Author David Johnson introduces the fourth edition of his bestselling public administration textbook, Thinking Government, and explains how a knowledge of the federal government and its public service is necessary for understanding current political, social, and economic issues.
Who says Canadian politics and government is boring? As we enter 2017, the federal Liberal government of Justin Trudeau has a lot on its plate: promoting the development of oil pipelines to the United States and to the Pacific tidewater all the while seeking to meet Canada’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as a way to address global climate change; trying to kick-start a sluggish economy through infrastructure spending and corresponding deficit-financing while also working to show fiscal prudence; and trying to improve the quality of Canadian healthcare programming while keeping costs down, patients content, and provincial premiers not up in arms. Throw in a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, initiatives to legalize marijuana, electoral reform, a new Canadian peacekeeping mission to Africa, the purchase of new military jets and ships, and you get the picture.
But there’s more. There’s always more. The American presidential election last November just made Prime Minister Trudeau’s life a whole lot more difficult. Rather than having to deal with a more ideological soul-mate in Hillary Clinton, Trudeau now has to work with Donald Trump. We can’t help but wonder what those meetings will be like. Does the new American President know that over a billion dollars in trade goods moves across the Canadian-American border every day? He’ll soon find out, with Trudeau and his diplomats working to educate the President and his White House staff on the importance of the Canadian-American relationship.
And closer to home our prime minister has simmering problems of his own making. The Cash-for-Access issue has the potential to become a running sore for his government if he doesn’t take corrective action. Once again, a Liberal government is facing pointed questions about how ethical and accountable it is for its method of raising party finances and its policy-making function.
So there couldn’t be a better time for the arrival of the fourth edition of Thinking Government: Public Administration and Politics in Canada. This book, now a staple in public administration and public sector management courses across this country, has been fully revised and updated to take account of the demise of the Conservative government of Stephen Harper in 2015 and the rise to power of Justin Trudeau and his team. In the election of that year, Trudeau repeatedly said that “in Canada, better is always possible.” We now get to assess how well he and his government can match campaign rhetoric with policy reality.
All the core attributes that made Thinking Government the “go-to book” on Canadian public administration have been preserved in this latest edition. The introduction and the first chapter set the stage for what’s to come, giving readers a compelling look at the major social and economic issues that all federal governments are called upon to deal with as they strive to govern this country well. The second chapter takes readers into the world of ideas and ideologies and how they shape the way leaders, governments, and we as citizens think about power and politics and policies, and what the role of governments should be in this society. If anyone ever questioned the worth of studying ideology as a means to understanding governmental behaviour, the Harper years drove home the truth that all leaders and governments are ideological and they seek power to achieve ideological ends. After nine years of conservative rule we are back to a liberally-minded government. But how liberal will Trudeau be? Thinking Government poses some questions and offers yardsticks by which we can measure this.
Central chapters in the book provide deep background to the structures of the federal government and its public service and the power relations between elected ministers and senior public servants. The fundamentals of organizational theory are covered in Chapter 5 while individual chapters give students in-depth coverage of both financial and human relations management. Latter chapters address issues dealing with on-going concerns about management reform, ethics, accountability, and the nature and quality of political and governmental leadership.
The Thinking Government website contains loads of additional information and material for each chapter. You’ll find relevant historical analysis, case studies, extension pieces, study questions, quizzes, and downloadable extras. The website has been thoroughly updated and refreshed by Alana Lawrence and she has made sure that it’s relevant, approachable, and student-friendly.
We will both be providing regular blog posts dealing with the life and times of the federal government, while also issuing Strategic Reports on federal politics every four months or so. Alana is also the Thinking Government website’s resident New Professional and she will be providing a wealth of information and insight on everything from New Professionalism theory and institutional initiatives to advice on landing that first public sector job and launching your career.
We hope you enjoy reading Thinking Government and experiencing the website and our blog posts. You are the reason all of this exists and we wish you well as you get into thinking government.
David Johnson is Professor of Political Science at Cape Breton University and author of Thinking Government, Fourth Edition.
Alana Lawrence is a graduate of Cape Breton University and provided updates to the Thinking Government, Fourth Edition website.