The Draft Memorandum to Cabinet, Douglas Hartle (1993)

… from the Atlas collection of Cases

Click for case study pdf

An open access resource from the IPAC Case Study Program

Prepared by Douglas Hartle in 1993 and abridged for IPAC by Ted Glenn in 2007 (see pdf on right; material below is directly quoted from the pdf).


Douglas Hartle’s classic The Draft Memorandum to Cabinet is a fictionalized account of the roles senior public servants play in the federal government’s Cabinet decision-making process. The case provides unique insight into the relationships between Cabinet ministers and senior public servants as well as into the roles intra- and interdepartmental politics play in Canadian public administration.

Keywords: Minister, deputy minister, assistant deputy minister, intra- and interdepartmental relations, Department of Finance, Treasury Board Secretariat, Cabinet Committee, Deputy Secretary to Cabinet, Clerk of the Privy Council.

Teaser excerpt

I. The Deputy will see you now

The Deputy Minister’s secretary spoke quickly on the phone: “Would you mind coming immediately to Mr. Thompson’s office? The meeting will be brief. Mr. Thompson has another meeting in ten minutes. He also has a sheaf of phone messages. His wife is expecting him to meet her at the Chateau Laurier at six-thirty. They are going from there to the Swedish Embassy for dinner.”

David Thompson’s secretary smiled slyly upon my arrival in the outer office and motioned me to a chair beside the Deputy’s door. “He is speaking to the Minister right now. You know how she is,” she whispered, giving me her best all-knowing look.

I wondered what David was about to say. As his Assistant Deputy Minister, you never know what to expect when the big boss asks you to come “immediately” to his office.

“Good of you to drop by”, David said, as he looked up from the signature book bristling with letters lying open before him on his otherwise clear oval desk. “How was your day”? As he talked I grunted, nodded, smiled and laughed (at what I hoped were all the appropriate times). Mistakenly thinking I had picked up the spirit of the occasion – a pleasant chat – I launched into a description of the problems I had been having recruiting a new person. This was fair conversational game. But I hadn’t said more than a few sentences when, obviously not having heard a word I said, David abruptly intervened.

“I just got off the phone with the Minister. She’s as mad as hell about that lead editorial in the Globe this morning. That is the second call from her in the last hour. Her Executive Assistant’s phone has been ringing off the hook. The Chairman of her constituency association has warned her to smarten up. And her colleagues gave her a ribbing at the Cabinet Committee meeting this afternoon.”

“Sounds like another fine mess our Minister has got us into,” I said. I stood up and promised that I would sort out the problem. I raced down the stairs, picked up the right files, stuffed them into my briefcase, and went to my car. I drove home through the heavy darkness of an Ottawa winter’s evening. The stars were coming out. But I knew they were not for me. …


The Draft Memorandum to Cabinet, Douglas Hartle (1993), IPAC Case Study Program, Institute of Public Administration of Canada, see

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 15 April 2018.

Image: The Draft Memorandum to Cabinet, Douglas Hartle (1993), IPAC Case Study Program, Institute of Public Administration of Canada.