Dismantling a Nation: The Transition to Corporate Rule in Canada


224 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-895686-81-4
DDC 971.064'7




Reviewed by Penny E. Bryden

Penny E. Bryden is an assistant professor of history at Mount Allison
University, the author of Planners and Politicians: Liberal Politics and
social policy, 1957–1968, and the co-author of The Welfare State in
Canada: Past, Present and Future.


In this expansion and update of their earlier book, authors McBride and
Shields not only change their terminology, but they also carry their
assessment of the changing basis of Canadian political culture past the
1997 federal election. Their main argument is that successive
governments have reduced their responsibility for Canada’s
economic—and hence social and cultural—development, leaving the
business of government largely in the hands of a corporate elite.
Instead of labeling this trend neoconservative, as they did in the first
edition of this book, McBride and Shields recognize it as essentially a
neoliberal phenomenon whereby states minimize their presence in the
lives of ordinary citizens in a version of classical liberalism.

The central argument rests on an assessment of recent policy decisions
in the economic, social, and constitutional fields. The authors contend
that the postwar Keynesian welfare state was jeopardized by economic
events originating in the 1970s and finally destroyed by full-scale
privatization, deregulation, and limitations on the rights of labor. By
arguing that the federal and provincial states were being guided by
economic factors beyond their control, governments have legitimized
their relinquishing of control to market forces.

This argument is most convincing with respect to the areas of social
and economic policy. The examples of widespread privatization and the
shift to continental free trade clearly show governments moving away
from attempting to control the domestic economy. Similarly, the federal
government’s decision to return considerable amounts of responsibility
over social policy to the provinces conforms to the neoliberal agenda of
limiting governments. On the question of constitutional reform, however,
the authors are forced to stretch their point somewhat. While the
obvious reason for the overdose of constitutional negotiations in the
last two decades has been the need to settle the “Quebec question,”
McBride and Shields attempt to argue that each proposal in fact moves
Canada further down the line to a neoliberal state in which the
corporate sector dominates decision making. The federal structure of
government itself poses something of a problem for the authors’
argument, but by defining the provinces as lesser government, they can
conclude that devolution of power from Ottawa is in reality a step away
from government control itself. Many will disagree with their
conclusions, but in offering a critique of current government policy
from a leftist perspective, McBride and Shields have provided a valuable
antidote to much of the contemporary literature.


McBride, Stephen, and John Shields., “Dismantling a Nation: The Transition to Corporate Rule in Canada,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed November 28, 2023, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/3165.