Skogstad’s Four Competing Models of Authority

… a core concept used in Policy Analysis and Process and Atlas101


Grace Skogstad, reference below, sets out four competing models of authority in an advanced democratic country:

1) State-centred political authority

“Consistent with the norms of representative democracy whereby the ruled choose their rulers, the exercise of political authority in Canada is overwhelming in the hands of elected state actors. … [But] cultural shifts and developments in the global economy … have chiselled away at the authority and legitimacy of the Westminster state.

“… Looking first at economic globalization, its impact is to undermine the output legitimacy of state-centred political authority by hampering governments’ ability to deliver policy outcomes consistent with their citizens’ expectations.

“Political globalization, the second face of globalization, has ambiguous effects on the output legitimacy of state-centred authority. On the one hand, transnational agreements that embed binding rules of conduct with respect to international trade and investment, can increase the output legitimacy of states. … On the other hand, specific provisions in international trade agreements, like those regarding investor rights and protection of intellectual property, can promote the interests of private economic actors to the detriment of the broader public interest.” (pages 958-59)

2) Expert authority

“Expert authority is an alternative to state-centred authority. The authority of experts is recognized as desirable and appropriate when their superior knowledge promises to deliver valued policy outcomes. When good decisions depend upon expertise, and society broadly agrees on the criteria for distinguishing desirable from undesirable outcomes, rule-making and standard setting by non-elected officials is often preferred to leaving decision making in the hands of politicians.”

“… Expert authority is strengthened by economic and political globalization. Neo-liberalism, the ideology that underwrites globalization, seeks to limit politicians’ capacity to implement barriers to the flow of goods, services and capital across borders. Technical experts allied to international institutions are the chosen “authority” to assist with this objective. Scientific, legal and economic experts develop standards in technical areas that are then incorporated into international codes and agreements…” (pages 959-60)

3) Private (market-based) authority

“Market-based authority, as one example of private authority, includes self-regulation of conduct by private associations, like medical doctors and lawyers. It also includes the empowerment of private economic actors to carry out activities that allocate public values more broadly.

“Both new public management and neoliberalism look to private economic actors to provide goods and services formerly within the realm of public authorities. With investment capital highly mobile, debt-ridden Canadian governments found these ideas attractive and, under pressure from international bond rating agencies, significantly contracted their sphere of authority. The shrinkage of the public domain occurred in bold gestures – recall the 1995 budget – as well as in piecemeal fashion. The result is that we now live in a world in which market-based authority plays a bigger part in our lives. Our national air and rail transportation are provided by the private sector. A number of other services, including labour market training and community economic development, are delivered in partnerships that are hybrids of public and private authority…” (pages 961-62)

4) Popular authority

“Operating from the premise that authority resides with the people, models of popular authority legitimize decision making by providing for direct public input and deliberation in the decision-making process. The model of popular authority has an awkward fit with Canada’s constitutional framework.”

“… However, conceptions of popular authority have become more woven into the rhetoric and practice of Canadian governing over the past decade. Writing in the late 1990s, Leslie A. Pal (1997: 57) observed that governments consult much more now before they make a move and act in much closer contact with client groups than they did before. Citizen access to and participation in policy making is now viewed in many quarters as an important basis of input legitimacy, even while ideas about the form popular participation should take vary enormously.” (pages 962-63)

Skogstad’s call for reform of Canada’s representative institutions

Skogstad concludes:

“State-centred authority remains our best bet for effective and legitimate governing in Canada. To capitalize on that bet, however, our representative institutions must be reformed to become more authentic chambers of representation and deliberation. A full discussion of what these reforms might entail would include the electoral system and party discipline. Replacing the simple plurality, single-member electoral system with one incorporating principles of proportional representation would strengthen the numerical position of opposition parties vis-à-vis the governing party. Arguably, as well, it would enhance the quality of representation in the legislative and executive chambers by resulting in a more diverse and more experienced body of elected members. Loosening party discipline would allow for this more plural universe of views to be openly articulated and championed. The greater likelihood of coalition government under a system of proportional representation would increase the incentives for not only aggregative politics but likely deliberative politics as well. Depending on the model of PR chosen, these salutary effects could be achieved without diminishing the capacity for effective governing (Massicotte, 2001). Others will disagree about the priority of these two reforms and their effects for effective and legitimate governing. The point remains: if Canadians’ answer to the questions of “Who should govern?” and “Who governs?” are to be one and the same, the practices of representative democracy in Canada must be brought into better alignment with the value Canadians place on open, transparent and accountable governing.” (pages 969-70)

Topic, subject and Atlas course

Policy Instruments and Design (core topic) in Policy Analysis and Process and Atlas101 Policy Analysis and Process.


Grace Skogstad (2003), “Who Governs? Who Should Govern? Political Authority and Legitimacy in Canada in the Twenty-First Century.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 36(5): 955-974. The two references in the quotes above are:

Leslie Pal (1997), Beyond Policy Analysis. Toronto: International Thomson Publishing.

Louis Massicotte (2001), “Changing the Canadian Electoral System.” Choices. Montreal: Institute for Research on Public Policy, 7, 1.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 19 November 2016.