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British Columbia's new reality : the politics of neo-conservatism and defensive defiance Shields, John Mackie


British Columbia has long been viewed by social scientists as a laboratory for social and political experimentation. The appearance in the province in the 1980s of what Premier William Bennett termed the 'new reality' and the subsequent Social Credit government's bold new policy directives has led to close scrutiny by the academic community. A debate has begun concerning the nature and meaning of the Social Credit governments' legislative agenda, as well as the character and significance of the forces which have arisen to resist this new political direction. The importance of understanding the changing political climate in British Columbia is evident because, as past practice illustrates, what transpires in B.C. may have bearing upon political developments in other parts of Canada. This dissertation advances the argument that B.C. politics after July 1983 entered a new era. Social Credit governments, as of this date, departed from the practices of the previous Keynesian consensus, targetting the welfare state and its defenders for attack. The provincial government embraced a neo-conservative solution to the crisis of capitalism. Neo-conservatism abandons pan-class resolutions to 'political' problems, adopting instead a radical and confrontational approach. It attempts to redefine the role of the state in society, seeking the transformation of 'political’ questions into private or economic Issues capable of resolution In the market place. The province's July 1983 Budget and the 1987 Bill 19, considered herein, are the two prime examples of this rightward shift. Social Credit's conversion to neo-conservative public policy / has met with vigorous extra-parliamentary opposition which arose in both 1983 and 1987 to resist its formative legislation. While the province has long had a polarized political culture, in this 'new era’ politics has breached the confines of parliamentary-based struggle and asserted itself in the streets and workplaces. This extra-parliamentary struggle has been marked by shifting strategies and tactics and, I argue, can be best understood as 'defensive defiance' to neo-conservatism.

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