Winner: Donner Prize for Excellence and Innovation in Public Policy Writing by Canadians (2016) Winner: New Brunswick Book Award for Non-Fiction (2016) Recent decades have shown the public's support for government plummet alongside political leaders’ credibility. This downward spiral calls for an exploration of what has gone wrong. The questions "What is government good at?" and "What is government not good at?" are critical ones - and their answers should be the basis for good public policy and public administration. In What Is Government Good At?, Donald Savoie argues that politicians and public servants are good at generating and avoiding blame, playing to a segment of the population to win the next election, embracing and defending the status quo, adding management layers and staff, keeping ministers out of trouble, responding to demands from the prime minister and his office, and managing a complex, prime minister-centred organization. Conversely, they are not as good at defining the broader public interest, providing and recognizing evidence-based policy advice, managing human and financial resources with efficiency and frugality, innovating and reforming itself, being accountable to Parliament and to citizens, dealing with non-performers, paying sufficient attention to service delivery, and implementing and evaluating the impact of policies and programs. With wide implications for representative democracy, What Is Government Good At? is a persuasive analysis of an approach to government that has opened the door to those with the resources to influence policy and decision-making while leaving average citizens on the outside looking in.
Donald J. Savoie holds the Canada Research Chair in public administration and governance at the Université de Moncton and is the author of numerous books including Whatever Happened to the Music Teacher?
"Savoie draws clear distinctions between what government is good at, largely those things it is uniquely placed to deliver - and a much longer list of things at which government is not good. Savoie makes a strong case that government must focus on its strengths or potentially risk losing those responsibilities to other actors. In the name of increased transparency and accountability, Savoie believes we have disempowered the public service and have created a risk-averse and demoralized group of public servants. Donald J. Savoie’s book is one that Canadians, both inside and outside of government, should read with a sense of urgency." Donner Prize Jury
“Can we get a copy of Donald J. Savoie’s “What Is Government Good At? A Canadian Answer” onto the reading stand of every candidate for president of the United States?... Savoie’s book is not a prescription as much as it is a field guide to government and its performance. He’s not arguing that government should get out of the way - the Republican view in this country, a legacy of Ronald Reagan - as much as he argues that government needs to burnish its performance.” David M. Shribman, Pittsburg Post-Gazette
"What Is Government Good At? Is a major contribution to research on Canadian government and the threats to Canadian democracy and public administration. Savoie writes with skill and flair and there are excellent and interesting insights in every chapter of this book." G. Bruce Doern, Carleton University