Governing From the Centre: The Concentration of Power in Canadian Politics | Donald Savoie

Recommended by: Patrice Dutil

This post is part of the LRC’s 25 year anniversary project. We are asking our readers for the most influential Canadian books published in the last quarter century. For more information, click here.


 

SavoieI think one of the most influential books published over the past twenty-five years was Donald Savoie’s Governing From the Centre: The Concentration of Power in Canadian Politics. Savoie, an Acadian scholar who had spent time in the mid-1970s as a Government of Canada employee, had already contributed a few substantive books since the mid-1980s. With this volume, he ensured his prominence as a scholar in political science and public administration, both in Canada and abroad.

Though people had complained since the early 1970s that too much power had drifted to the prime minister, Savoie documented the process. He argued that the central agencies in the federal government had essentially stopped serving the cabinet, and instead had been appropriated by the prime minister.  The fat book (439 pages) was, and remains, highly readable. This is no easy feat: Savoie was not writing about affairs of the heart or the angst of modern living. His book was about the Treasury Board Secretariat, the Public Service Commission, the Department of Finance and the Privy Council Office! What made this book remarkable was Savoie’s dexterity in weaving insightful comments from public servants about how the process of decision-making unfolded in Ottawa under Trudeau, Mulroney and Chrétien.

No book has had more influence in political science or public administration. Savoie’s book launched a small industry on the phenomenon of power in Ottawa and the provinces. While Governing From the Centre has been challenged, it has shaped Canadian conventional wisdom.

 


Patrice Dutil is a Professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University. In 1991, he founded the Literary Review of Canada.