Institutional Dynamics within Government

… a core topic in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100

YesMinister

Characters in BBC’s “Yes, Minister”

Topic description

This topic examines the institutional dynamics inherent in government.

Topic learning outcome

Upon completing this topic the student will familiar with the dynamics inherent in government and reflected by the concepts in the table below.

Core concepts associated with this topic
Centre vs. Periphery

Guardians vs. Spenders

Staff vs. Line Positions

Regionalism

Regional Minister

Cabinet Solidarity and Secrecy

Speaking Truth to Power

Policy Advisory Systems

Cabinet Decision-Making System

Cabinet Documents

Accounting Officer

Political Aide

Political Executive vs. Civil Service

Constitutional Convention of a Politically Neutral Civil Service

Ministerial Responsibility

Public Service Anonymity

Political Neutrality

Atlas resource pages associated with this topic

Craft and Prince’s Two Models of Policy Advising

Paul Thomas on Political Staff and Communications

Policy Profession – UK Civil Service Skills and Knowledge Framework 2013

Competing Values in Governance and Institutions (a concept in The Study of Governance and Institutions)

Open access readings for 8 hours of preparation

The concept and resource pages above.

R. Cole Harris (2006, updated 2015), The Canadian Encyclopedia, Regionalism, at http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/regionalism/, accessed 26 August 2016.

Steve Merti (2015), The Trudeau cabinet: how will it manage the regions? Yahoo News, 6 November 2015, at https://ca.news.yahoo.com/blogs/canada-politics/the-trudeau-cabinet-how-will-it-manage-the-163530933.html, accessed 26 August 2016.

Mark Schacter with Phillip Haid (1999), Cabinet Decision-Making in Canada: Lessons and Practices, Institute on Governance, at http://iog.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/1999_April_cabinet21.pdf and uploaded to the Atlas at http://www.atlas101.ca/pm/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Schacter-1999-Cabinet-Decion-Making-in-Canada.pdf on 26 August 2016.

Privy Council Office, A Drafter’s Guide to Cabinet Documents, at http://www.pco-bcp.gc.ca/index.asp?lang=eng&page=information&sub=publications&doc=mc/guide-eng.htm, downloaded to the Atlas at http://www.atlas101.ca/pm/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/PCO-2013-A-Drafters-Guide-To-Cabinet-Documents.pdf, 26 August 2016.

James R. Mitchell (2007), Can I Really Speak Truth to Power? at http://www.atlas101.ca/pm/can-i-really-speak-truth-to-power-james-mitchell-2007/, accessed 10 February 2017. A later presentation by Mitchell on this topic is summarized at:

Margaret Cappa (2010), “Speaking Truth to Power” and the Questions that Accompany It, Public Policy and Governance Review, at https://ppgreview.ca/2010/10/06/speaking-truth-to-power-and-the-questions-that-accompany-it/, accessed 10 February 2017.

Brian Glicksman (2007), The Role of Accounting Officers: A Perspective from the United Kingdom, Canadian Parliamentary Review, Autumn, p. 22-26, at http://www.revparl.ca/30/3/30n3_07e_Glicksman.pdf, accessed 28 August 2016.

Donald J. Savoie (2016), The Accountability Act breeds its own problems, Policy Options, 18 April 2016, at http://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/april-2016/the-accountability-act-breeds-its-own-problems/, accessed 30 August 2016.

Chris Eichbaum (2016), A Constitutional Personality – does the New Zealand public service possess one, and is it in good order, Policy Quarterly, 12(3) 50-55, August, at http://apo.org.au/resource/constitutional-personality-does-new-zealand-public-service-possess-one-and-it-good-order, accessed 10 October 2016.

Ellen Hines (2015), Internship Report: Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, at http://www.atlas101.ca/pm/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Ellen-Hines-2015-Intern-Report.pdf.

Ian Brodie (2012), In Defence of Political Staff, Canadian Parliamentary Review (Autumn): 33-39, at http://www.revparl.ca/35/3/35n3_12e_Brodie.pdf, accessed 28 August 2016.

Howard Anglin (2016), Backrooms and Beyond: Partisan Advisers and the Politics of Policy Work in Canada, Book review, Policy Options, 15 August 2016, at http://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/august-2016/backrooms-and-beyond-partisan-advisers-and-the-politics-of-policy-work-in-canada-book-review/, accessed 30 August 2016.

Daniel Dickin (2016), Demystifying the role of parliamentary staffers, Policy Options, 15 July 2016, at http://policyoptions.irpp.org/2016/07/15/demystifying-the-role-of-parliamentary-staffers/, accessed 30 August 2016.

Paul Thomas (2010), Who Is Getting the Message? Communications at the Centre of Government, in Public Policy Issues and the Oliphant Commission, Independent Research Studies, prepared for the Commission of Inquiry into Certain Allegations Respecting Business and Financial Dealings Between Karlheinz Schreiber and the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, available from the Government of Canada at http://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2010/bcp-pco/CP32-92-2-2010-2-eng.pdf, and uploaded to the Atlas at http://www.atlas101.ca/pm/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/CP32-92-1-2010-eng.pdf.

Prime Minster’s Office (2009), Response to the Thomas Report, at http://www.fasken.com/files/Publication/298bec35-89b1-462c-ada5-38d960bad2d0/Presentation/PublicationAttachment/73264a84-3dd3-4429-8e15-4505b2c4352b/PMO%20response%20to%20Thomas%20Report.pdf, uploaded to the Atlas at http://www.atlas101.ca/pm/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/PMO-response-to-Thomas-Report-2009.pdf.

Recommended readings in MPP and MPA courses

Toronto PPG1000 Governance and Institutions

Savoie, Donald. 2013. “The Machinery: Running on its Tracks,” in Whatever Happened to the Music Teacher?: How Government Decides and Why, pp. 107-126. Kingston: MQUP.

Sossin, Lorne. 2005. “Speaking Truth to Power? The Search for Bureaucratic Independence in Canada.” University of Toronto Law Journal 55(1): 1-59.

Brodie, Ian. 2012. “In Defence of Political Staff.” Canadian Parliamentary Review (Autumn): 33-39.

Concept comprehension questions

AQ100.05.01. Among statements a-d pertaining to centre vs. periphery choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. There are a many ways in which the perspective of “the centre” of government differs from those of other parts of government.

b. The centre vs. periphery dynamic is seen in how national vs. regional interests play out around the Cabinet table.

c. The centre vs. periphery dynamic is seen in how officials in staff positions interact with those in line positons.

d. The centre vs. periphery dynamic is seen in how central agencies interact with operating ministries.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.05.02. Among statements a-d pertaining to guardians vs. spenders choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. The guardian-spender conception of an enduring dynamic within government was articulated in 1964 by Aaron Wildavsky.

b. Participants in the budgetary process tend to be either guardians of the treasury or advocates of program spending.

c. The guardian vs. spender roles are attached to institutional positions with guardians from central agencies controlling the budget and spending advocates from program agencies.

d. Successful prime ministers try to design systems to downplay the guardian vs spender dynamic within government.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.05.03. Among statements a-d pertaining to staff vs. line positions choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. The differences in roles and perspectives between staff (usually at headquarters) and line (often in regional offices) are among the most enduring institutional dynamics in government.

b. People in staff positions try to encourage those in line positions to take more initiative to respond in a timely way to variations in local circumstances.

c. People in staff positions try to look at the big picture and how all the pieces fit together.

d. People in line positions resent attempts by staff analysts to impose standardized processes to which all units must follow.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.05.04. Among statements a-d pertaining to regionalism choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Regionalism is the distinctive local character of a geographic area, or to a people’s perception of and identification with such places.

b. In Canada, there was no continuous, expansive national experience with the land. One patch would fill up, then people would emigrate to a new area. Different patches were settled at different times by people of different backgrounds who depended on different technologies and economies.

c. In Canada, one of the most successful tools for combatting regionalism was the imposition of high tariffs on U.S. goods which allowed Canadian manufacturing to flourish and connect with new buyers from across the country.

d. Many political scientists have observed that Canadian politics is more regional than in many other advanced democracies.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.05.05. Among statements a-d pertaining to regional minister choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. In Canada, regional minister is a term used for a minister within a Cabinet who has explicit responsibilities pertaining to a geographic region, such as a province.

b. The institution of regional ministers has a long history in Canada, and has been studied by scholars such as Herman Bakvis who have described how the last government of Pierre Trudeau revived and formalized the regional minister system within the context of cabinet decision-making.

c. The regional minister system in the government of Justin Trudeau operates in a similar way to that of Pierre Trudeau.

d. Regional ministers tend to have the most authority in regions that are most dependent on government spending.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.05.06. Among statements a-d pertaining to Cabinet solidarity and secrecy choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. In the Westminster form of government, a minister is not expected to seek Cabinet agreement on a decision provided the legislative authority for the decision lies clearly within the minister’s portfolio.

b. Regardless of which ministers (or how many) are involved in making a decision, the Cabinet operates on the principle of Cabinet solidarity meaning that all Cabinet ministers must publicly defend all Cabinet policies or resign.

c. In addition to the practice of solidarity, the Cabinet also operates under the principle of Cabinet secrecy or confidentiality such that Cabinet ministers are not to disclose information about Cabinet deliberations in order to protect Cabinet deliberations (and possible discord) from being exploited by Opposition parties and the media.

d. In Canada, Cabinet documents are not normally made public for a period of 20 years.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.05.07. Among statements a-d pertaining to speaking truth to power choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Speaking truth to power is a term used to capture the role of public servants in a Westminster system of government to advise the political executive without fear or favour.

b. Speaking truth to power is a concept with little direct relevance to public servants who are not involved in the process of preparing advice for Ministers.

c. Speaking truth to power is an obligation to tell people not what they want to hear, but rather what they need to hear.

d. Speaking truth to power includes recognizing when the argument is over and not to keep on fighting after the issue has been decided.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.05.08. Among statements a-d pertaining to the policy advisory systems choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. The policy advisory system comprises an interlocking set of actors with a unique configuration in each sector and jurisdiction, who provide information, knowledge, and recommendations for action to policymakers.

b. In modern Westminster governments the executive advisory landscape is a complex web of policy advisory sources, many of which exist outside of government.

c. Given the number of advisory sources, it is useful to conceive of partisan advisers as one component in an overall policy advisory system.

d. Sources of policy advice over which the government has relatively high control include statutory authorities, community groups, and trade unions.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.05.09. Among statements a-d pertaining to the role of public servants in policy advising choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Jonathan Craft, drawing on Michel Prince, posits two idealized models of the role of public servants in advising government on policy matters: 1) speaking truth to power directly to ministers and 2) speaking truths with multiple actors of influence.

b. In the speaking truth to power model, the role of the public servant is that of an active participant in policy discussion inside and outside government; whereas in the speaking truths with multiple actors model, the role of the public servant is that of a confidential adviser inside government and a neutral observer outside government.

c. In the speaking truth to power model, public servants are knowledgeable executives with policy-sector expertise and history; whereas in the speaking truths with multiple actors model, public servants are generalist managers with expertise in decision processes and systems.

d. In the speaking truth to power model, the nature of the policy advice provided by public servants is candid and confident given in a neutral and detached manner; whereas in the speaking truths with multiple actors model, public servants provide relatively more guarded advice in a more compliant or preordained fashion.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.05.10. Among statements a-d pertaining to the Cabinet decision-making system choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. A sound Cabinet decision-making manages the flow of information and ideas to help secure agreement among ministers on the government’s priorities and to provide an effective forum for ministerial debate on issues of general interest and for expression of diverse regional interests.

b. There are no ideal models of Cabinet decision-making that exist independently from the people who use the system, and the circumstances in which they work.

c. The undisputed constant is that Cabinet, and its related structures are above all the Prime Minister’s own instruments for achieving his government’s goals. They must be both functional and comfortable for the Prime Minister, as well as for Cabinet colleagues and the officials who serve them.

d. Given the importance of the Cabinet decision-making system to the maintenance of Cabinet solidarity, many Canadian prime ministers have used a consensus-based process to establish the system that best suits their government. This is one of the most important tasks following the swearing in of Ministers and typically involves discussions with key ministers and at Cabinet over the first few weeks of government.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.05.11. Among statements a-d pertaining to the Cabinet documents choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Cabinet documents are documents that, if disclosed, would reveal any consideration or deliberation of Cabinet, or otherwise prejudice the confidentiality of Cabinet considerations, deliberations or operations.

b. Cabinet documents include submissions, submitted or proposed to be submitted to Cabinet; Cabinet agenda, notice of meetings and business lists for meetings; and minutes and decisions of Cabinet.

c. Cabinet documents do not include appendices to Cabinet submissions that consist purely of analysis of publicly available material and which do not reach recommendations.

d. The instructions for the preparation of Cabinet materials for the Government of Canada are publicly available on the Privy Council Office website.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.05.12. Among statements a-d pertaining to accounting officer choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Accounting officer is a designation for the senior public servant in a department that has long been used in the United Kingdom and was adopted in 2006 by the Government of Canada as part of the Federal Accountability Act.

b. Accounting officers in the Government of Canada have a legal obligation to appear before committees of the Senate and House of Commons and answer questions on the management responsibilities set out in section 16.4 of the Financial Administration Act.

c. The legal requirements of accounting officers to answer to the House of Commons relieves ministers of some of the obligations previously associated with the doctrine of ministerial responsibility.

d. Where, under the process set out in the Financial Administration Act, the accounting officer seeks written guidance from the Secretary of the Treasury Board for an unresolved disagreement between the accounting officer and the Minister related to the interpretation or application of a Treasury Board policy, directive or standard, such guidance should be sought through a letter from the accounting officer to the Secretary setting out the issue in a clear and balanced manner, and a copy of this letter should be provided to the Minister.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.05.13. Among statements a-d pertaining to the political aide choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Political aides, also called political staffers, are employees who are hired and fired by the minister, or the prime minister, whose salaries and benefits are paid from government revenues, but who are not part of the regular public service and are permitted to be explicitly political.

b. Political aides are able to draft speeches, press releases and other documents that conform to the overall political direction of the government.

c. Political aides provide advice to the minister about pending policy matters or cabinet or parliamentary business that must be managed in accordance with the government’s political environment.

d. Most functions performed by political aides could, from a constitutional and legal perspective, be assigned to non-partisan public servants but it would be more costly to do so.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.05.14. Among statements a-d pertaining to the dynamics between political executive and the civil service choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. The political executive directs the government of the day, while the civil service, like the Crown itself, enjoys continuity through transitions of government.

b. The political executive and the civil service may be seen as at once interdependent and independent entities within government.

c. The political executive is usually in a greater hurry to produce results than the civil service.

d. Given that “good policy makes good politics” there is usually very little difference in the policy advice developed by political advisors and that developed by public service advisors.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.05.15. Among statements a-d pertaining to the constitutional convention of a politically neutral civil service choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. The constitutional convention of a politically neutral civil service holds that public servants are appointed and promoted on the basis of merit rather than of party affiliation or contributions.

b. The constitutional convention of a politically neutral civil service holds that public servants do not engage in partisan political activities and do not express publicly their personal views on government policies or administration.

c. The constitutional convention of a politically neutral civil service holds that public servants provide forthright and objective advice to their political masters in private and in confidence; in return, political executives protect the anonymity of public servants by publicly accepting responsibility for departmental decisions.

d. The constitutional convention of a politically neutral civil service holds that public servants execute policy decisions loyally, irrespective of the philosophy and programs of the party in power and regardless of their personal opinions; as a result, public servants enjoy security of tenure during good behaviour and satisfactory performance

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.05.16. Among statements a-d pertaining to the ministerial responsibility choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. The principle of ministerial responsibility holds that civil servants carry out the minister’s orders, or act in accordance with the minister’s policy, it is for the minister and not for the civil servants to take any blame.

b. Ministerial responsibility means that a minister must resign if a serious and avoidable error occurs within the government portfolio which the minister heads.

c. Traditionally, ministerial responsibility has been viewed as the most important and most contentious of Westminster government conventions. But it is rarely defined, and this lack of a shared understanding of its requirements permits confusing, creative, and misleading interpretations of its meaning.

d. The constitutional convention of a politically neutral civil service is part of what is sometimes referred to in the public administration literature as the iron triangle of conventions consisting of political neutrality, ministerial responsibility, and public service anonymity.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.05.17. Among statements a-d pertaining to the political neutrality of public servants choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Political neutrality is a constitutional convention which provides that public servants should avoid activities likely to impair, or seem to impair, their political impartiality or the political impartiality of the public service.

b. The constitutional convention of a politically neutral civil service is part of what is sometimes referred to in the public administration literature as the ‘iron triangle’ of conventions consisting of political neutrality, ministerial responsibility, and public service anonymity.

c. The convention of political neutrality does not apply to public service unions and it is widely accepted that if a public service union actively supports a political party it does not impede the ability of individual union members to perform their jobs in a politically neutral manner.

d. The fact that political neutrality of public servants is not part of the written constitution does not detract from their centrality to Canada’s constitutional system.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.05.18. Among statements a-d pertaining to the public service anonymity choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Public service anonymity is the convention that ministers answer to Parliament and to the public for government actions without naming the public servants who provided advice or who carried out the administrative action.

b. The constitutional convention of public service anonymity has been strengthened by the clear rules set out in legislation on the duties of the accounting officer.

c. The anonymity of the civil service is linked to two concepts: permanence and neutrality. Civil servants, many of whom remain in their jobs whilst serving numerous governments, are thus likely to have to give advice to governments of different political parties, who may have different attitudes to policy. The advice they give needs to be given to ministers both freely and also without fear of adverse public or political reactions and without fear of future career damage.

d. The anonymity of the civil service is linked to the concept of ministerial responsibility, whereby the convention is for the minister to accept responsibility for their actions and decisions and those of their departments.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.05.19. Among statements a-d pertaining to the UK Civil Service Skills and Knowledge Framework choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. UK civil service policy professionals are expected to be able to consider and balance evidence, politics, and delivery at whatever stage the policy is at.

b. UK civil service policy professionals are expected to be able to understand and manage the political context by monitoring the political context and giving timely, honest, objective and impartial advice and recommendations to respond to the changing context in which Ministers operate.

c. UK civil service policy professionals are expected to be able to respond to the change in relationship with ministers at different stages of policy development; balancing the political view with other considerations.

d. UK civil service policy professionals are expected to be able to support ministers’ engagement with parliament and enable public accountability in their area.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 11 February 2017.

Image: The ‘Yes Minister’ guides for civil servants, The Telegraph, 26 February 2011, at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/8349709/The-Yes-Minister-guides-for-civil-servants.html, accessed 18 August 2016.