In his essay on Canada’s changing national development trajectory, Hutton has discussed the nation’s economic transition to a ‘post-staples’ era. He makes it very clear that his notion and hypothesis of the changing phase after that of ‘mature staples’ is not absolute. Instead, it is much as the theory on society post-industrialization as proposed by Daniel Bell; they both observe and analyze changes in the economy of the nation, owing to social, political, cultural and/or spatial developments. And in this particular case, Hutton’s essay focuses primarily on the contribution of staples towards a developing Canadian economy. Hutton describes the transformation of Canadian economy as advancement towards a ‘post-staple’ economy. This advancement is associated with transformations of not only economy, but also of society, urban development and Canadian government’s policy. Consequently, a ‘post-staple’ economy will be characterised by contemporary force of changes that shape the Canadian society.
According to Hutton, the depletion of natural resources, increase in the number of resource industries operating on advanced technologies, and the increasing political and social hegemony in Canada are the primary causes for taking the national economy towards a ‘post-staples’ era. He has elaborated on these points, and illustrated with examples, as to why he thinks the change towards a different economy will continue far into the 21st century.
The basis for most of Hutton’s claims is the set of theories proposed by Harold Innis. The latter had identified the repeating observable patterns in staple extraction. According to Innis, the staple market and exports ruled the Canadian economy, which had both advantages, as well as disadvantages. The most important point of his theories was the description of asymmetries in the core-periphery model. The model was based on regional disparities in Canada, owing to increase in production of staples. It explained that the centre or core of the nation was an urban, industrialized region, whereas the dependent staple regions belonged to the nation’s periphery.
According to Hutton, cultural changes have had a cardinal impact on the nation’s development modality. It has also influenced the orientation and structures of the state. The main cultural change noted by the author is due to international migration that started gaining popularity towards mid 1980s. This has resulted in a multicultural society, which in turn has reinforced city regions’ competitive advantage. Further, it has increased the urban linkages to international markets.
Before going to describe the features of the new post-staples economy model proposed by Hutton, here is a list of the most important points that describe mature resource economies:
1) Resource endowment depletion and associated problems – This is a direct consequence of rapid depletion of the abundant resources available in Canada. This is also related to other problems like over extraction and manufacturing due to capital intensive processes.
2) Differences in industrial methods even within resource communities
3) Growing pressure from environmentalists
4) Search for materials that can substitute natural resources
5) Spatial recalibration and distribution with respect to the core-periphery network
According to Hutton, the new phase that the country is entering will then be characterized by the following features:
1) City regions would gain more power – the proposed new phase will move cities towards ‘metropolitanisation’, meaning all economic activities will shift to the cities. This will result in large migration from rural to urban areas.
2) Fresh industrial restructuring at regional levels will take place.
3) Changes in other parts of the world will affect Canadian economy – essentially globalization effects will be felt.
4) The concept of transnational urban cities – this means that urban areas which are globalized, yet have a distinct genre of regional development, will emerge.
5) Increased awareness towards protecting the environment – Canada is already one the global leaders in spreading awareness about preserving the environment; in the new economic phase, Canada’s role will increase multifold in this context.
6) Changes in state policy priorities – New economy will face both conflicts and complements with respect to policies of the state, the society, and the global economic markets.
It is interesting to note that all the above points have been elaborated with accurate examples and logical analysis, in Hutton’s argument.
Hutton points out that the notion of ‘post-staple’ economy is not absolute, but he based his trajectory based on this notion. This seems like a paradox. A good trajectory should not be based on such “unstable” concept, for it will create too much uncertainty. Furthermore, transformation of socio-economic aspects in Canada will depend on so many variables which include global trends and transformation. Hutton seems to emphasis too much on resource-dependent factors and fail to take global trends into account. Therefore, Hutton’s view on the transformation of ‘mature-staple’ to a ‘post-staple’ state does not offer a strong premise.
Hutton’s view on the emergence of environmentally-conscious group as an indication of economic transformation may only be partially true. Although the increase of such awareness may be associated with the increase in economy, Hutton does not identify other factors such as education and donor trends as important factors. Instead, he puts too much emphasis on economic development as a main driving factor. There is a lack of strong correlation between resource economy and conservation awareness, so the emergence of environmentally-conscious group should not solely be used to indicate economic transformation.
Hutton provides examples of advanced region in Canada, but fails to take into account other regions in Canada such as Yukon and Northwest Territories. Although the main drivers of Canadian economy are these advanced cities and regions, exclusion of other regions (that are probably still in staple economy) may lead to over-generalisation of the economic advancement.
It must also be noted that shift to environmentally-friendly products will preserve the resource and promote sustainable use of resource. However, production of such product will require supply of natural resource. The definition of ‘post-staple’ economy may be misleading, as a complete independency on natural resource seems improbable to achieve.
Economic transformation is influenced by multitude of factors ranging from dependency on resource to global trends. What are the main driving factors and how these factors interact with each other? It will be interesting if an economic modeling can be developed to identify crucial factors in economic development in Canada. This model can help justify the trajectory based on data of economic transformation in the past. Furthermore, economic modeling can help identify sensitive indicators to support the argument of economic transformation; thus strengthening the hypothesis of post-staple transformation.
Ideally, post-staple transformation should be supported by more hard evidences. What is the correlation between Canadian economy (indicated by normative parameters such as Gross Domestic Products, income per capita, etc.) and dependency on natural resource? This will require quantification of natural resource to statistically correlate dependency factor with normative economic parameters.
What is the most influencing factor of shifts to environmentally-friendly product? Is it awareness, health, or economic factors? Finding the most influential factors in this shift will help justify the inclusion of this shift as viable indicator of economic advancement.