Minority governments and senior public servants – Canadian Government Executive

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May 7, 2012

Minority governments and senior public servants

 

Quote of the week

politicians provide the energy generated by ideology, regional affiliations and pressure groups, while bureaucrats contribute technical and policymaking knowledge, their experience and lessons learnt from the past.

 Jacques Bourgault

Editor’s Corner

Jacques Bourgault is a member of the political science department at UQAM and a respected scholar of Canadian politics. The academic journal Commonwealth & Comparative Politics recently published an article of his called Minority government and senior government officials: the case of the Canadian federal government.

Bourgault looks at the tradition of minority governments and deputy heads. He notes that when politicians come to power they often tend to view the senior officials inherited from the previous government with suspicion, but adds that a stable senior civil service enables an incoming government to reduce the likelihood of error, learn the ropes with a safety net beneath it, send a signal of continuity to civil servants and the civil service’s clients, avoid the reorganizational delays caused by changing horses and forestall criticism from the media and the opposition.

Bourgault notes that with the exception of the Diefenbaker government of 1957, minority governments have replaced a fairly large proportion of DMs in the first six months. This is particularly true of new minority governments.

His research shows that the Harper government replaced 38 percent of the deputy minister cadre a year after the 2006 election, and 47 percent a year after the 2008 one.

Bourgault notes that replacements can be either strategic or agenda-driven, and suggests that in general strategic departments and agencies do in fact tend to see replacements at the top.

In a survey, Bourgault asked deputy heads their views about the relations between DMs and a minority government.

Deputy heads indicated four things: it was difficult to develop a trusting relationships with ministers; there was a sense that public policy was short-term; there was risk-aversion in decision-making; and there was increased central monitoring and control.

 

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