Social Sciences

  • The Politics of Policymaking in Canada

    The Public Servant’s Guide to Government in Canada, written by Alex Marland and Jared J. Wesley, is a concise primer on the inner workings of government in Canada. As former public servants themselves, these authors know the difficulties in understanding how modern government operates, and how hard it can be to find your place within it. In this post, Jared J. Wesley discusses his own experience of working as a public servant, and how The Public Servant’s Guide to Government in Canada came to fruition.


    The longest day of my public servant career featured a layover in the Regina airport.  At a national meeting of government executives, I had spent the better part of the afternoon advising a provincial government minister against appearing before a House of Commons parliamentary committee to support a piece of federal legislation.  “Think of the profile it would give us,” he told his political chief of staff.  “And think of the road trip,” replied the staffer.  “With respect,” I interrupted, “it’s not customary for provincial ministers to testify in parliamentary hearings.  In fact,” I frantically consulted my notes, “Alberta has only sent one minister before a federal committee in the past twenty years.  And you’d need approval from the Premier’s Office.” “We’re anything but customary,” I could read on the minister’s face. “It actually lowers your status,” I went on.  “You should engage your federal counterparts on a government to government basis.  It preserves your authority – your government’s authority – as opposed to being treated like just another federal stakeholder.”

    The last line felt almost rehearsed; I had written a briefing note on it just a day before.  I was told to stand down, as the minister placed a call to the Premier’s Office.  I placed a call of my own, to my executive director.  Within a few hours, the Ottawa trip had been shelved.  I found that out while sitting in the Regina airport, listening to the minister tell insensitive jokes to his staff within earshot of a dozen other travellers.  I tried my best to ignore it, and pretended to be on my phone to avoid eye contact. The situation worsened when we arrived back in Calgary to find that our connecting flight to Edmonton had been canceled due to a blizzard.  While I was on my blackberry booking a hotel for the night, the minister grabbed my phone.  He told me that taxpayers wouldn’t stand for it, and ushered me into a waiting minivan he’d rented.  Over the course of the five-hour, stormy, midnight drive, he regaled us with even more offensive commentary, mostly directed at his political opponents.  I arrived home in time to change clothes for work.  I didn’t tell anyone the story until the minister left office years later, and even then, concealed his name and framed it as a cautionary tale.

    At the time, I had spent my entire adult life studying politics. I’d written a few books and a few more journal articles about party politics and policymaking. But none of it had prepared me for the day-to-day interactions like those just described. While they may not have the privilege of working directly with elected officials, new public servants confront similar knowledge gaps in their first weeks on the job. If they are like me, they quickly realize that government is more complex, yet somehow more informal, than their textbooks and professors described. While useful, theories of democracy, frameworks of public administration, and historical knowledge fit uneasily with the fast-paced, evolving nature of public service in Canada. Core concepts like accountability take on entirely new meanings. Beyond the public sector bargain that dictates you must provide “fearless advice and loyal implementation,” bureaucrats realize they have multiple responsibilities, are accountable to a whole host of people, and are subject to a wide range of forces seldom covered in assigned readings and seminar discussions. Relationships with elected officials, supervisors, deputy ministers, colleagues in other organizations, friends and family, and the general public are all at play in a public servant’s work. Fortunately, ethical dilemmas like the ones I encountered are few and far between. Yet navigating these various modes of accountability can be challenging nonetheless.

    As former public servants, Alex Marland and I know this first-hand.  Learning new subject matter can be difficult enough when you join a new department or unit.  On-the-job training seldom covers the “small-p politics” involved in public service work, leaving you to read between the lines on various organization charts to figure out where you fit into the broader government structure.  This can be vexing for interns and new public servants, and even some long-time bureaucrats lack a firm understanding of how government actually works.  That is why we wrote The Public Servant’s Guide to Government in Canada.

    At around 100 pages, it is a short, practical primer about how modern government operates. The book offers an insider’s perspective on how public service sits at the nexus of theory and practice, politics and professionalism. It is written in an accessible style suitable for anyone seeking to learn more about the Canadian system of government. The book contains a summary of core concepts about government and working in the public service. In it, we explain the linkages between politics, public administration, and public policy, dispelling many myths about how public servants should remain a-political in their day-to-day work. For new or would-be public servants, the Guide offers advice about life in public administration – what to expect and what to do to reach your full potential. We have included tips from bureaucratic colleagues for improving your performance and carving your career path.

    The Guide wouldn’t have provided letter-for-letter advice on how to deal with the minister in the Regina airport, or on that snowy ride home to Edmonton.  But it would have given me a better sense of my own role in the situation.  If you are looking for a concise overview about government in Canada, and your place within it, The Public Servant’s Guide to Government in Canada is written for you.


    If you want to find out more about The Public Servant's Guide to Government in Canada, click here to view the table of contents and read an exclusive excerpt from the book.


    Jared J. Wesley is a pracademic—a practicing political scientist and former public servant—whose career path to the University of Alberta’s Department of Political Science has included senior management positions in provincial public services. While in the bureaucracy, he gained valuable experience in the development of public policy and intergovernmental strategy. He also served as Director of Learning and Development, establishing policies and curriculum to train provincial public servants. As an Associate Professor of Political Science, he studies and teaches the politics of bureaucracy and the bureaucracy of politics.

    Alex Marland is a professor of political science at Memorial University in St. John’s and a former public servant in the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. Alex’s interest in the practical side of governance is grounded in his discreet research interviews with politicians, political staff, and public servants. His book Brand Command: Canadian Politics and Democracy in the Age of Message Control (UBC Press 2016) won the Donner Prize for Best Public Policy Book by a Canadian.

  • The Sentence: The Transformative Power of Storytelling in Diagnosis

    In the diagnostic moment on story is told and another one is triggered. Hon. John Collier. No. 177. Royal Academy and Paris salon. Credit: Wellcome Collection.

    Imagine the following scene. You’ve had some symptoms that worried you. You’ve gone to the doctor who agreed that a diagnostic work-up was in order. You’ve had an X-ray, maybe a scan, and some blood work run. The results are back, and you are in the doctor’s office, awaiting the verdict. On the one hand, you’re thinking “It’s probably nothing. I’ve just been overworked recently.” On the other, you are asking yourself, “Suppose it’s something serious?”

    We have probably all rehearsed this kind of scene in our heads. What would we do/say/think/feel if the doctor were to say “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you have [name of dire diagnosis].” We might have a list of activities to tick off, people with whom to reconcile, places or things to do or see.  Just getting a diagnosis ends up dividing as Suzanne Fleischman wrote: “a life into ‘before’ and ‘after,’ …[a division]… henceforth superimposed onto every rewrite of the individual’s life story.” She wrote this after her own diagnosis of what was to be a fatal leukemia.

    Imagining this story is not hard, if we haven’t experienced or witnessed it before, because the diagnosis is so common a device in stories of all kinds. Diagnosis is, in itself, a story. It links together a set of phenomena in a usually linear manner, it generates an explanation, a plot line, and a denouement, in which a knotted bundle of threads gets untangled.  It is a trope, or a motif. The stories of diagnosis are told in a particular tone, with an expectation of a particular kind of outcome. This is why we can imagine the diagnostic scene. We’ve seen in before in many other guises: a sombre newspaper report about a celebrity learning about an unexpected cancer, a book in which the protagonist must wrestle with the knowledge of his newly-announced disease, a film in which the main character watches her life wind down after learning she has an early-onset dementia. The picture accompanying this post barely needs a caption. We can recognize this scene.

    Thinking about diagnosis as a story gives us opportunities. Any story can be retold, or reframed. There are many narrative templates, and not all are linked to devastating change.  Importantly, thinking of diagnosis as a story, we have an opportunity to release ourselves from the dominating grip of diagnosis-as-verdict, diagnosis-as-moment-of-truth.

    How about we move away from the contemporary tendency of narrative constructions, be they about diagnosis or something else, to focus on personal change. It is a tendency that my friend and novelist Damien Wilkins laments, as it “leaves out other ways of being in the world.” It’s not that transformation stories don’t have their place, but there are other ways of telling stories.  Save the powerful about-turns for when they matter, he argues: “the notion of personal change – change which is improving – is both disreputable and unmoveable, tarnished and resolute, art’s cheapest trick and its most generous gift.” [i]

    Narratives don’t always have to promise change.  If we hearken back to the Greeks, the dominant narrative form focused on observing what happened to people as they endured trials. The trials were administered by fate, and rather than transforming the characters, they revealed them. They ride on, and through, the chaos of life, with only fate as immovable.  In contrast to the change narrative (like the moment the doctor is going to tell us the name of some dreaded malady), it is not a moment where a power structure is revealed. The narrative affirms, rather than changes the character.

    Diagnosis: Truths and Tales focuses on revealing the prevalence of the change narrative to which diagnosis clings, highlighting its transformative power, and suggesting a re-narration that will make the experience of illness something easier to bear.


    [i] Damien Wilkins, "No Hugging, Some Learning: Writing and Personal Change," in The Fuse Box: Essays on Writing from Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters, ed.  Emily Perkins and Chris Price (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2017).


    Annemarie Goldstein Jutel is Professor of Health at Victoria University of Wellington.

  • Toronto: A City of Neighbourhoods

    In today's stop on the University Press Week Blog Tour (November 12-17), our Director of Sales and Marketing, Jane Kelly, discusses the many neighbourhoods that constitute and define the city of Toronto, and how UTP publishes for and about those neighbourhoods as part of its mission. An excellent contribution for today's theme of #TurnItUP: The Neighbourhood.

    By Jane Kelly

    Earlier this year the UTP Book Publishing group moved to a new location in Toronto. After almost 30 years in the same office, we moved to a brand new high tech open concept office space in downtown Toronto. As a new employee and a suburbanite, this was my first time working downtown and this move gave me the opportunity to explore and learn more about the city.

    Toronto is known by many different nicknames: The Big Smoke, T Dot, The Six. It is the biggest city in Canada and is the financial centre of Canada. However, it is not a cosmopolitan city, it is a city of neighbourhoods. The Toronto Star recently published a listing of 170 unique neighbourhoods identified by their geographic boundaries, history, or unique population. A ten-minute walk from our new office location can take you to Yorkville, the Kensington Market, the Annex, or the financial district. Walk a little more and you can tour the entertainment district, Little Italy, or the Distillery District.

    UTP recognizes these diverse neighbourhoods by publishing titles that celebrate the cultures, people, and politics of Toronto’s neighbourhoods. Toronto Iberic and Toronto Italian Studies Series give a voice to scholarship and research for these populations. Individual books like Kensington Market by Na Li focus exclusively on well-known Toronto neighbourhoods. UTP also publishes many books focused on important issues that affect individuals in these neighbourhoods like racism, poverty, the environment, and education. Our recent publication, Queering Urban Justice, examines how to map space in ways that address very real histories of displacement and erasure.

    As I discover Toronto, I also learn more about the thousands of books from the UTP list. After a short 9 months with the book publishing team, I am so impressed with my coworkers’ dedication to the mission of the organization “to publish exemplary works of scholarship, and to disseminate knowledge widely for the benefit of society.”

    In Canada, research shows that loneliness is reaching epidemic levels and one in five people suffer from loneliness, the effects of which can be as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Social media technology designed to bring people together could be contributing to increased feelings of loneliness. People need to connect with others and find a community. Perhaps by giving a voice to Toronto neighbourhoods, UTP can help people be more connected.

    To continue on Day Three of the University Press Week Blog Tour, check out posts by these other fine university presses:

    University of Manitoba Press
    Blog: https://uofmpress.ca/blog
    Twitter: @umanitobapress

    Syracuse University Press
    Blog: https://syracusepress.wordpress.com/
    Twitter: @SUPress

    Fordham University Press
    Blog: www.fordhampress.com/blog
    Twitter: @FordhamPress

    Northwestern University Press
    Blog: https://incidentalnoyes.com/
    Twitter: @northwesternUP

    University Press of Mississippi
    Blog: http://upmississippi.blogspot.com/
    Twitter: @upmiss

    Temple University Press
    Blog: https://templepress.wordpress.com/
    Twitter: @TempleUnivPress

    University of Alberta Press
    Blog: https://holeinthebucket.wordpress.com/
    Twitter: @UAlbertaPress

    University of Texas Press
    Blog: http://utpressnews.blogspot.com
    Twitter: @UTexasPress

    University of Washington Press
    Blog: https://uwpressblog.com/
    Twitter: @UWAPress

    Johns Hopkins University Press
    Blog: https://www.press.jhu.edu/news/blog
    Twitter: @JHUPress

    University of Illinois Press
    Blog: https://www.press.uillinois.edu/wordpress/
    Twitter: @IllinoisPress

    Rutgers University Press
    Blog: https://www.rutgersuniversitypress.org/category/news/
    Twitter: @RutgersUPress

    Oregon State University Press
    Blog: http://osupress.oregonstate.edu/blog
    Twitter: @OSUPress

    Columbia University Press
    Blog: cupblog.org
    Twitter: @ColumbiaUP

    University of Georgia Press
    Blog: ugapress.wordpress.com
    Twitter: @UGAPress

  • The Heritage Book Project: Selected Politics Books to Stand the Test of Time

    In this contribution to the University Press Week Blog Tour (November 12-17), Harriet Kim provides a selection of interesting politics titles that she recently brought back into print as part of UTP's Heritage Book Project. For today's theme of #TurnItUP: Politics, Harriet provides some useful historical perspective. 

    By Harriet Kim

    University of Toronto Press carries a rich history in the breadth and depth of scholarly, reference, and general interest books published since our founding in 1901. Expanding on our tradition of advancing knowledge, the Heritage Book Project aims to increase access to our books by bringing out-of-print titles back into circulation as ebooks and as print-on-demand paperbacks. Titles date from 1928 to 2011 and range in categories from health sciences and medicine to philosophy, anthropology, politics, mathematics, and literature. We are making these important heritage resources available for a new generation of readers and learners to discover and to continue outreach to academic communities in their engagement of critical and innovative scholarship.

    With all the different titles that have gone through the Heritage Book Project process, working on this series has been a unique learning process for me. As I try to put into words the scope of the Heritage Book Project, I reflect about what it means to bring back books that matter. Many of the books themselves are old (again, some are as old as 1928!) and/or the subject matter studies a time period that feels removed or irrelevant to us today. However, it is notable that some of the titles feel like they could have been written in today’s political climate, which tells me how necessary it is to learn from what has happened in the past to inform us of what is happening now and of how to move forward.

    If you are interested in reading some politics books that seem to stand the test of time, here is a round-up of titles that might be of interest:

    Is God a Racist?: The Right Wing in Canada (1989), by Stanley Barrett, examines the rise of right-wing extremism in Canada.

    Who Owns Domestic Abuse?: The Local Politics of a Social Problem (2000), by Ruth M. Mann, “is a case study of community activism around domestic violence against women and children in a small-town Southern Ontario municipality… and is relevant to social theory and social policy.”

    Not This Time: Canadians, Public Policy, and the Marijuana Question, 1961-1975 (2006),
    by Marcel Martel, “explores recreational use of marijuana in the 1960s and its emergence as a topic of social debate.”

    In Saturday's Child: Memoirs of Canada's First Female Cabinet Minister (1995), Ellen Louks Fairclough, the first woman in Canada to become a federal cabinet minister, tells her story.

    Canadian Family Policies: Cross-National Comparisons (1995), by Maureen Baker, explores Canada’s family policies in an international context.

    The Quest for Justice: Aboriginal Peoples and Aboriginal Rights (1985), edited by Menno Boldt and J. Anthony Long, is a “collection of many voices from representatives of the aboriginal people’s organizations, of governments, and of a variety of academic disciplines. The issues of aboriginal rights and of what these rights mean in terms of land and sovereignty has become increasingly important on the Canadian political agenda.”

    The magnitude of such a project is not lost on me – from the figurative weight of UTP’s history represented in this series to the literal weight of all the books that are sent for scanning! Since 2014, we have brought nearly 1,000 titles back into circulation and over 1,600 titles will end up in the Heritage Project. It has been and continues to be a tremendous effort subject to continuously changing and improving scanning and printing technology. More importantly, it has been an effort supported by many people at University of Toronto Press, University of Toronto libraries, and the Toronto Reference Library.

    Politics can be a challenging conversation to broach and it can be hard to know where to start. Thoughtful and interesting books can be a start to engage in conversations with peers, academics, librarians, and many others. I hope these heritage titles will be a helpful resource for you, too.

    To continue on Day Two of the University Press Week Blog Tour, check out posts by these other fine university presses:

    University of Chicago Press
    Blog: http://pressblog.uchicago.edu
    Twitter: @UChicagoPress

    Georgetown University Press
    Blog: georgetownuniversitypress.tumblr.com
    Twitter: @GUPress

    Teachers College Press
    Blog: https://www.tcpress.com/blog/
    Twitter: @TCPress

    University of Wisconsin Press
    Blog: https://uwpress.wisc.edu/blog/
    Twitter: @UWiscPress

    University of Virginia Press
    Blog: https://www.upress.virginia.edu/blog
    Twitter: @uvapress

    Rutgers University Press
    Blog: https://www.rutgersuniversitypress.org/category/news/
    Twitter: @RutgersUPress

    UBC Press
    Blog: ubcpress.ca/news
    Twitter: @UBCPress

    LSU Press
    Blog: https://blog.lsupress.org/
    Twitter: @lsupress

    University Press of Kansas
    Blog: kansaspress.ku.edu/
    Twitter: @Kansas_Press

    University of Georgia Press
    Blog: ugapress.wordpress.com
    Twitter: @UGAPress

  • New Book Broadens the Lens for Teaching About Gendered Violence

    With violence against women increasingly under the spotlight, we invited authors Chris Bruckert and Tuulia Law to discuss their new book, Women and Gendered Violence in Canada: An Intersectional Approach.

    Contemporary feminist actions – everything from Slut Walks to the #MeToo movement – are drawing renewed attention to the ongoing urgency of violence against women. This is certainly encouraging. All around us we see feminists ‒ socially engaged, mindful of intersectionality, and critical of essentialist presentations – build on the work of earlier socialist, working class, Indigenous, and racialized scholars and activists. But sometimes it feels like we keep having the same conversations, leading us to wonder: what has really changed?

    In Women and Gendered Violence in Canada, we balance celebrating the significant progress made ‒ certainly it would be unthinkable for today’s parliamentarians to laugh and jeer as they did in 1982 when Margaret Mitchell raised the issue of battered women in the House of Commons – with acknowledging that much remains to be done. Consider, for example, the compelling, emotion-evoking, and all too familiar representation of gendered violence ‒ a lone (often youthful and white) woman, bruised, dejected, looking away/down or staring forward with terror-filled eyes. This image, though deployed to admirable effect, obscures much – context, agency, resistance, diversity ‒ at the same time as it limits the frame to interpersonal violence (by individual men). Endeavouring to expand beyond these parameters, Women and Gendered Violence in Canada attends to a range of inter-related and mutually reinforcing sources, forms, and sites of gendered violence.

    Women and Gendered Violence in Canada mobilizes the concepts of intersectionality and interlocking systems of oppression to unpack the ways violence inflicted on women is rooted in social, political, and economic systems that work through and with patriarchy, including colonialism, neoliberalism, capitalism, and national and global economies. From this point of departure it follows that women’s vulnerability to, and experience of, violence is shaped by intersecting aspects of their identities, social location, and negotiation (or rejection) of gender norms. Our use of the term gendered rather than gender-based violence reflects our conceptual framing; while gender is the unifying thread, the diverse instances and forms of violence women experience are rooted in a multiplicity of factors intersecting with gender. This allows us to include violence to which women are vulnerable that does not originate in gender but is a more indirect outcome of gender inequity and scripts (e.g., nurses’ experience of violence from patients and their families, violence for which they are routinely blamed by supervisors). It also broadens the scope of perpetration beyond individual men to violence committed by agents of the state (e.g., the neglect and abuse of Indigenous women by police), by women (e.g., domestic workers at the hands of their employers), by co-workers and customers in the workplace (e.g., the verbal violence endured by call-centre workers), indirectly as the result of policies (e.g., austerity measures that culminate in ill health), and emanating from the criminal justice system (e.g., the deployment of psychotropic medications to regulate incarcerated women).

    At the same time we hold that recognizing gendered violence as embedded in our social fabric and acknowledging the complex ways it ripples through women’s lives is not tantamount to ascribing women the master status of victim. All too often the many ways women have contested, challenged, and subverted that which would oppress them is written out of history (an erasure that is, of course, another manifestation of gendered violence). In Women and Gendered Violence in Canada we pay homage to our resilient and brave foremothers – the Indigenous women who, in the face of violent assimilation efforts, kept oral history alive and safeguarded traditional teachings; the generations of Black women who fought tirelessly against segregated public spaces and services; the women garment industry workers who stood shoulder to shoulder with their union brothers to contest exploitative labour practices. We also highlight and celebrate the many faces of contemporary women’s resistance – from everyday acts, to subtle (and not so subtle) calling out of sexism, to clever social media campaigns, to dramatic protests ‒ simultaneously drawing attention to the ways intersecting identities and interlocking systems of oppression constrain (or facilitate) the tactics and strategies women can mobilize. For us, foregrounding individual and collective action, and the limits of what is possible, is part of a larger commitment to grounding the analysis in women’s lives and experiential knowledges. To that end we also spotlight first-person accounts throughout the book.

    Women and Gendered Violence in Canada is organized to reflect the progression of an undergraduate course while providing pedagogical flexibility. The introductory section lays out the conceptual and contextual framing for the remainder of the text. The following three sections (each with three chapters) are organized around types of violence: interpersonal, workplace, and structural. In turn, each of the substantive chapters highlights specific elements/manifestations of gendered violence. We have endeavoured to bring cohesion to the collection not only through consistent engagement with the contextual and conceptual framing presented in the introductory section but also via recurring themes that cut across the chapters, including: historical context; resistance, subversion, and agency; the impact of neoliberalism; critical consideration of criminal justice solutions and protectionist policy; reflections on feminist approaches; consideration of the dialectic relationship of myths, social judgement, and state responses; and the foregrounding of experiential evidence. Throughout, we draw on rich Canadian scholarship, illustrated using examples from regions across the country, and put the focus firmly on our unique legal and policy contexts. Inevitably this means harsh light is shed on the ways structural inequality and bias manifest in, for example, anti-Black racism, Islamophobia, and ongoing colonialism. It also means some beloved national myths ‒ multiculturalism, meritocracy, post-racism ‒ are challenged.

    In our experience, today’s students welcome the opportunity for critical engagement. They also welcome the opportunity to see themselves in the material they study. To that end we self-consciously sought to ensure the book feels relevant to university-aged students by examining topics they encounter in their daily lives (e.g., sexism on campus, routine intrusions on the street, school dress codes, cyber bullying); this helps to render the links between everyday occurrences, social structures, and gendered violence visible and positions readers to appreciate the ways we are all caught up in systems that create the conditions of possibility for gendered violence.

    Like teachers everywhere we dream of classrooms that are dynamic learning environments filled with engaged students as excited about the material as we are. All too often our experience falls short; we find ourselves trying to lay the groundwork with little opportunity (or time) for nuanced engagement to manifest. In writing this book we sought to make theories accessible through application, as well as to introduce students to key concepts, pivotal ideas, and foundational knowledge upon which instructors can build to make the material fresh and timely. After all, in the perpetually-shifting terrain in which gendered violence occurs there are (sadly) always emerging issues to explore: a new provincial government that promises to revitalize neoliberal policies, a novel and exciting (or depressing) social media campaign, a pivotal court ruling. In this way the book can be useful for educators who are interested in integrating active learning and student-centred pedagogy into their classrooms through exercises and activities that facilitate deep learning. To that end, we included a suggested activity at the end of each chapter that teachers may wish to use or adapt. The last activity asks readers to consider how their thoughts have evolved since beginning the text. This reflects our (admittedly lofty) goal of contributing to what we are seeing all around us ‒ contemporary feminists (and others interested in social justice) taking on gendered violence, stubborn stereotypes, and tired tropes in creative and innovative ways.

    Chris Bruckert is Professor of Criminology at the University of Ottawa, and Tuulia Law is Assistant Professor in the Department of Social Science at York University. To find out more about their new book Women and Gendered Violence in Canada: An Intersectional Approach, click here.

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