by Stephen Clarkson and Stepan Wood. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2010. 360pp. Hardcover. $85.00. ISBN: 9780774814881. Paper $32.95. ISBN: 9780774814898.

Reviewed by Andrew Kowalsky, Osgoode Hall Law School of York University. Email: AndrijKowalsky [at] osgoode.yorku.ca.


2010 has been Canada’s global year. Critical events have piqued international interest north of the 49th parallel. In February, Vancouver, British Columbia, hosted the XXI Olympic Winter Games. In June, Toronto and the serene Muskoka town of Huntsville, Ontario, hosted the G8/20 Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy. Opprobrium tainted the summit. In the court of public opinion, its $1.1 billion price tag queried better use of the public purse. In the civil courts, several class-action and individual lawsuits against the state and its agents suggested unconstitutional policing (CBC News 2010). During September, Canada’s bid to garner a seat on the United Nations Security Council failed amidst political controversy (CTVNews.CA 2010). Would Canada lead its G-7 counterparts in economic recovery as predicted in 2010 has sustained curiosity in the nation’s economy throughout the year (Fortier and Covert, 2009).

Canada’s current cynosure is no accident. Making sense of Canadian statecraft in a globalized world can be complicated, though. Canadians live in a society whose ethnic population, geopolitical significance and legal system connect actors and actions in different directions and across many borders. Enter, A PERILOUS IMBALANCE: THE GLOBALIZATION OF CANADIAN LAW AND GOVERNANCE, Stephen Clarkson and Stepan Wood’s book that studies the intersection between contemporary globalization and changing governance structures in the context of Canada.

A PERILOUS IMBALANCE belongs to the Law and Society Series of studies published by UBC Press. This series broaches law and society as mutually constitutive and emphasizes interdisciplinarity. Professor Clarkson of the University of Toronto and Professor Wood of Osgoode Hall Law School of York University have found a good home for their work. Clarkson’s research signature is the interplay of Canada as a peripheral state vis-a-vis a core state on which it is reliant. Wood studies the proliferation of voluntary environmental management system standards and their relationship with government environmental regulation. As such, the theme and content of A PERILOUS IMBALANCE is premised on reciprocating political economy and socio-legal perspectives.

Contemporary globalization is accelerating the intensity and velocity of political and economic linkages throughout the world. As the book shows, directing these forces are powerful states and ubiquitous transnational corporations keen on [*701] globalized governance that prioritizes economic neo-conservatism over social and environmental matters. Analyzing how this agenda is transforming law and governance in Canada and how the Canadian state and its elite are implicated, both as objects and agents, is the book’s substance. In a nutshell, taking stock of specific law and governance developments across four spheres – the international system, the nation-state, the market and civil society – allows the authors to argue that “the globalization of law and governance is characterized by severe, ever-perilous imbalances between economic and social priorities, between the needs of capital and of people, between elites and the general public, between hegemonic expansion and democratic self-determination, between Canada and the United States, and between the global North and South” (p.42). The authors’ thesis, then, sounds a tocsin that the current direction of globalized governance is misaligned.

Perhaps its trite to assert that globalization increasingly shapes how Canadians are governed today. Facilitating economic and trade linkages requires coordination through international law and multilateral arrangements. The push and pull of normalizing optimal conditions is what the authors identify as the rise of supraconstitutionalism on Canadian autonomy and democracy. A supraconstitution “refers to a constitutional order arising at the international level, which at the same time transforms the domestic legal order by embedding an “external” constitution into its domestic one” (p.48). A global supraconstitution represents the first category of governance beyond borders.

In theory, a supraconstitution should legitimize economic, social and environmental rights equally. In practice, states adopting a hard-law, soft-law dichotomy between regimes ensures the former is handmaiden to the latter. Clarkson and Wood reserve chapters 3 and 4 to articulate just how global and regional governance arrangements have superimposed an economic supraconstitution on Canada in terms of principles, rules, rights, and institutions that dwarf its social and environmental commitments. Left unchecked, clear and present danger stalks democratic governance for Canada and other nations wedded to economic neo-conservatism. Dubious precedent is set when majoritarian politics are determined in the interests of the economically powered and privileged few.

Emerging interstate economic regimes represent only one aspect of global governance. Part 2 of A PERILOUS IMBALANCE explores the role of nation states and non-state actors and institutions as separate categories of governance beyond borders. Neoconservative economies impose a mantra about how participating nation states will govern themselves. Paradoxes in contemporary governance are subtle reminders that transnational governance reproduces itself at the national level with often contradictory outcomes. Chapter 6 documents the transformation of the Keynesian Canadian state as a springboard for advocating that state deregulation is a sign of “a globalization of the state” rather than retreat (p.187). Canada has re-invigorated itself in areas of immigration and anti-terrorism, counterpoised by devolution in economic market regulation and social [*702] program spending. These choices leave Canadian governments with a question of legacy. Left for observation will be whether Ottawa and its provinces will steer the course of neo-conservative politics or temper its excesses by supporting countervailing non-state, populist governance initiatives and institutions upholding salutary causes.

There remains another variable in contemporary governance beyond the state. Chapter 7 identifies market actors and international organizations, both from business and civil society, as an emergent source of governance capacity, albeit private. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the evidence shows that governance arrangements designed for and by transnational business generally retrench neo-conservative norms. Civil society groups also exert some element of non-state governance authority over spheres of interest with the potential of expanding their base and creating alternatives to existing models of globalized governance (p.223). A third model sees hybrid governance pacts between business and civil society. Different non-state entities vying for authority within their domains creates a messy governance landscape. If, as Clarkson and Wood note that “state and non-state governance are thoroughly interwoven” (p.273), then the state has an important role to play as mediator of non-state agency.

In Chapter 8, Clarkson and Wood’s prescription for just and sustainable governance calls for correcting imbalances in globalized governance by “embracing a pluralist perspective that cultivates alternative forms of progressive governance and law to operate alongside those of the state, the interstate system, and the market” (p.269). As we know today the political is the economy, so the authors’ hortatory guidance is meaningful, relevant and persuasive. Regarding Canada: “These imbalances can be improved, and perhaps ultimately corrected, by strengthening non-economic forms of global governance, by challenging and revising the supraconstitution – in particular NAFTA’s Chapter 11 investor-state arbitration powers, and by disciplining corporate greed” (p.283). There will be readers who could not agree any more with the recommendation.
In A PERILOUS IMBALANCE Clarkson and Wood have crafted a sophisticated and well-researched piece that articulates how important Canadian actors and actions influence, and are influenced by, global governance. An effective argument is one that is well developed, and this book deserves attention for its meticulous use of relevant examples in support thereof. Given that the research data report on developments that cut across political science, policy studies, regulation of international trade and political economy fields, pertinent chapters of the book can be referenced with other works, including teaching materials, regarding contemporary governance in Canada. This will appeal to an eclectic readership of scholars and students.

We live in a world of growing crises: energy, climate and economic. With the worst economic climate since the Great Depression now lightening and the world’s industrialized economies rebounding, there is no better time to address inequities in governance that favour economic over social concerns, lest we risk encouraging and repeating [*703] unsustainable patterns. Timing alone makes A PERILOUS IMBALANCE an incredibly current and invaluable addition to the Law and Society Series and libraries throughout North America and afar.

CBC News. (2010, September 2.) G20 class-action lawsuit seeks $115M. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/toronto/story/2010/09/02/g20-class-action-lawsuit.html.

CTVNEWS.CA (2010, November 9.) Tories blame Ignatieff for losing bid for UN seat.. Retrieved from: http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/Canada/20101012/security-council-vote-101210/

Fortier, J. and K. Covert. (2009, December 14.) Canada to lead G7 in 2010 recovery: RBC. Financial Post. Retrieved from: http://www.canada.com/business/Canada+lead+2010+recovery/2338389/story.html.

© Copyright 2010 by the author, Andrew Kowalsky.