Breaking the Bargain: Public Servants, Ministers, and Parliament
Published: December 2003© 2003
336 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
Ebook - PDF
Canada's machinery of government is out of joint. In Breaking the Bargain, Donald J. Savoie reveals how the traditional deal struck between politicians and career officials that underpins the workings of our national political and administrative process is today being challenged. He argues that the role of bureaucracy within the Canadian political machine has never been properly defined, that the relationship between elected and permanent government officials is increasingly problematic, and that the public service cannot function if it is expected to be both independent of, and subordinate to, elected officials.
While the public service attempts to define its own political sphere, the House of Commons is also in flux: the prime minister and his close advisors wield ever more power, and cabinet no longer occupies the policy ground to which it is entitled. Ministers, who have traditionally been able to develop their own roles, have increasingly lost their autonomy. Federal departmental structures are crumbling, giving way to a new model that eschews boundaries in favour of sharing policy and program space with outsiders. The implications of this functional shift are profound, having a deep impact on how public policies are struck, how government operates, and, ultimately, the capacity for accountability.
'Donald Savoie has once again produced a timely and serious book. In Breaking the Bargain, Savoie has opened up the black box of government by examining the intricacies of the relationship between ministers, Parliament, and the bureaucracy... Savoie writes crisply on the history of the traditional bargain between cabinet ministers and the public service, and he evokes well the era when Canada was recognized for having one of the finest public services in the world...but the Ottawa of the Mandarinate was like Athens on the Rideau compared to the Ottawa of today with its horde of lobbyists, a media gone mad over personal scandal, a cabinet which is more like a focus group than the centre of decision-making, and public servants currying favour rather than pointing out error.'Thomas S. Axworthy, The Globe and Mail
'Savoie makes the compelling case that democracy and its vital institutions are weak and dangerously near collapse. His argument, detailed with academic discipline and journalistic flair in Breaking the Bargain, is that the rules and boundaries that once separated politicians and bureaucrats have been tossed in history's dumpster. Far from some dusty tome, this is dramatic stuff with real-life implications.'James Travers, Toronto Star