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  • The Evolving Physiology of Government: Canadian Public Administration in Transition
  • Patrice Dutil
The Evolving Physiology of Government: Canadian Public Administration in Transition edited by O.P. Dwivedi, Tim A. Mau, and Byron Sheldrick. Governance Series. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2009, 401 pp. Paper $32.00.

This is a good, useful book that will be of great help to lecturers and students of public administration. Its 13 essays (remarkably well indexed) are the product of a conference that was held in the fall of 2007 to honour Ted Hodgetts, the legendary pioneer of public administration studies in Canada, on the occasion of his 90th birthday (John Edwin Hodgetts died some 20 months later, in May 2009). Given that a festschrift in his honour had been published in 1982 (edited by O.P. Dwivedi, The Administrative State in Canada: Essays in Honour of J.E. Hodgetts, University of Toronto Press), the editors felt that it was unnecessary to openly dedicate a second book to this mentor. The effect is the same, and just as deserving.

If the essays in the first festschrift focused more on Crown corporations, the structure of [End Page 579] bureaucracies in Ottawa and in the provinces, and the role of officials, the volume that appears 27 years later is more likely to evoke issues around the Federal Accountability Act, the sponsorship scandal and the Gomery Commission, issues of judicial review, the struggle between democracy and bureaucracy, concepts of trust and honesty, and the role of lobbyists. True to Hodgett’s vision, The Evolving Physiology of Government brings together the thinking of 16 scholars on diverse aspects of the state. The blend is interesting, even though the sections are not divided according to physical types. While Hodgetts delighted in labelling organizations such as Crown corporations as “structural heretics,” the modern scholars seem more concerned with softer issues. Their approach says a lot about the state of studies in public administration today.

Ken Rasmussen and Luc Juillet, for instance, examine the “Origins of Merit in Canada.” Their approach is historical, as they probe the thinking that led to the Civil Service Act of 1908 but shy away from a study of the eventual creation of an institution that would monitor (weakly) the advances of merit. Hodgetts himself did that in The Biography of an Institution: The Civil Service Commission of Canada, 1908–1967 (1972). Peter Aucoin and Donald Savoie team up to probe “The Politics-Administration Dichotomy: Democracy versus Bureaucracy?,” a thoughtful essay that leaves one to think that the bureaucracy is increasingly being politicized, not by active partisanship, but by a self-selection of civil servants who are less willing to risk their standing and “speak the truth to power.” The essay is compelling and convincing, but based more on the impressions of the authors than incontestable evidence. C.E.S. Franks’s essay on the complications of applying the Financial Administration Act and the Federal Accountability Act is a most insightful and original theoretical treatise of how deputy ministers, as “accountability officers,” are likely to pursue their missions. Franks answers five questions on how the two regimes can be applied and concludes that the state of affairs “is not satisfactory.” Only time will tell how this system of competing demands will work. The concern here is that an overcomplication of accountability mechanisms will make “trust” more difficult to achieve.

The same topic is taken up differently by Paul Thomas in a widely ranging piece. As with the other authors, he sees only complications on the horizon as society becomes more deeply skeptical of the state’s capacity to manage issues and as power and accountability are divided and subdivided. Byron Sheldrick contributes an interesting lament about the absence of concern in the literature over the changes in administrative law and their impact on how the state is administered. His text shows concern about the quality of judicial review and its impact on the decisions of various boards and commissions, as well as departmental decisions.

It is telling that in this book the “physiology” of government has expanded. Paul Pross examines the development of regulations on lobbying in the government of Canada while Caroline Dufour...


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