Public Administration in Canada


The public administration (PA) or civil service domain determines the level at which the branch of political structure that consists of public employees turns the policy decisions of elected politicians into action. Canadian PA is unique in the sense that, unlike its neighboring countries, it includes every non-elected person employed by the government. This traditional administrative domain includes programs in the public sector, the private non-profit sector and the proprietary sector to constitute the social service delivery system (Ismael & Vaillancourt, 1988, p. 3). PA policies are rationalized into the public programs of service, so we can say that on a broader spectrum Canadian PA programs are influenced by the traditional values of not only the representative democracy but the political agendas that govern various democratic powers.

This paper will focus on the broader environment in which Canadian PA is governed. That political environment includes the determination and analysis of PA programs and to what extent these policies and programs have been influenced by the drawbacks set by Canadian NPM. The role played by the New Public Management (NPM) will be assessed in the light of market-driven values. The paper will analyze how the conflict between traditional and NPM will acknowledge the influence of career officials on policy and administration. Michelmann & Clercy (2006, p. 70) suggests that every textbook published in the context of PA since the 1980s deals with the influence of career officials in shaping public policy and dealing with government services. Many theorists still believe NPM is a weapon to answer the traditional philosophy of bureaucratic power articulated by Max Weber. Perhaps they are right in defending PA by ‘reinventing’ NPM to recognize and get rid of the unnecessary influence of bureaucracy as the autonomous image of power is more significant than the political and participative organs in determining the course of public affairs (Michelmann & Clercy, 2006, p. 71). This paper will assess what caused the traditional PA to adopt the culture of NPM.

Political Background

Canadian PA always expected from Canadian political structure, administrative and parliamentary elements of government to include anyone employed in a public-funded activity, such as policing, fire-fighting, and teaching. However, the political influence on PA suggested limiting Canadian convention to those people who are directly engaged in the administrative function of a particular level of government in Canada, such as policy implementation and evaluation (Booth & O’ Brien, 2008, p. 9). Canada’s parliamentary form of government along with its disciplined parties in the early 1980s combined with narrow parliamentary majorities to facilitate and influence labor and its political allies in shaping labor legislation. Unlike the United States, the Canadian legal regime has tended to support collective bargaining and has played an important role in encouraging the union representation of workers (Banting et al, 1997, p. 42). Canadian laws supported the government to provide stronger protections for workers whose companies change hands or who are faced with new technologies. Similarly, employment standards were raised and provided better health and safety, wages, employment equity, and termination of employment. Despite overlapping of firms, Canadian employers adopted a broader acceptance of the legitimate role of unions and a willingness to work with them to facilitate adjustment and adaptation (Banting et al, 1997, p. 42).

Problems with the traditional PA Approach

Despite conducting political and socio-economic development at public levels, it was seen that many problems emerged blaming government bureaucracy and public administration. Some common problems were too much delayed PA, it was expensive with ineffective and inefficient service, there was a barrier between government officials and citizens to cater their interests, and corruption. Since it was a waste of financial and human resources, NPM emerged as a universal culture to cater to the citizen’s needs with more reduction in expenses.

New Public Management

Being customer focussed, NPM turned the attention to transform managerial instructions from the private sector to PA. While doing this the government practices and administrative reform trends in public management attempted to adjust the size and structure of the public sector and efforts to improve public-sector management. Boston et al. (1996, 2) provided an excellent summary of the main goals of new public-sector reforms in Canada in which he stated that improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the public sector, and enhancing the responsiveness of public agencies to their clients and customers, reduced public expenditure, and improved managerial accountability. NPM was initiated in the mid-1980s as a reform movement to change public-sector management practices (Hood 1995) and was aimed to emphasize the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of public services. NPM was an answer to those critics and queries that emerged in the 1990s with an aim to blame the traditional philosophy of management. In other words, NPM encompasses a complex set of ideas pertaining to the political, economic and organizational bases of modem Canadian society. NPM differs from the traditional PA as it assumes that government services need not be delivered by governments or political structures themselves. It proposes the separation of provision for services from the delivery of those services and allowing private-sector providers to perform a wide range of government functions (Stark, 2002). In this way, it also ensures what the traditional contracts went devoid of i.e., it replaces relational contracts and becomes the major tool for ensuring accountability. NPM replaces the management of people, resources, and programs in lieu of the administration of activities, procedures, and regulations. Thus, the focus has been shifted from traditional administration and policymaking to management, especially to generic management skills, and from process accountability to accountability based on results.

Pollitt (1998) states that it is through the revolution in PA that Canadian managerialism in the public sector has undergone changes over time. In the 1980s the emphasis was on economy and efficiency, whereas the 1990s era witnessed the emphasis to be replaced by a balanced approach that possess few regulations and more quality of services and standards. Stark (2002) mentions “The reformed PA in the late 1990s was characterized by closeness to customers, being performance-driven, enhanced commitment to ensure quality improvement, flexible and innovative work organization with empowered employees, tight cost control, and performance-related practices in recruitment, promotion, and pay”. So, PA is much influenced by the new focus on consumer satisfaction and quality of services, which also requires NPM to organize new work organization methods and increase employee participation. The Canadian government is seeking newer ways to achieve those goals, so quality circles and total quality management are promoted by the governments.

How Canadian Politics managed to influence PA Policies and Programs?

The impact of Canada’s public sector reform is more influential than assessing the initiatives of any other sector. Despite taking several initiatives, the government is only able to achieve Hodge potch results. Let us talk about some initial successful actions first. After determining the need for privatization in the late 1980s, it was allowed under the Mulroney government and was conducted under Chretien and was able to privatize major Crown corporations as Air Canada, Canadian National and Petro Canada. In 1994 and 1995, with a need to restore fiscal balance, the federal government initiated a Programme Review to enforce ministers and public servants to clear their minds pertaining to accountability. The aim behind the Programme Review was to enquire fundamental queries regarding government programs, such as whether they were still useful, and, if so, whether they should be the responsibility of the federal government, provincial governments, or the private sector. This review abolished some subsidies, privatized airports and navigation, and remained helpful in reducing the costs of some departments through the application of technology (Mclaughlin et al, 2002, p. 188). Through the adoption of technology, Canada’s Human Resources adopted electronic kiosks for job searches. Besides cost reduction through technology, the federal government reduced its personnel by 25 percent which was much faster and twice the percentage reduction of the US federal government (ibid).

Canadian PA has not been a pioneer in terms of the other components of public sector reform but has made recommendations. This is evident from the fact which Mclaughlin et al (2002, p. 189) mention “when in 1989, the Mulroney Government launched an initiative called ‘Public Service 2000′, ten task forces of deputy ministers and senior civil servants were formed which after two years’ work, made recommendations to involve service improvement and the reduction of central agency controls”. The federal officials and the members of parliament along with the public service union and media opposed these recommendations but were overcome with strong political support. Many politicians during the period in which the Public Service 2000 task forces were doing their work, tried to negotiate so as to amend the repatriate 1982 constitution so that Quebec would sign it.

Canadian PA has gone through distinctive organizational innovations and has resulted in the prescription of alternative service delivery, which has been named as a process of public sector restructuring that improves the delivery of services to clients by sharing governance functions with individuals, community groups, and other government entities (Ford and Zussman, 1997, p. 6). Some common examples of such restructuring include Canadian Business Service Centres that run under the mutual cooperation of federal and provincial governments. No doubt these partnerships under the umbrella of NPM reduce costly overlap and duplication and perform activities that the federal government has devolved as a consequence of its Programme Review. But nonetheless, such partnerships acknowledge the complexity of Canadian federalism by involving all stakeholders in the ongoing management of services and policy areas.

These changes intermixed the influence of marketization ideas within the federal public service. With extremely limited progress in personnel administration, NPM within the Canadian public service strengthened managerial prerogatives by considering them into legislative reforms. The 1990s era witnessed the problems by these changes in the form of fragmentation of Canada’s executive arm of government. The government represented a range of geographical and sectoral interests in the executive cabinet by having forty members, but in the 1990s it was realized that such representation was undermining the government’s ability to pursue a coherent policy agenda (Barzelay, 2001, p. 89). With an official review of the cabinet conducted in 1992 and with the change of government in 1993, the departments were reduced from thirty-two to twenty-three. Finally, the public management reform in Canada decided the fate of organizations in merging and downsizing staff.

The Consequences of allowing Capitalism

The way NPM promoted capitalism, it seems it initiated a new era of disorganized capitalism which influenced developments that reshaped the Canadian corporate network between 1976 and 1996. Such allowance to run capitalism resulted in trans nationalization of capital, deregulation confronted by the financial sector, and reforms of the business community’s corporate governance norms (Carroll, 2002). Markets failed by creating externalities and too much external pressure was asserted in the affairs of the average citizenship where the Canadian government frequently step to establish non-market-based laws and regulations to overcome the perceived failures of capitalism. Though the network became vulnerable by carrying more burden by outside directors, the distinctive pattern of transnational investment shifted toward domestic interests which operated on a transnational scale and interlocked mainly through outside directorships. Inter-cooperate lies were loosened by the corporate governance reforms in which transnational corporations formed a loose network of information flows.

NPM while applying the market-based techniques to public services remained unable to govern the corporate sector and the result was the incorporation of ideas ranging from establishing internal competition to increase bureaucratic efficiency. Since NPM focuses only on measuring outcomes, it contracted out traditional public services with a belief that the private sector will be more efficient and more effective than the public sector.

The public sector reforms when aimed to induce a basic change only brought a mix of markets and bureaucracy in Canadian society. These changes where on one hand were seen as reflecting an institutional choice between two different kinds of institutions, on the other, they were deployed for providing goods and services involved in long-term contracting versus short-term contracting. This distinction bought consequences for Canadian regulative reforms and social security. NPM has not been able to replace traditional PA in Canada as it is not considered as a coherent set of principles that replace public administration, but the way it has influenced PA in the broad spectrum has escorted many critics to call attention to the fact that new public management lacks a core set of ideas. Many believe NPM has worked under the umbrella and protection provided by Canadian politics and has combined different reform strategies by giving the impression of fad and fashion (Lane, 2000, p. 131). It has even disputed the public sector reform strategy by giving rise to capitalism where tendering in Canada has not remained able to be traced back to a single principle of governing body. Whatever be the promotional hopes and expectations for NPA, the objections and dilemmas point to the future capitalist society where the conflict will be between competition, innovation and downsizing government. Not only it will affect the service provider of the welfare of the economy, but also it will result in affecting the executive branch of the Canadian government. Canada will no more remain a legitimate welfare state, as taxpayer expectations will increase and the government’s accountability to take responsibility will be decreased.

Works Cited

Banting Keith, Hoberg George & Simeon Richard. Degrees of Freedom: Canada and the United States in a Changing World: McGill-Queen’s University Press: Montreal, 1997.

Barzelay Michael. The New Public Management: Improving Research and Policy Dialogue: University of California Press: Berkeley, CA, 2001.

Booth Geoffrey & O’ Brien Colleen. Canadian political structure and public administration. Third edition, 2008.

Boston, Jonathan, John Martin, June Pallott, and Pat Walsh. Public management: The New Zealand model. Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Carroll, K. William. “Does Disorganized Capitalism Disorganize Corporate Networks?” Canadian Journal of Sociology 27. 3, (2002): 339.

Ford, R. and Zussman, D. Alternative Service Delivery: transcending boundaries Toronto: KPMG and the Institute of Public Administration of Canada, 1997.

Hood Christopher. “Contemporary public management: A new global paradigm?” Public Policy and Administration 10. 2, (1995): 104-17.

Ismael, S. Jacqueline & Vaillancourt Yves. Privatization and Provincial Social Services in Canada: Policy, Administration, and Service Delivery: University of Alberta Press: Edmonton, Alta, 1988.

Lane Jan-Erik. New Public Management: Routledge: New York, 2000.

Mclaughlin Kate, Osborne P. Stephen & Ferlie Ewan. New Public Management: Current Trends and Future Prospects: Routledge. New York, 2002.

Michelmann J. Hans & Clercy de Christine. Continuity and Change in Canadian Politics. Essays in Honor of David E. Smith. University of Toronto Press, 2006.

Pollitt Christopher. Managerialism revisited. In Taking stock: Assessing public sector reforms, edited by Guy B. Peters and Donald J. Savoie. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1998.

Stark Andrew. “What Is the New Public Management”. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 12. 1, (2001): 137.

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