toy car on the world map

The intersection of private enterprise and the law in the Canadian business history, the Canadian auto industry, and in Canada’s broader postwar political economy


Written by Dimitry Anastakis, LR Wilson/RJ Currie Chair in Canadian Business History University of Toronto, Department of History and Rotman School of Management and Affiliated Researcher, Desautels Centre

As an affiliated researcher of the Desautels Centre, I appreciate the opportunity to share how my work speaks to the intersection of private enterprise and the law in Canada, the Centre’s guiding principle.  I do so as a business historian of Canada, one who studies different aspects of the interaction of business and the state, another way of framing private enterprise and the law.  I also do so through the lens of political economy, one that reflects my approach as an historical materialist, and which necessarily addresses the dynamic nature of capital and legal regimes.  I have been engaged in three major areas of research and publishing over the last three decades.  

I study the automobile and its industry’s history, and automobility’s ongoing twenty-first century evolution, particularly from a Canadian perspective.  There has likely been no sharper collision between private enterprise and the law in recent history than that of humanity’s use of the car, and its tremendous impact on society and ordinary people.  I have published a number of books, collections, and articles that explore aspects of automobility, especially the relationship between multinational automobile firms and the state in national, continental, and global contexts.  

My most recent book, Dream Car: Malcolm Bricklin’s Fantastic SV-1, and the End of Industrial Modernity (Toronto: UTP, 2024), explores the infamous failure of a state-owned auto firm in early 1970s New Brunswick.  Written as an “open road” where chapters can be read in any order, I use the SV1 to “see the world like a car” and drive across a range of postwar North American issues from the perspective of automobility, including technology, entrepreneurship, risk, politics, sex, and business. The Bricklin incident resulted in failure and bankruptcy, but has lessons about both enterprise—firms and entrepreneurship –and the state and its legislators.  It includes a playlist of car music and tunes from the Bricklin musical.  Another book is The North American Auto Industry since NAFTA (Toronto: UTP, 2024), which examines the seismic changes the industry since the 1990s from a range of interdisciplinary issues and continental perspectives.

A second major theme of research is a broader examination of postwar Canada’s political and economic development since 1945, focused on neoliberalism.  The Reluctant Neoliberals: Business, Free Trade, and Politics, 1945-2020 is funded by the Deindustrialization and the Politics of Our Time (DePOT) network, and also the Jackman Humanities Institute.  The “Big Book of Canadian Neoliberalism,” as I like to think about the project, examines Canada’s surprisingly central place in neoliberalism’s North American (and global) history, with a focus on trade, another tectonic intersection point of between enterprise and legal regimes.  Part of this work developed from collections such as Smart Globalization: The Canadian Business and Economic History Experience (UTP: 2014).

            I also study and promote business history in Canada from number of perspectives.  Publications include the collection Montreal’s Square Mile: The Making and Transformation of a Colonial Metropole (Toronto: UTP, 2024), biographies in the Dictionary of Canadian Biographyencyclopedia entries, and I edit a series, Themes in Business and Society.  I also chair the Canadian Business History Association, dedicated to advancing the study of business history in Canada, broadly, and that awards the Desautels Research Fund in Private Enterprise, History & Law, to which I encourage applications!  We will be having an academic conference in Banff in September 2024, “Climate and Business/The Business Climate”.   

            All three of these research areas examine aspects of the historical interaction of private enterprise and the law from the micro to the macro level, from individual entrepreneurs to firms to industries to whole economies, and from specific actions to pieces of legislation to entire legal and governance regimes.  As a Canadian historian of business, it is quite impossible to avoid doing so.

The views and opinions expressed in the blogs and case reporter are the views of their authors, and do not represent the views of the Desautels Centre for Private Enterprise and the Law, the Faculty of Law, or the University of Manitoba. Academic Members of the University of Manitoba are entitled to academic freedom in the context of a respectful working and learning environment.