Canadian Bureaucracy

Bureaucratic Influence Upon Canadian Policy Making

Janet A McDonald. 1994, ammended 2010.
Originally for Political Science 1F90, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, Professor Bill Mattheson.

The Canadian civil service, in its increasing complexity, exerts significant political and policy influence in the effort to provide good government. Several factors play a part in its development.

Power Based on Knowledge

Bureaucracy is a structure of power based on knowledge. It is likely that seasoned senior servants have more influence in determining the direction of policy than a new house member might because of their vast knowledge tempered with experience.(1)

Along with the Cabinet, the bureaucracy coordinates the development and implementation of public policy.(2) It consists of the organizational hierarchy under the command of different Cabinet Ministers in their respective advisory boards(3), departments, central agencies, and Crown agencies which report to Cabinet ministers(4) to influence future decisions. Within the public service bureaucracy the more influential members in policy implementation and formation are the deputy ministers with their advisory and administrative roles(5).

The deputy ministers are key in a complementary partnership in policy development and administration(6) to ensure political decisions are implemented into government action(7) as they bridge the spheres of elected representatives and tenured public servants and as “administrative intermediaries between the government and the citizens”(8). Deputy ministers are expected to manage their respective departments. The elected ministers are to formulate rather than implement policy. They encourage the deputy ministers by this circumstance to focus on policy advice to help their minister while competing with other sources of advice. The deputy minister’s influence increases in this advisory position as attention to departmental management decreases (9).

Increased influence may actually impede effectiveness from a management perspective. This problem increases as deputies may be rotated among departments. Departmental specialists increase in influence as deputies rely on their departmental expertise. As the deputy minister becomes more out of touch with his or her department, viable (workable) policy advice is more difficult to provide (10). Influence is tempered by other bureaucrats (11).

The intermediary position is a two-way communication process in which the public servant implements policies as directed by the minister for the citizen. The citizen in turn interacts with the public servant who, through the policy implementation and the resulting effect with the citizenry, evaluates the process and establishes proposals for superiors to effect policy change. This is a channel of communication to access decision makers (12). The bureaucracy also gains preliminary advice and asssistance from special interest groups which assist in the method of implementation of decisions (13).

The efficacy of implementing policy is a means of influencing policy in itself. If the bureaucracy does not implement or find the means to implement a policy, they can effectively squash the policy passed by parliament, legislature or municipal politicians (14). Latitude is given the bureaucrat in the specifics in implementation of a policy as a policy is passed by legislation in general terms. These discretionary powers enhance their policy role (15). Subtle shifts in political philosophy occur as practical means of implementation of the legislated ideal are made. This is not suprising since the 1962 Report of the Royal Commission on Government Organization (Glassco Commision) had as its major theme “let the managers manage”(16). This acknowledged the indispensibility of the public service and respect for the complexity of bureaucratic requirements that have developed specialization and coordination of the bureaucratic task which expands its political influence (17).

Even before the Glassco Commission, a dynamic shift in dependency upon the bureaucracy had begun. Prime Minister Pearson’s era saw the monopolizing of experts within the bureaucracy which precluded the need for building up political party research facilities. The policy platform of the 1957 general election was mainly created by civil servants (18). A close partnership of bureaucrats and Liberals ensued. The Conservative ministry under John Diefenbaker made no effort to break up the bureaucracy inspite of this previously close relationship with the Liberals. The bureaucracy was known to be indispensible and autonomous (19). Professional norms of public service were established guaranteeing continuity of service and influence (20).

In a management capacity, permanent public servants allow for continuity of administration. Such stability enables the ministers to answer for their departments (21).

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