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The Black Hole of Public Administration

Ruth Hubbard & Gilles Paquet

Publication Year: 2010

Public administration in Canada needs to change. A handful of scholars across Canada have been sounding the alarm for years but to no avail. Talented young bureaucrats have been joining the public service with fresh ideas capable of creating real change, but the black hole consumes all.

In The Black Hole of Public Administration, experienced public servant Ruth Hubbard and public administration iconoclast Gilles Paquet sound a wake-up call to the federal public service. They lament the lack of “serious play” going on in Canada’s public administration today and map some possible escape plans. They look to a more participatory governance model – “open source” governing or “small g” governance – as a way to liberate our public service from antiquated styles and systems of governing.

In their recognizably rebellious style, Hubbard and Paquet demand that public administration scholars and senior level bureaucrats pull their heads out of the sand and confront the problems of the current system and develop a new system that can address the needs of Canada today.

Published by: University of Ottawa Press

Series: Governance Series


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pp. v

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pp. ix-xviii

Some voices have denounced the poverty of public administration and the unduly generous representations self-serving bureaucrats (Laliberté 2009). These criticisms have been starkly ignored by the tribe of aficionados (academics and practitioners en postes) of traditional public administration: this tribe has remained unabashedly uncritical ...

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pp. 1-16

This book is the result of years of ruminations by a practitioner and an academic on the pathologies of public governance in Canada. These reflections, inspired mainly by real crises in various sectors, but also fuelled by social imaginings in reaction to them, have led both of us to commit a variety of diagnoses, commentaries and suggestions to paper over the last ten years. ...

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pp. 17-19

It is not possible to gauge the efficiency, effectiveness, value-adding capability, the innovativeness and capacity to learn and transform the Canadian federal public administration, and to imagine ways to improve it without first gaining an appreciation of the broader context within which it has been operating, ...

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Chapter 1 The Clerk as R

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pp. 20-64

The way a socio-economy governs itself is defined by a composite of private, public and civic mechanisms, practices, norms, organizations, institutions and regimes. This amalgam constitutes an ecology of governance: “many different systems and different kinds of systems interacting with one another, like the multiple organisms in an ecosystem.” ...

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Chapter 2 Toward an Autopoietic Federalism

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pp. 65-106

The term eunomics has been defined by Lon Fuller as “the science, theory or study of good order and workable social arrangements” (L. L. Fuller 2001: 62). This chapter is an exercise in eunomics to the extent that it is attempting to determine which one of two types of order—centralized or decentralized—is likely to be preferable in democratic confederal systems. ...

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pp. 107-109

The turbulence of the context, the major transformations in governance, in public governance and in government as such, that are hinted at in the introduction, as well as the extent to which fictions have come to trump reality, have conspired to create strains in the public administration process. ...

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Chapter 3 Forty-Four Forums on Some Twenty-Four Wicked Problems

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pp. 110-199

This chapter is a report on forty-four sessions of ‘discussions’ on twenty-four different topics with approximately one hundred senior executives (EXs) of the Canadian federal government in toto. Eight sessions took place in the fall of 2006, four in the winter of 2007, eight in the fall of 2007, eight in the winter of 2008, eight in the winter of 2009, and eight in the fall of 2009 ...

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Chapter 4 Quantophrenia

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pp. 200-217

This chapter addresses some concerns raised by Pitirim Sorokin some 50 years ago (Sorokin 1956). At the time, Sorokin was somewhat distraught by social sciences falling prey to all sorts of manias and foibles—mindless application of methods in use in experimental sciences to issues in social sciences, ...

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Chapter 5 Disloyalty

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pp. 218-252

This chapter examines the notion of disloyalty, and obliquely the notion of dissent. First it deconstructs the notion of disloyalty and the reasons why disloyalty is usually regarded as reprehensible. Then it looks briefly at the mechanisms through which disloyalty might emerge. ...

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Chapter 6 The Neurotic State

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pp. 253-276

One of the perplexing features of Canada’s political scene over the last several years is a dramatic, if silent, revolution in the functioning of the federal state. Program review, alternative service delivery and other such initiatives had a clear decentralization and privatization thrust, while at the same time carrying a good governance flavour ...

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Chapter 7 Fiscal Imbalance as Governance Failure

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pp. 277-302

The first version of this paper was written in 2004, not as a vindication of the vertical fiscal imbalance hypothesis but as a critical comment on the disingenuity of the federal government (politicians and bureaucrats) in dealing with the issue. ...

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pp. 303-306

The pathologies of governance illustrated earlier fairly present the state of distress of federal public administration in Canada: it is crippled by an antiquated system of beliefs, mental prisons, and bad habits that have generated neuroses and disfunctionalities, and a decline in the capacity to transform and to learn. ...

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Chapter 8 Alternative Service Delivery: The Thin Edge of the Wedge

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pp. 307-330

The federal government’s mid-1990s agenda was dominated by program review, which was aimed at redefining the roles and responsibilities of government in light of extreme fiscal pressures. Its goals included putting the emphasis on core responsibilities and increasing service delivery efficiency. ...

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Chapter 9 P3 and “The Porcupine Problem”

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pp. 331-352

In Schopenhauer’s parable, the animals arrive at a solution by maintaining a safe distance from one another, and as a result, while their mutual need for warmth is only moderately satisfied, they do not get pricked. ...

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Chapter 10 The Myth of the Public Service as a Lump of Labour

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pp. 353-381

The ‘lump of labour’ fallacy is an old economic chestnut. It refers to the presumption that there is a fixed amount of work to be done in the world, so that any increase in the amount any worker does reduces the amount of work left to do, and thus the number of available jobs. ...

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Chapter 11 Design Challenges for the Strategic State: Bricolage and Sabotage

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pp. 382-417

Much re-engineering of the state is bound to occur as the welfare state is retrofitted and gradually replaced by a strategic state that is less focused on protection and redistribution and much more on productivity and innovation. ...

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Chapter 12 Ombuds as Producers of Governance

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pp. 418-441

This is a think piece. It is not meant to provide a definitive answer to the question of how justice will be ensured, how the role of ombuds and other less formal agents should evolve, and how ombudsing and other forms of less formal agents of justice might differ from place to place. On such matters, practitioners should have the final say. ...

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pp. 442-451

The two authors of this book have spent in toto some fifty years, directly and indirectly, working in and on public administration. This should amount to sufficient evidence of our poverty of public administration at the federal level in Canada should not be interpreted as a facile mockery or a form of treason. ...

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pp. 452-464

Subversion of the Diogenes or the Aristophanes variety is meant to exploit identified vulnerabilities of the object under attack. If one can unveil the dynamics of harms that are derailing identify points of vulnerability and act on them in ways that may suffice to sabotage some of the processes. ...


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pp. 465-467


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pp. 468-499


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pp. 500-519

E-ISBN-13: 9780776619187
E-ISBN-10: 0776619187
Print-ISBN-13: 9780776607429
Print-ISBN-10: 0776607421

Page Count: 544
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Governance Series