Reflections on Resistance to Neoliberalism: Looking Back on Solidarity in 1983 British Columbia

  • Ted Richmond Ryerson University
  • John Shields Ryerson University
Keywords: Defensive defiance, neoliberalism, political strikes, social movement, Solidarity


This article critically examines the 1983 British Columbia (BC) Solidarity experience, a period that marked the first comprehensive neoliberal policy revolution in Canada. It also marked the launch of an extensive movement of extra-parliamentary resistance to neoliberal attempts to undo social and economic gains achieved during the period of Keynesian consensus. The character of this progressive movement of trade unions, social groups and civil society was however limited to “defensive defiance”. A number of questions are posed such as: What was the nature of the resistance to neoliberalism in BC in 1983, and to what extent did it succeed? Leftist analysts hotly debated these questions at the time, and a review in hindsight of their views is instructive. And to what degree have the neoliberal agenda and strategy and tactics changed in the ensuing years? Our review in this article suggests both a remarkable continuity and some fundamental changes. Analysis of these events therefore remains historically relevant to those concerned with pan-Canadian political trends. Cet article fait une analyse critique de l’expérience du mouvement de Solidarity en 1983 en Colombie Britannique, à une période qui a marqué la première révolution néolibérale complète au Canada. Ce moment a également signalé le début d’un mouvement important de résistance extra-parlementaire aux efforts néolibéraux de déconstruction des acquis sociaux et économiques qui ont été gagnés pendant la période du consensus keynésien. Le caractère de ce mouvement rassemblant des syndicats, certains groupes sociaux et des membres de la société civile était cependant limité à une ‘défiance défensive’. Plusieurs questions sont posées, parmi lesquelles: Quelle est la nature de la résistance au néolibéralisme en Colombie Britannique en 1983 et à quel point a-t-elle réussi? Des analystes de gauche ont vivement débattu de ces questions à l’époque et une revue rétrospective de leurs débats est utile. Dans quelle mesure le programme et la stratégie/tactique néolibérale ont-ils changé dans les années qui ont suivi? Notre rétrospective dans cet article suggère à la fois une continuité remarquable et quelques changements fondamentaux. Une analyse de ces évènements reste historiquement pertinente pour ceux et celles qui s’intéressent aux développements politiques au Canada.

Author Biographies

Ted Richmond, Ryerson University
Ted Richmond is instructor in the Chang School at Ryerson University. He has worked in research and policy with universities, government, private foundations and community organizations. Ted has a Master’s degree from OISE, University of Toronto, with a specialisation in statistics and evaluation. Among other publications in academic journals and community-based sources he is co-author/editor of the book Social Inclusion: Canadian Perspectives (with Anver Saloojee), Laidlaw Foundation and Fernwood Publishing, 2005.
John Shields, Ryerson University
John Shields is Professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University. He is currently the Managing Editor of the Journal of International Migration and Integration published out of The Netherlands by Springer. Among his co-authored books are Dismantling a Nation: The Transition to Corporate Rule in Canada, 2nd edition (with Stephen McBride), Fernwood, 1997; and Shrinking the State: Globalization and Public Administration "Reform", Fernwood, 1998 (with Bryan Evans).
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