Primus extra pares: Prime Ministers and power

The evolution of the job of PM

When Governing from the Centre by Donald Savoie was published in 1999, positing that power had begun consolidating in the Prime Minister’s Office in the mid 1990s, I argued with Savoie that the evolution of this phenomenon was important, but it was not new. Rather, I noted, it could be traced back to Trudeau père and the advent of a centralizing PMO that had the likes of Marc Lalonde, Jim Coutts, and Tom Axworthy continuously accruing power to “The Centre” and changing the dynamic of decision-making in government. Turns out I was wrong. As Patrice Dutil, a capable historian and scholar of public administration, shows in Prime Ministerial Power in Canada: Its Origins Under Macdonald, Laurier and Borden,  those trends should be cast back to the origin of their development, and if blame is to be laid, then Sir John A. Macdonald deserves his share.

With careful comparative research—I picture...