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Public Service 611: Government, Politics and the Public Service

Instructor: Gerard Boychuk
Fall 2010
PAS Boardroom
Monday and Wednesday, 11:30-12:50


Course Orientation

The public service in Canada is not political but it is highly politically sensitive and operates in a highly politicized context. To understand the political and institutional context in which the public service operates, it is crucial to have a thorough understanding of the structure and function of Canada’s political system.

The first introductory section of the course outlines the basic conceptual context in which the public service operates including, most importantly, the crucial concepts of bureaucracy and democracy -- concepts which are, at times, marked by powerful tensions.

The second section of the course outlines how, in the first instance, the Canadian system attempts to reconcile these two concepts through responsible government and individual ministerial responsibility.

The third section of the course develops an internal perspective on how this conceptual tensions plays out as tension between centrifugal tendencies (which draw power to the central agencies of government) and centripetal tendencies (which draw power outward to line departments and agencies.)

The fourth section examines the external political context in which these internal tensions play out including the institutional context comprised of parliament and parliamentary officers as well as other external actors such as interest groups, lobbyists and, crucially, the media.

The final section of the course examines the evolution of the public service over time and the most important contemporary challenges that the public service in Canada faces.


Course Components and Delivery

The course is comprised of four interrelated elements: a series of lectures and class discussions, a set of student led class presentations, assigned readings, and written assignments.

The lectures and class discussions provide an overview of information and debates critical to understanding the basic context in which the public service in Canada operates.

The assigned readings are intended to be appropriate for a graduate-level course in public service and include articles, books and book chapters intended for a professional public administration/management audience. Students who feel that they require additional background preparation in order to fully understand the articles are responsible for doing so and are encouraged to get suggestions from the instructor in doing so.

While there is no textbook per se for this course, the following books (as evident from the required reading list) are covered almost in their entirety and are available from the UW Bookstore:

Savoie, Donald. Court Government and the Collapse of Accountability in Canada and the UK. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.

David A. Good. The Politics of Public Money: Spenders, Guardians, Priority Setters, and Financial Watchdogs Inside the Canadian Government Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007.

Cross, William. Auditing Canadian Democracy. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2011. This book is available courtesy of UBC Press as an advance release and will be available in the UW Bookstore as of Septmeber 27th. While written for a senior undergraduate/graduate audience, this book will be a basic resource on the structure and operation of government in Canada.