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Political Science Economic Policy

The Politics of Public Spending in Canada

by (author) Donald Savoie

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
Dec 1990
Economic Policy, Public Finance, Governmental
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    Publish Date
    Dec 1990
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Ten people meet for the first time over lunch. They must decide whether they will share one check or ask for ten separate ones. In theory, if they decide on one shared check they will all choose the most expensive items. But if each were paying individually they would probably have chosen differently: nobody would want to miss the best food while paying for someone else to have it.
With this analogy, Donald Savoie tackles government's increased spending and our inability to cut back existing programs. He argues that they are rooted in the regional nature of Canada and in the fear that unless we eat the best at the public banquet we will lose our shares of public largesse. Savoie identifies the forces fuelling new government spending and also those that inhibit efforts to reduce it.
The regional factor is of first importance, but Savoie also looks at forces such as the role of the private sector and the pressures of special interest groups. Supporters of a new day-care program, for example, are likely to compare the cost of their proposal with other government measures in order to justify it. A regional minister in Newfoundland seeking support for construction of new wharfs is less likely to do a cost-benefit analysis of the project than to compare it with expenditures on an expansion of an airport in central Ontario.
Savoie has carried out extensive interviews with policy makers to find out how priorities are established within the federal government, how the planning process works, and how conflict develops between two groups in the budget process: the guardians and the spenders. Both increased spending and the inability to cut programs, Savoie argues, are the result of Canada's regional nature and the perception in various ministries that large budgets are a means for maintaining power and enhancing prestige. He concludes with suggestions for controlling spending, and makes a plea for important changes in the future.

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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Other titles by Donald Savoie