Globalization and the Canadian Prospect

By Copeland, Daryl | Behind the Headlines, Winter 1996 | Go to article overview

Globalization and the Canadian Prospect


Copeland, Daryl, Behind the Headlines


We got a thousand points of light, for the homeless man. We got a kinder, gentler machine gun hand. We got department stores and toilet paper. Got styrofoam boxes for the ozone layer. Got a man of the people says keep hope alive. Got fuel to burn, got roads to drive.

Neil Young, Rockin' the Free World

At the CIIA's recent foreign policy conference on Canada and the world economy, we learned that globalization is all about multinational corporations, economic interdependence, liberalized trade, integrated markets, mobile factors of production, regional integration, and rising technological capacity. The discussions and debate were nothing if not lively, generating a stimulating balance of heat and light.

It was generally agreed that the term globalization, though suffering from over-use and definitionally slippery, has emerged as the defining historical phenomenon of our times, transforming structures, conditioning outcomes, and carrying significant implications for Canadian policies and interests. Lamented by some, welcomed by others, few disagreed that globalization is a fact of life in the late 1990s.

Hype notwithstanding, globalization merits closer scrutiny. For starters, there is nothing particularly new about its central elements. What is new is the striking speed, scope, and intensity of globalization; it is these aspects which have combined to pose such enormous challenges.

In form globalization is dialectical; in nature it is Janus-like. It creates wealth. It fosters dynamic efficiencies. It forces new economies of production. It makes national economies - or, at least, what's left of them - more internationally competitive. And it all comes at a cost - widening disparities, difficult adjustments, diminishing diversity, the erosion of civil society.

While globalization is omnipresent, it is states which face particularly tough times. In capitals around the world governments seem too big to do the small things and too small to do the big things. Hollowed out by ethnic and regional uprisings from within, and eroded by the streams and eddies of transnationality, power and legitimacy are flowing upwards to supranational organizations and downwards to subnational bodies. National good governance has perhaps never been more difficult.

The articulation of national policies and values, the collection and redistribution of national wealth, and the administration of national economic space has, for most of this century at least, been a central part of what states do. Yet compliance with trade agreements - which, in combination with the conviviality of multilateral organizations and accelerating regional integration, is an important precondition to continued globalization - has for many states translated into significant intrusions into the business of government. The maximization of efficiency in a global economy requires an unprecedented degree of policy uniformity, perhaps particularly on environmental and social issues, and a substantial surrender of sovereignty.

It is clear that the role and capabilities of the state are receding rapidly as transnational linkages, economic integration, and interdependence erode both the fiscal positions of national governments and their independence. As for the apparatus of governance, large swathes of regulatory, administrative, and programme delivery capacity have already been dismantled or contracted out. The ethic of universal and equitable access to services is giving way to that of privatization, cost recovery, and user payment. That this has occurred at the same time as service reductions, regulatory rollbacks, and a transfer of the burden of taxation from companies to wage earners has led some analysts to conclude that globalization is tantamount to the imposition of a corporate agenda: the accumulation of private power, at the expense of the public interest, under the guise of an attack on government. …

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