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Political Science Comparative Politics

Court Government and the Collapse of Accountability in Canada and the United Kingdom

by (author) Donald Savoie

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
May 2008
Comparative Politics
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    Publish Date
    May 2008
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    May 2008
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There is a consensus throughout much of the western world that the public sector is in urgent need of repair. This study seeks to understand why this is so by comparing developments in Canada and the United Kingdom. It looks to changes in values both in society and inside government, and to the relationships between politicians and civil servants at the top and between civil servants and citizens at the bottom.

Donald J. Savoie argues that both Canada and the UK now operate under court government rather than cabinet government. By court government, he means that effective power now rests with their respective prime ministers and a small group of carefully selected courtiers. For things that matter to prime ministers and their courts, the decision-making process shifts from formal to informal, involving only a handful of actors. For things that matter less to them, the decision-making process is horizontal, cumbersome, and consultative, and involves a multitude of actors from different government departments and agencies as well as a variety of individuals operating outside government.

Court governments undermine both the traditionally bureaucratic model and basic principles that have guided the development of our Westminster-Whitehall parliamentary system. Nonetheless, Canada and the United Kingdom still cling to accountability requirements better suited to the past and the traditional bureaucratic model. Savoie concludes with a call for new accountability requirements that correspond with court government as well as the new relationships between politicians and civil servants, and civil servants and citizens.

About the author

Donald Savoie is a self-effacing professor of public administration at Université de Moncton, where he holds the Clément-Cormier Chair in Economic Development. His recent books include Governing from the Centre (1999) and Breaking the Bargain (2003). When he is not writing scholarly works, he is advising provincial, territorial, and federal governments here in Canada, the United States, the OECD, and the World Bank. He golfs with premiers, prime ministers, and presidents of multinational corporations. He was born and raised in the Acadian village of Bouctouche, in rural New Brunswick.

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