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March 26 , 2009

Breaking the Bargain

Public Servants, Ministers, and Parliament


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.

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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.

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