agriculture (genetically-modified foods), forestry (new pulp and paper techniques, biologically-enhanced silviculture), fisheries (aquaculture) mines (enhanced reclamation) and energy (hydrogen fuels, renewables, offshore drilling and tar sands production. The Post-staples direction of Canada's political economy then, is complex and nuanced but represents elements of continuity with earlier stages in Canada's economic history, not a decisive break with the past.