Session 2: Neoliberalism and Beyond

You can watch a recording of the session here.

In this session we unpacked the neoliberal story. We looked at the impact of the neoliberal paradigm on politics, economics and policy in BC today - how it has shaped the environment, our economy and its institutions, and how it has resulted in so many of the problems we see today.  (What is Wrong with Signature Neoliberal Policies?)

We were joined by Dr Justin Leifso from the University of Victoria who teaches classes about neoliberalism. He talked about how neoliberalism had shaped his own life, after his family lost their farm in Saskatchewan in the 1980s.

He explained that the ideas of neoliberalism had been around for half a century before neoliberalism replaced Keynesianism as the economic/political paradigm of choice, and the circumstances under which that happened (The Emergence of Neoliberalism as the dominant economic and political paradigm). How neoliberal policies were gradually introduced through the 1980s and 90s and really hit their peak in the mid 1990s.

With the collapse in 2008, there was no new story waiting in the wings to take hold. However, at that point the fabric of neoliberalism came unstuck, and there has been a slow process of change, but neoliberal thinking still prevails. Dr Leifso is concerned that some of the alternatives that have emerged are anti- democratic, but we are stumbling from solution to solution. He thinks that there will not be a tidal wave of change, but that some parts of neoliberalism will survive and some won’t.

We went on to contrast neoliberalism with indigenous ways of thinking. Adam pointed out that they are just about polar opposites, and that the current paradigm is getting in the way of reconciliation. He encouraged us to read Jody Wilson-Raybould’s new book, True Reconciliation.

He highlighted several key elements of indigenous cultures that contrast sharply with neoliberalism:

  • Seven Generations - three back, the current one and three forward. Neoliberalism abandons all thought of the next 3 generations.
  • Wealth redistribution through the Potlatch
  • Leaving the place better than we found it
  • Only taking what we need
  • Humans are equals with mammals, trees, plants, fish, bugs etc. We are part of the ecosystem.

Dr Leifso pointed out that there is nothing natural or inevitable about neoliberalism, it is a human made construct.  People seem to be uncomfortable with neoliberalism and change is needed.

You can follow Dr Leifso and his work on Twitter, @JustinLeifso, at and on his UVIC page 


  • The Fraser Institute, The Essential Hayek . 2014
  • New Economics Foundation Podcast“ Beginner’s Guide to Neoliberalism” .
  • Manfred B. Steger & Ravi K. Roy, Neoliberalism - A Very Short Introduction  2021
  • Jason Hickel, The Divide: Global Inequality from Conquest to Free Markets  2017
  • The Gray Area with Sean Illing Apple Podcast “Neoliberalism and its discontents” 
  • Jody Wilson Raybould, True Reconciliation: How to be a force for change. 2022

The “Take-Aways” - a summary of key points from breakout groups and chat

Comments from breakout groups fell into 3 main categories;

  • Critique of neoliberalism:
    • It is leading to class conflict
    • It is destroying society and the environment
    • Perverted extreme version of liberalism that is pushing the planet in to overshoot
    • People are feeling a void due to loss of community
    • We are adapting the planet to us rather than us adapting to the planet
    • We may be materially better off, but we are worse off in term of the destruction of the planet.
    • Fossil fuels have enabled the expansion of the economy and are destroying  the planet.
    • You can’t tweak neoliberalism to solve our problems when it is maladapted to do so.
    • Neoliberalism invites destructive competition.
  • Barriers to Shifting the Narrative
    • Need to address the education deficit so people understand economics and politics
    • People need the language/vocabulary to be able to understand neoliberalism, challenge it and talk about it
    • Economics and business students are all taught the same neoclassical economic paradigm and so management perpetuates the neoliberal myth.
    • People’s lifestyle expectations.
    • People working long hours and not having the time to get engaged.
    • Inability to realise that the planet is finite
    • Hope is not getting very far on the doorstep. Hope is a luxury and people need relief
    • Need pragmatic solutions not based on individuals
  • Ways forward
    • Youth is tuned into this and are more enlightened than older generations
    • Lower the voting age (email the Premier)
    • Learn from Green’s successes in other jurisdictions
    • Ecological wisdom differentiates Greens from the NDP
    • Need public spaces and public goods
    • Allocate budget to support better health care, protect forests and the environment 
    • Strengthen community and cooperation
    • Stop trying to out-compete.
    • Use the metaphor of drug addiction in communications.

Quotes from the chat:

  • Comment
    • Canadians have to “sacrifice” a lot to give up on their ”empire benefit”.


  • “If we were a community that shared what we have, i.e. secure in a commitment to each other, would that be a sacrifice?”
  • “Biodiversity collapse, intergenerational inequality and the climate crisis are just symptoms of the disease of planetary OVERSHOOT. Since the ’70-‘80s, Canada is among the top per capita leaders among the 20+ countries championing this excessive consumption greed machine.”
  • “Neoliberalism is the economic expression of coloniality. It is its yet furthest manifestation. To the question, “How can Indigenous worldviews and neoliberalism find room for each other?” Neoliberalism must be abolished. Fully. Colonization, now in planetary scope, must be ended. This end comes about through the reclamation and practicing of ancient ways of being  and knowing, ways that preexist and resist the colonial-capitalist contemporary world-order. Practicing the emancipatory world (decolonial futurity) into being anew, through the shatters of the fated old.”
  • “Students in BC are often surprised that university students in other 'rich' countries do not pay tuition. That societies in other countries/cultures treasure a well educated citizenry enough that they want to support tertiary education through taxes!”
  • “People in crisis are vulnerable and desperate. Neoliberalism was branded as a solution but it was the fuel.”
  • “I would characterize neo-liberalism as a 'system of oppression'”
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