“Post-industrial” is a term applied to socioeconomic regions that indicates a move from manufacturing to service industries, and from a focus on the production of physical goods to the production of knowledge or information. It is principally a phenomenon of Western nations, as it implies the prior existence of a fully realized industrial society. The term has been in circulation since the 1970s and the theory of post-industrialism has both its supporters and critics. Whether the post-industrial society involves changes of the magnitude seen in the industrial revolution is questionable, but there is no doubt that, in many Western economies, service industries and knowledge work have grown, while manufacturing and the production of tangible goods have decreased. If one accepts the post-industrial theory, then many parts of the Canadian economy and society could be characterized in this way.
The industrial revolution involved a replacement of jobs in agriculture and skilled trades with those in manufacturing and the processing of raw materials (Krahn, Lowe, & Hughes, 2011, p. 26). The industrial era, beginning in England and Western Europe before moving to North America, was a time in which work was changed by new technologies, such as the steam engine, electricity, and the loom (“Unit 2”). As factories and assembly lines were built to mechanize work and maximize the efficiency of machines and workers, a new class of physical wage-laborers – which Marx would term the proletariat – formed and came to be seen in opposition to management classes and the owners of the means of production – the bourgeoisie and capitalists. By the late nineteenth century, Canada had become an industrial society, which Krahn, Lowe, & Hughes (2011) define as one in which “inanimate sources of energy such as coal or electricity fuel a production system that uses technology to process raw materials” (p. 3).
In the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries, manufacturing, according to many reports, has seen a steep decline in Canada. Automobile plants in Ontario have closed or been moved south of the border and the production of goods in many other industries have been outsourced to developing nations. These trends have left tens of thousands unemployed and in need of reeducation and training in the service industry. Similarly, production from natural resources – forestry, mining, agriculture, and fisheries – has fallen, forcing the East and West coasts in particular to reorient their economies. These diminishing goods- and materials-producing industries have been seen as a sign of the deindustrialization of Canada.
The service industry, on the other hand, has been increasing substantially during this same period. This sector includes retail, transportation, education, finance, science and technical services, healthcare and social services, information and culture, arts and entertainment, and so forth. In 2013, the services-producing sector employed approximately fourteen million Canadians, while the goods-producing sector employed only about four million (“Employment by industry,” 2014). In terms of gross domestic product, services accounted for more than double that of the goods-producing industries (“Gross domestic product,” 2014). On the face of things, then, services are dominating the economic and social makeup of Canada today. White-collar workers are certainly outnumbering blue-collar workers in urban centers (Krahn, Lowe, & Hughes, 2011, p. 26). The value of professional workers has far outstripped that of manual and even skilled labor, leaving weakened unions, lower wages, and fewer young people moving into the manufacturing and resource extraction industries.
This can be seen most clearly in and around urban centers like Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal. These cities primarily produce services – finance, education, medical research, culture, and information technology, for example. It is telling that, in each of these regions, the video games industry has grown exponentially, with major developers and publishers such as Electronic Arts and Ubisoft setting up large studios (Barnes, Hutton, Ley, & Moos, 2011). These cities provide abundant labor with the perfect combination of youth, education, and the artistic and technical skills required for creating digital information products. This is what Richard Florida would call the “creative class” (Krahn, Lowe, & Hughes, 2011, p. 27). These regions have seen similar booms in the film and television industries over the last few decades.
The Canadian government has been investing heavily in education, scientific research, healthcare, and other parts of the knowledge economy in recent years. At the same time, however, it has provided massive subsidies to the manufacturing industries and is relying heavily on oil and gas production in Alberta and other regions for Canada’s economic future. Critics of post-industrialism have argued that Canada remains very much an industrialized nation, with the process of deindustrialization being greatly exaggerated (Corcoran, 2009). This is borne out to some extent by reports from Statistics Canada showing that, despite many challenges, industry has remained relatively stable over the past half century and continues to grow apace with services (Baldwin, & Macdonald, 2009; “Gross domestic product,” 2014). As Maclarkey (1995) concludes, “Canada remains a modern industrial society in which basic manufacturing continues to make a major contribution to the overall economy” (p. 29).
So they question remains: Is Canada a post-industrial society? Yes and no. Parts of the country have shifted almost entirely from the production and sale of goods and raw materials to the production and sale of services and knowledge. On the other hand, the economy is still to some degree dependent on manufacturing, as well as the extraction and processing of the abundant resources the land provides. Though the size of the service industry has outstripped that of the goods-producing industry, they both continue to grow. While twenty years ago, is may have been easier for commentators such as Maclarkey (1995) to proclaim that “Canada has not become a post-industrial, de-industrialized society” (p. 29), affluent urban areas continue to move toward the production of knowledge, with work becoming increasingly service-oriented, mobile, and professionalized. There is no easy answer to this question.
- Baldwin, J. R., & Macdonald, R. (2009). The Canadian manufacturing sector: Adapting to challenges. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.
- Barnes, T., Hutton, T., Ley, D., & Moos, M. (2011). Vancouver: Restructuring narratives in the transnational metropolis. In L. S. Bourne, T. Hutton, R. Shearmur, & J. Simmons (Eds.), Canadian urban regions: Trajectories of growth and change. Toronto: OUP Canada.
- Krahn, H., Lowe, G. S., & Hughes, K. D. (2011). Work, industry, and Canadian society. Toronto: Nelson Education, 2011.
- Maclarkey, R. (1995). Is Canada a post-industrial society? International Review of Modern Sociology, 25(1), 29-42.
Statistics Canada. (2014). Employment by industry. Retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/econ40-eng.htm