Rights, Freedoms and Market Power: Canada's Charter of Rights and the New Era of Global Competition

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Source Publication

The New Era of Global Competition: State Policy and Market Power. Montréal : McGill-Queen's University Press, 1991.


Canada. Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; Free trade; Capitalism--Political aspects


"At first glance, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms seems rather out of place in the new era of global competition. The other phenomena of the new era, such as the Canada-us free trade agreement, subject us to the despotism of radically unequal market power, while the Charter seems to protect us from such things by guaranteeing democracy, equality, and our basic human rights. So the Charter is usually regarded as a kind of exception to the conservative trend of the times. But the Charter and the free trade movement have a lot more in common than is generally understood. I want to argue that they are both aspects of the same historical development: the contraction of the state in favour of the market place and the substitution of economic imperatives for more democratic ones. They each represent the triumph of the regulatory principle of "one dollar, one vote" over that of "one person, one vote." In other words, the "freedom" in free trade and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is precisely the same: subjection to the unequal power of the market place.

Any brief treatment of this enormous and complicated subject must be very selective and to some extent schematic. 1 I will try to develop my thesis by examining: the contribution the Charter made to the victory of the free trade forces in the general federal election of 1988; the link between North American integration and the reception of this American-style legalization of government into Canada; the essential similarity between the politico-economic causes of the deregulation movement and the Charter; and finally, the contributions made by the Charter to the quest by business for freedom from popular control. I will then consider several possible counter-examples to the thesis, namely the "due process" limitations the Charter imposes on state repression and the Charter's egalitarian provisions, to show that what appear as exceptions are actually instances of the essential sameness of the deregulation movement and the Charter."