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Political Science General


Have Presidents and Prime Ministers Misdiagnosed the Patient?

by (author) Donald J. Savoie

McGill-Queen's University Press
Initial publish date
May 2022
General, Commentary & Opinion
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    May 2022
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    May 2022
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Citizens have lost trust in their institutions of public governance. In trying to fix the problem, presidents and prime ministers have misdiagnosed the patient, failing to recognize that government bureaucracies are inseparable from political institutions. As a result, career officials have become adroit at managing the blame game but much less so at embracing change.

Donald Savoie looks to the United States, Great Britain, France, and Canada to assess two of the most important challenges confronting governments throughout the Western world: the concentration of political power and the changing role of government bureaucracy. The four countries have distinct institutions shaped by distinct histories, but what they have in common is a professional non-partisan civil service. When presidents and prime ministers decide to expand their personal authority, national institutions must adjust while bureaucracies grow to fill the gap, paradoxically further constricting government efficacy. The side effects are universal – political power is increasingly centralized; Parliament, Congress, and the National Assembly have been weakened; Cabinet has lost standing; political parties have been debased; and civil services have been knocked off their moorings.

Reduced responsibility and increased transparency make civil servants slow to take risks and politicians quick to point fingers. Government astutely diagnoses the problem of declining trust in government: presidents and prime ministers have failed to see that efficacy in government is tied to well-performing institutions.

About the author

Donald J. Savoie est titulaire de la Chaire de recherche du Canada en administration publique et gouvernance (niveau 1) à l'Université de Moncton. Il a remporté de nombreux prix, dont le prix Donner 2016 pour What Is Government Good At? Il a été fait Officier de l'Ordre du Canada (1993), élu membre de la Société royale du Canada (1992) et a reçu huit doctorats honorifiques de la part d'universités canadiennes.

Donald J. Savoie's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“Savoie ably shows the consequences in all four countries of what happens when power is overly centralized. Morale is low among civil servants, with many skilled and experienced individuals no longer seeking careers in the public sector. In the meantime, according to public opinion polls, trust in government institutions has been declining. This is certainly a different scenario compared to the 1950s and 1960s, when citizens looked to their governments to develop innovative solutions to complicated national problems.” The Winnipeg Free Press

Other titles by Donald J. Savoie