Knotty Tales: Canadian Staples and Post-Staples Forest Policy Narratives in an Era of Transition from Extractive to ‘Attractive’ Industries

Jocelyn Thorpe, L. Anders Sandberg


Political economists have typically understood the forest sector as part of the Canadian staples economy: early European settlers used forests for fuel, farming and construction purposes, and industry began later to cut raw timber and manufacture pulp and paper for export. According to the staples narrative, introduced by William Mackintosh and elaborated by Harold Innis, in order to settle the land and extract its resources, including forest products, colonists and settlers built an entire society and economy “organized around the labour force, technological regime, legal order, and financial system needed to serve the ends of resource extraction”. Building upon Innis’ work, a nationalist political economy school has criticized the domination of the Canadian resource economy by foreign capital, markets and technology, and advocated a ‘made-in-Canada’ industrial strategy. Studies on the forest sector have been especially prominent in probing the contingencies, specificities, and possibilities of building a forest policy that is more socially equitable, more value-added oriented, and more integrated into the national economy. More recently, however, many observers in the political economy and policy community tradition have noted a shift from an “extractive to an attractive model of development” within the forest sector, or what Hutton calls the “staples in decline syndrome”. Though he concedes that it is possible to overstate the staples in decline syndrome, he maintains that “we may be at the advent of a ‘post-staples’ state, in which resource extraction is essentially a residual of the national economic structure, a vestige of an historical development which sustained many Canadian regions”. In order to evaluate the extent to which Hutton’s observations ring true, this chapter grapples with divergent methods of approaching and analysing forestry.


Forests, Resources, Canada

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@Canadian Political Science Review (CPSR). ISSN 1911-4125