Greg Albo & Bryan Evans, Eds., Divided Province: Ontario Politics in the Age of Neoliberalism

By Toye, Brent | Labour/Le Travail, Fall 2019 | Go to article overview

Greg Albo & Bryan Evans, Eds., Divided Province: Ontario Politics in the Age of Neoliberalism


Toye, Brent, Labour/Le Travail


Greg Albo & Bryan Evans, eds., Divided Province: Ontario Politics in the Age of Neoliberalism (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press 2019)

IN UNDERSTANDING the character and depth of neoliberalism in Ontario, the recently edited volume by Greg Albo and Bryan Evans, Divided Province: Ontario Politics in the Age of Neoliberalism, is an essential tool. Spanning roughly from the Liberal minority government in the late 1980s to the present, the chapters provide a detailed examination of the neoliberal era in Ontario. The four sections of the book range from critical, cutting-edge essays on Ontario political economy, investigations into the restructuring of the provincial state, to analyses of the various forms of resistance that have emerged to the neoliberal agenda. Divided Province not only provides a thorough historical account of the political and economic turbulence that has defined 30 years of neoliberalism in Ontario, but also expertly explores some of the paradoxical features that have shaped neoliberal transformations throughout the advanced capitalism world. These being in particular the continued role for the state in the reproduction of the supposedly free-market order of neoliberalism, the spectacular expansion of government debt despite near-continuous rounds of budgetary austerity, and the perpetuation of a neoliberal policy consensus among governing political parties despite significant upheaval and alteration within the sphere of electoral politics.

The opening essay by Albo sets the critical tone for the volume and provides a comprehensive definition of the neoliberalism as a "form of social rule whose modes of administration and policy practices are 'market-expanding'... the state is reorganized to advance the social conditions that allow the propertied classes to extract value from the working classes." (6) While neoliberalism can be perceived as "market-expanding," in the sense that it spreads competitive market dynamics and market discipline into new areas of social life, this cannot be understood as a natural process or order absent of state intervention. Neoliberalism, in other words, is not what you have left after the retrenchment of the Keynesian welfare state. Rather, in Janus-faced fashion, the laissez-faire order of neoliberalism necessitates an interventionist state to enforce and expand free market relations: to create new forms of property, legally ensure new contracts, and maintain new markets; to deepen the commodification of labour, monetize public assets, and provide the social and material infrastructure underwriting capitalist accumulation. According to Albo, this is no less true at the level of a provincial/regional state like Ontario as it is at the national level, and he demonstrates how in the context of neoliberalism the provincial state plays an important coordinating role in regional labour markets and production systems.

The chapters in the first section of Divided Province covering the political and economic restructuring of Ontario and detail this continued role of the state under neoliberalism. State intervention comes not only in the form of direct subsidies (see Dimitry Anastakis' chapter), but also in more fundamental ways related to the re-regulation of political economic governance. John Peters' and Steven Tufts' essays on the structural changes occurring within Ontario's traditionally manufacturing-based political economy, for example, demonstrate the provincial state's role in orchestrating the growth of both high and low-end services through key legislative and regulatory supports. At the high-end of the service sector changes came, for example, through the legalization of securitization (i.e. the bundling and reselling of loans) and other financial instruments that supported the growth of financial activity in the province and made it the financial hub of the country. At the low-end, the provincial state played a key role in enhancing flexibility in Ontario's labour market through a number of market-enhancing reforms to labour market policy that facilitated non-standard, precarious, and low-wage employment. …

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