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Canadian Economic History - a Few Considerations

Canadian Economic History - a Few Considerations

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What’s Economic History?

There are obviously senses in which economic history is a highly intelligible subject. For more than a century antiquarians and learned scholars in Great Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Low Countries, Switzerland, Russia, the United States, Canada, and other countries have devoted some or all of their time to revealing the ways in which individual men and women and political units got their livelihood in past ages, to the changes that have taken place in these ways, in the nature of the goods and services produced, and in the manner of their distribution and consumption. Thus defined, economic history has provided a framework - or rather many frameworks - for the collection and the presentation of massive blocks of information of various kinds and of diverse value.


Thus defined, economic history is an inexhaustible subject. It can be and it has been broken up according to periods of time, civilizations, countries, provinces, states, counties, cities, towns, and even villages or manors. It has also been broken up according to topics such as agriculture, the extractive industries, manufactures, technology, transportation, commerce (foreign and domestic), finance (public and private), population, the history of economic thought, and so on. Each of these subjects has lent itself readily to much further subdivision.

No branch of history has been better fitted than economic to the process of fragmentization which has been a leading feature of scholarship during the past hundred years, and which has been accompanied, not altogether accidentally, by a disposition to divide and classify the arts of music, painting, architecture, and literature according to periods, countries, and provinces.

What has been tending to happen, especially in the United States, is this: the material gathered and the works written by economic historians, when used at all (and they are not used so much as they deserve to be) are used as a quarry for subjects that have a more clearly defined and more readily understood purpose than economic history. Economic historians are employed (whether or not it is their intention), now by economists, now by political historians, now by sociologists or anthropologists, now by historians of art. In fact they are used by different professors in almost any of the large number of subjects offered in the modern university. Economic history tends to become an appendage of some respectable departments, most frequently perhaps an appendage of economics. In this context, the job of the economist is to explain how the economy works; the job of the economic historian is to explain how it worked in the past.The subject matter of economic history is the subject matter of economics applied to historical phenomena. A brief definition of economics would emphasize the questions which economists study – the production, allocation and expansion of resources, goods and services. Because economics deals primarily with the present as a point in time, while economic history is more concerned with changes over time, the emphasis of the two disciplines differs. But the one runs into the other. It is hard to be sure that you understand how the economy works now without looking at evidence that is largely historical; and if you want to know how it might work it is useful to look quite a long way back. You have to examine how the different economic forces operated on one another in the past in order to judge the strength of their interactions currently. To form an accurate view of what matters and what does not matter in the performance of the economy, or parts of it, you badly need an historical perspective, a truth too little appreciated by those whose business it is to manage or control the economy. Conversely, in trying to understand the past working of the economy, you need the benefit of economic theory. You need to formulate the right questions to address to the past and it is the function of theory to help in framing such questions. Theory, if it is doing its job, illuminates practice, i.e. history; and practice, or history, properly reported, keeps theory on the rails by demonstrating what questions are meaningful and what are not. Economists continue to “invade” economic history in search of evidence to illustrate, test, and preferably support their theories. For example, it was almost impossible to theorize about the business cycle without looking at the historical experience. Moreover the theory had to be an explanation of the observed facts of the cycle, so that from the start theory and history were obliged to join forces. One might expect to find the most striking example of an alliance between economic theory and economic history in the literature on economic growth. But economists have either busied themselves with growth models that tell us nothing about the origins of growth and seem more preoccupied with what might interrupt it; or they have propounded sweeping explanations of British experience that are singularly unconvincing. The fact is that change and development, which lie at the root of economic growth, are historical processes that can be understood and analyzed only in historical terms; and that growth and development are too interconnected to be understood in isolation from each other. If we try to explain why one country lags behind its neighbours after being out in front, or why one country grows faster than another, economic theory provides clues but no more. The prevailing culture, the educational system, the social structure, industrial relations, and many other elements may condition a country's economic performance as powerfully as the factors on which economists almost exclusively concentrate their attention. In the same time, while economic phenomena are not the sole determinants of social change, they are of major importance.

As an intelligible field for the pursuit of truth, economic history is both too vast and too small. To understand the meaning of that paradox, it is necessary to recognize that in the search after truth there is more than one rational procedure. In connection with history, there is the rational procedure which consists in trying to put in an accurate form all the facts relevant to a given subject. For such a purpose economic history is much too vast a field. Anyone who attempts by this method alone to lay down general propositions concerning every aspect of the economic life of the past will soon see his work out-of-date, as long as good special research continues to be done. The smaller the subject, the easier it becomes to gather and to arrange all the relevant facts, the less vulnerable the result is likely to be.

For the historian who aims to create general truths, the economic, like any other conventional division of the subject matter of history, is too narrow a conception. From our point of view it is important to compare different fields of history in order to estimate the impact and the existing interrelations between them.

Our conclusion is that an economic historian has the opportunity to play a leading part in this study of historical interrelations. In that direction lays the way by which he can become autonomous of other disciplines without trying to set up another separate discipline in a world already surfeited with special disciplines. What economic history might become, what it should become, is an instrument for reducing rather than for increasing the number of compartments into which scholarship is now divided.

The most famous of all men who have turned their minds seriously to economic history, Karl Marx, based his theory of knowledge and also his theory of political action on the thesis that economic history is closely related to every aspect of history. It is true that he and, much more, some of his followers have been inclined to regard the economic side of life as a sort of open sesame to all other sides, as the determining factor in history. This is a travesty of the truth. The relative power of discernible factors in historical development varies from period to period and from people to people. Marx came at a time when material factors were assuming a greater importance in Western civilization than they had perhaps possessed in any previous epoch. The temptation to exaggerate the importance of material factors or to suppose that they had always been equally important was and still is great. It is a temptation which Marxians have not successfully resisted.

On the other hand, any attempt to separate the economic side from the rest of life leads to a narrow view of history. The very fact that the past work of economic historians has provided a hunting ground for anthropologists, sociologists, philosophers, political historians, economists and for almost all other kinds of scholars is an indication of the relevance which economic history has for all other subjects. There is something obviously artificial in separating a subject as close to all aspects of life as economic history from these others. A consciousness of this artificiality is reflected in the actual work of almost all the economic historians on which we based our lectures. In examining the ways followed by civilized peoples in getting a living, in studying men and women of the past at work, they have been impelled to ask not simply what was, but why it was. Such a question has led them frequently outside the frontiers of the economic.

Another aspect could be the periodization of Canadian Economic History. We are fully aware that periodizing seems an artificial intellectual trick in face of the fact that life continues even in the midst of destruction. A Frenchman insists that "on the vast stage of economic history no sudden shift of scene takes place." An Englishman adds, "There is no hiatus in economic development, but always a constant tide of progress and change, in which the new is blended almost imperceptibly with the old."

Why study the Economic History of Canada?

All societies are the unique result of previous influences, and in order to understand a present-day society it is necessary to know something about its past.

For seven consecutive years in the 1990s, the United Nations Human Development Program proclaimed the vast nation that sits atop the North American continent to be the best country on earth, according to an index that includes quality of life, income, and education. By 2005, the UN ranked Canada fourth in the world. Yet in spite of this powerful and compelling evidence of the country’s global stature, misconceptions continue to skew our sense of the Canadian past. These suggest that Canadian history is boring, placid, and of little import; that it is devoid of the grand or heroic elements that generally capture the attention of people both inside and outside the nation. Moreover, a persistent and misleading assumption implies that Canada’s history, while occasionally distinctive, is essentially a pale reflection of the more intriguing and lively saga of the nation to its immediate south: the United States. The Americans, the idea has it, are the scriptwriters of the most powerful and captivating national story on earth. Their essentially passive neighbors, while occasionally worthy of some note, have essentially trod a national trail that was clearly blazed by others.

Neither point holds merit. The history of Canada is neither sleep inducing nor inconsequential. Its history is unique, despite the fact that it shares patterns with other nations that have been formed by waves of immigrants that transformed a territory originally inhabited by Aboriginal peoples. Readers acquainted with the histories of countries such as Australia, Mexico, Argentina, and India, to name but a few, will certainly recognize much that is familiar.

Perhaps most important, Americans will no doubt discover evocative themes as they explore Canada’s story. At the same time—and this is the particular challenge of coming to grips with the history of the neighbor of a country that exercises such enormous power in the modern world—Canada’s history is not an extension of the American saga.

However, Canadians, who are under few illusions about the altruistic behavior of great powers towards their weaker neighbors and who have never been able to afford the luxury of indifference to the United States, still wondered at the beginning of the XXth century why Americans pay so much more attention to Latin America than to them. In other words, Canadians, like a good many Americans in those times, have inadequately realized the compelling importance and influence of the Isthmus of Panama in the movement of armed forces, men, and goods across and through it. Americans since 1903, when the United States had satisfied her ambitions in North America from the Isthmus of Panama to Alaska, have shown a bland, though usually benevolent, ignorance of the Canada which was rising swiftly to supplant Great Britain as their most necessary and important economic partner. Only Canada's performance in the First World War kindled a short-lived and rather shallow admiration which quickly faded into condescension when American isolationism resumed its sway; some Americans remained conscious of Canada only as a place where they could get a drink or as a source of bothersome, chilly blasts of air in any season.

Powerful business and financial interests constituted a sharp exception, but they pursued their ends unnoticed by the general public. A sustained and serious American concern with Canada started when Germany’s triumphs in Europe at the beginning of the Second World War invalidated American isolationism and began to carry the people as a whole towards active interventionism of many sorts. Until the end of the Second World War, the United States and Canada formed an effective partnership in every kind of activity, with the more experienced Canada at first doing distinctly more than her relative share. From then on strategic considerations seemed likely to maintain American concern with Canada. Among the many evidences of this new situation, ranging from Pan-Americanism to uranium, and from Arctic bases to the balance of payments, there have emerged since 1940 numerous kinds of American effort to learn more about Canada.

To many non-Canadian observers, images of and references to the country are often portrayed in a stereotypical fashion. The land of the rugged Mountie is another popular perception of Canada; strikingly, for a country that fashions itself as one of the most amicable nations on earth, the country uses the elite Royal Canadian Mounted Police as one of its most recognizable symbols. In a world rife with violence, Canada is unique in embracing a symbol of law enforcement as an image of self-portrayal. People around the globe might also think of the country as a hockey devotee’s paradise, a place where the fast paced and rough-and-tumble sport is treated simultaneously with a reverence and fanaticism (Vancouver, 2010) that is matched only by soccer fans in Latin America and Europe.

It is entertaining to draw out the colorful stereotypes that seem to capture the essence of the country, and certainly Canadians, with genuine self-deprecating humor, are often the first to point out their idiosyncrasies. Yet below the surface of these playful and superficial images, the country is an immensely complex place where in the recent past, voters in Quebec cast ballots in two referendums to decide whether they would retain or fundamentally alter their relationship with the other provinces. The immensely successful 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver provided an opportunity for the country to showcase its stature as a global model of well-being and civility; at the same time, numerous critics noted a glaring regional disparity in the design of publicity and coverage for the event.

The paradox of modern Canada is intriguing. Deemed a superior and thus successful model of a modern state by the United Nations, the country simultaneously struggles under a crippling—some would argue fatal—burden of regional, cultural, and ethnic diversity. The bitter irony that one of the planet’s most successful nations in the first decade of the twenty-first century grapples with the persistent threat of dismantlement gives us a stark vantage point. Despite the efforts of many of its architects, Canada has failed to become an assimilationist nation. Superimposed on the issues mentioned above has been an all-encompassing American culture. Significantly, as Canadians diligently sought to articulate a national identity, the fear of American absorption has provided a bonding agent for the country’s disparate cultural and ethnic groups.

The overarching geography of the territory that Canadians inhabit accounts for one of the most dynamic survival themes. Indeed, one of the most enduring quips about the country’s landmass is that it has too much geography. The immensely varied environment, with the sweeping Canadian Shield of Precambrian rock, the over one million streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes, the seemingly endless terrain of the prairies and the frozen reaches of the North, the awe-inspiring succession of mountain ranges in the West, all combined to create obstacles to exploration, settlement, transportation, and communication.

In addition, the varied and dramatic climate, ranging from the temperate weather of southern Ontario and the lower Pacific coastal region of British Columbia to the ice-choked barrens of the Arctic, has given first Aboriginal peoples, and then European and Asian immigrants, particular challenges. Throughout Canadian history, day-to-day existence in an often harsh environment has consumed the energies of millions of the country’s inhabitants. The geography and environment of the country shaped and continue to dictate the rhythm of life for people as varied as farmers who cope with short growing seasons, engineers who blast into the igneous rock of the Shield to extract marketable minerals, and college students who use tunnels in winter to avoid numbing temperatures and howling winds as they pass from lectures to labs. People the world around have to come to grips with the geography and environment of the region they inhabit; what makes Canada’s saga particularly problematic is that its citizens have attempted to master such a large swath of the world’s terrain. How can 33 million people lay convincing claim to sovereignty over 3.8 million square miles of a crowded planet? Canada’s territories are larger than the continental United States, larger than Brazil, larger than Australia. Only China and the Russia exceed Canada. The population is spread absurdly thin. As I sit in my Toronto home, I am 2,740 miles south of the northern tip of Ellesmere Island, Canada's northernmost land for all practical purposes. If I swivel my chair and look directly south, there, a bit over the horizon but the same distance away, is Bogota, the capital of Colombia. The District of Columbia, in contrast, is a mere hour's travel by jet. If Canada could pick itself up, it could bury the United States. Americans inhabit almost as large a share of the planet's land, but there are far more of them to justify their territorial claims.

The first navigators who entered the splendid harbour of St. John's, Newfoundland, could have had no notion that the island they had chanced upon would someday be part of a federation that would stretch to the Pacific. Or, for that matter, that the stretch would be across eighty degrees of longitude. St. John's and Victoria (the capital of British Columbia, on a Pacific island, on the other side of Canada) are 3,800 miles apart. If you head the same distance east from St. John's, you find yourself somewhere just short of Moscow, depending on what tack you take. Either destination means that you will have spanned the Atlantic, plus the entire width of Europe.

Can such a thin scattering of people hold it together? We are convinced that we actually do so; two national airlines, Air Canada and Canadian Airlines International operate between the two extremities. A third, Wardair, is now challenging their uniqueness. A regional carrier flies north from Montreal to Resolute, not far from Cape Columbia. The airports of St. John's and Victoria are depressingly alike. Canada's material culture has become uniform, anonymous and placatory. People do fly from St. John's to Victoria without any hindrance except the need to change planes in Montreal or Toronto (and often Vancouver as well). Flying to Moscow or Tripoli is still a matter for cautious reflection. Only the price of the ticket is a consideration if Victoria is your target. And, of course, I can pick up my phone and dial easily (at a price) within all of North America. Cablevision in Toronto provides me with all the standard U.S. channels as well as the Canadian. There is no major Canadian city where one cannot do so. And the remotest parts of this vast country are all within the reach of satellite communications. The viewing and phoning habits of Canadians are firmly continentalist, though people still travel mainly east (except in midwinter, when Florida, California, and most Caribbean islands become Canadian provinces).

Nevertheless, notwithstanding modern communications, distance is still a central and discouraging fact of Canada's national life. It still matters that the legislators and lobbyists of the provincial, territorial, and federal governments must interact electronically rather than face-to-face. Teleconferencing and conference calls are poor substitutes for handshakes. Even with electronic aids, the conduct of national consultation presents difficulties.

If he calls the premier of British Columbia, the premier of Newfoundland must be astute about time. Otherwise, he may arouse his counterpart (whom he may want to cajole) at 4:30 in the morning, a poor hour for getting results. The same difficulty confronts the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation when it stages the national news or televises major sporting events.

With such a geographical vastness and diversity, from the point of view of economic history, Canada presents two distinct phases. In the first of these phases, the country was occupied by aboriginal groups, either wholly nomadic or customarily migrating at periodical intervals, the members of each group being normally connected with one another by immediate kinship, and being predominantly engaged in hunting and fishing, industry being confined to the making of clothing and of primitive utensils by the women and of weapons by the men, exchange being comparatively rare. In the second phase, the country was occupied by colonists directly or indirectly from continents other than America, but chiefly from Europe, who have brought with them a more or less highly developed economic life and who have settled in permanent communities, these communities being generally composed of members of diversified racial origin, their predominant occupations being fishing, trading, forestry, mining, agriculture, and industry involving manufacture of commodities for sale.

The first phase may properly be regarded as being prehistoric, because of the practically total absence of records regarding the movements of population and of the tribal relations of the aborigines before the arrival of the colonists. Aboriginal economics may thus be considered as belonging to prehistory rather than to history. An economic history, in the strict sense, must therefore begin with the relations between the newly arrived fishermen and traders and the aborigines, and must pass to the gradual driving back or conquest of the latter by the colonists and the progressive settlement of the country by fishermen, traders, foresters, miners, farmers, and artisans in place of nomadic families of fishermen and hunters.

Another powerful theme in Canadian Economic History falls under the category of political struggles between imperial powers as the age of revolution in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries created modern nations. These contests shaped Canada’s early history as the French and English engaged in a protracted struggle for mastery of the New World. Canada became an arena for contesting empires; it also was used periodically as a bargaining chip by agenda-driven negotiators in Europe as a means of sorting out the spoils of wars. The control and exploitation of natural resources played crucial roles in such political architectures.

Canada was acquired by England from France in the middle of the eighteenth century. The French imperial authority fell dramatically to the wayside in the late eighteenth century, and the British North American Empire partially unraveled as the American rebellion became a successful revolution. After the border settlements of 1783 (in the East and centre) and 1846 (in the West), Canada became a clearly defined political entity. After 1783, care must be taken with the name Canada, which did not refer in those times to the whole of British North America. The Province of Canada, created in 1791, contained only the present day provinces of Quebec and Ontario, initially as the separate colonies of Lower and Upper Canada. This period is also marked by the beginning of a proletarian immigration, chiefly from Great Britain and Ireland, which provided the mobile hireable labour that rendered commercial farming and industrial enterprise alike possible. These new immigrants found no place in the province of Lower Canada, excepting in Montreal, because the accessible places in that province were already occupied by a self-contained French population. They therefore passed to Upper Canada, where they found employment with the commercial farmers or in the newly arising industrial enterprises.

The names Lower and Upper Canada were changed after the 1841 Act of Union to Canada East and Canada West. That period witnessed the growth of incipient colonial capitalism and of a class of larger merchantry brought into existence originally by the continuance of the fur trade, and greatly re-enforced by the expansion of foreign commerce. The period is further marked by the gradual emergence of another new class, a class of small craftsmen and of small traders, whose interests laid on the one hand in bringing to an end the self-contained life of the rural population and on the other in opposing the increase in economical and political power of the larger merchantry.

The confederation of the provinces in 1867 added Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and in 1870 the Hudson Bay lands to the west were transferred to the Dominion of Canada. British Columbia and Prince Edward Island joined Canada in 1871 and 1873 respectively and additional provinces were created in the Prairies in 1870 (Manitoba) and in 1905 (Saskatchewan and Alberta). In a 1948 referendum, a narrow majority of Newfoundland citizens voted to join Confederation and, on March 31, 1949, Newfoundland became Canada's tenth and final province. In 2001 it was officially renamed Newfoundland and Labrador. In 1999, Nunavut was created from the eastern portion of the Northwest Territories. Yukon lies in the western portion of The North, while Nunavut is in the east.

The essential nature of the modern Canadian economy was established in the second half of the XIXth century with the development of modern industry and related changes in the financial sector, and the emergence of the business cycle and of the modern urban structure. This period was characterized by the increase in total financial power, partly through the growth of capital in Europe and partly through the growth of credit in Canada. It is also characterized by the development of ways of communication by means of the capital and credit so derived. Canals and railways were constructed; the ports were equipped; and coast, gulf, and interior navigation was improved. Among the consequences of the development of ways of communication was the opening to settlement of the great interior continental plain known as the North West and the migration to this region of farmers and others from the East of Canada, from the United States, from the continent of Europe, and from Great Britain. New and racially diversified communities thus grew up in the West, and these communities devoted themselves predominantly to agricultural production, great numbers of them even to the specialized production of wheat. One consequence of this specialized production was the necessity for importation into the agricultural provinces of the commodities, other than cereals, required for consumption. This demand for commodities reacted upon the Eastern industrial region (complementary regions) and to some extent compensated for the decline in agriculture which the competition of the West induced. The stability of the Eastern financial and industrial system was thereby increased, and the East was enabled to meet the demands of the West for commercial credit.

Pursuing a political evolution in the context of the British Empire, Canadians confronted the challenge of juggling the interests of Britain and the United States. As American power surged continentally in the nineteenth century and then internationally in the following century, Canadians negotiated the tricky currents of a sometimes tempestuous relationship between their former imperial master and their neighbor. As the country sought and then achieved sovereignty in a piecemeal fashion, it attempted to ward off the encroachment of what many Canadians considered to be corrosive: American economic, social, and cultural influences. Even in the early twenty-first century, magazines and Web sites regularly publish poll results that illuminate Canadians’ deeply ambivalent feelings about their neighbour. Many Canadians are open to closer contact with Americans, but just as many fears that the ties between the two nations will lead inexorably to Canada’s demise as an independent nation. Thus, the politically based survival game, while much altered in definition and scope over the centuries, continues to be a central national consideration.

Survival issues can also be clustered under the category of economic themes. A land that was first sought by Europeans for its seemingly inexhaustible fishing stocks and furs, it soon presented enticing possibilities for lumbering and agricultural development. The concentration on the gathering, extracting, and cultivating of staple resources is one of the most persistent economic dynamics in all of Canadian history. After the initial age of exploration and settlement, it expanded to encompass other raw materials such as minerals, petroleum, and natural gas. The staples approach to understanding Canadian history, while still of value, does not fully explain the complexity of economic themes in Canada’s past. The realities of mercantilism, enforced by French and British imperial masters alike, gave way as the British embraced the capitalist (liberal) model in the nineteenth century. The Western world’s grinding passage through the traumatic stages of capital development, with merchants and then industrialists creating transnational economies, meant that Canadians would go through similar phases.

By the twentieth century, accelerated by its participation in two global wars, Canada took its place as one of the world’s leading economic powers. Even as it entered the post industrial era late in the century, Canada would be on the cutting edge of technological innovations and changes. Yet with its dramatically skewed trading patterns, first with Britain and then with the United States, Canada would be forever positioned precariously as an extension of a foreign economic giant. Thus, from their entanglements with French mercantilists in the seventeenth century to their current economic intermeshing with the United States and Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Canadians have attempted to retain control over their economic fate.

Canada’s economy has been intricately linked to the developing capitalistic ideals, organizations, and trading patterns of Western nations in the modern era. Canadians enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world. The country’s current gross domestic product (GDP), the value of all goods and services produced in any given year, is close to $1.5 trillion. Fully two-thirds of that figure is derived from service industries, and almost one-third from the industrial sector. A small fraction of the country’s GDP, about two percent, is created by agriculture. Since the earliest years of European settlement, Canada’s economy has been rooted to the production of raw materials that are in demand outside the country. During the twentieth century the country became more industrial than agricultural in productive capability and outlook, and in the past few decades it has adapted to a post-industrial climate of service and high-tech industries.

The country’s major resources are its minerals, fossil fuels, forest products, and hydroelectric power. Its primary industries, such as wood and paper products and oil and natural gas production, process those resources. In addition, Canadians engage in agriculture and fishing. The country’s leading secondary industries are automobile manufacturing, iron and steel construction, machinery and equipment production, and telecommunications. The coupling of its abundant resources with its manufacturing output makes the country’s economy quite typical in the modern world. While some of its resources are either shrinking rapidly or endangered, such as its fishing stocks along both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, Canada continues to rely on its abilities to market its resources to the world.

With the institution of the Free Trade Agreement with the United States in 1989 and the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993, which included Mexico, and its participation in the G20, an organization comprising some of the world’s strongest economies, Canada has intensified its international trading patterns. Almost three-quarters of Canada’s exports go to the United States, while over half of its imports are from the same country. Canada also trades extensively with Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, South Korea, the Netherlands, China, France, Taiwan, and Mexico. In 2007 its exports, which include automobiles and car parts, pulp and paper, oil and natural gas, timber products, minerals, and aluminum, were valued at $440 billion. The country imports automobiles and car parts, machinery and equipment, electronics, plastics, chemicals, consumer goods, and food. Its imports totaled $390 billion during the same year. While its trade balance is essentially favorable, the country’s dependence on American markets throughout the modern era has created a series of problems that plague Canadians and elude definitive solutions.

Although the country’s economy boomed in the early years of the twenty-first century, it has suffered as a result of the global recession that began in 2008. Canadians face significant problems that are typical in the modern global economy. While it copes with a mammoth debt of over $500 billion, its deficit—the gap between tax resources and expenditures—is relatively modest when compared with other industrialized countries. Unemployment in 2010 hovered around eight percent, certainly a healthy figure when considered in the light of countries whose economies are struggling, and especially when compared with Canada’s decimated economy of the 1930s.

Nonetheless, Canadians continue to be challenged by competition from abroad, an extraordinarily high tax base, shifting markets for their products, international corporate takeovers, and labor issues. In addition, environmental themes in modern Canada reflect problems around the globe. Dwindling resources, a reliance on petroleum products to fuel industry and transportation, pollution that fouls the country’s air, water, and soil, and fierce contests between expansion-minded industries and environmentally conscious organizations are but a few of the important problems that continue to seek workable solutions. Overall, Canada’s economy in the modern era is the envy of much of the rest of the world in that it helps to create a generally favorable environment so that most of its citizens enjoy a measure of well-being.


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