Winter 2018 Newsletter

A word from the communications director


This issue of the Institute of Responsible Government newsletter offers a window into a variety of topics: Canada’s constitutional structure at the time of Confederation, the difference between power and authority, the problem of public sector comfort zones, the weakness of parliamentary government and more. You can just skim what’s here or you can click on the various links and explore these topics further. And if you do, please tell us what you think about these various issues; send us a comment, or propose an article for the next newsletter.


Comfort zones


Marina Cabrera  – Organizational Director, Institute of Responsible Government/Translated by Eric Hamovitch
Have you ever had to wait in line at a government office while employees chatted amicably with one another as if you didn’t exist? And if you demand service, a security guard will intervene to insist you leave the premises while explaining the importance of politeness and good manners.

Where does the problem lie?

In the private sector, a company’s survival depends on its performance. For a company to stay in business, its employees must satisfy its customers. Peer pressure to perform is strong. In the public sector, the customer is captive, and revenues are obtained by force of law. Accordingly, there is no true gauge of the efficiency of the services rendered.

Human nature being what it is, people are inclined to expend the least amount of energy to fulfill their needs. Since there is no measure of efficiency, civil servants may help maintain a culture of ease at work – where the job description morphs to one that suits their pleasure, a space where they feel comfortable.

In this culture, each one’s comfort zone is protected by the natural solidarity between colleagues. You don’t criticize or blame others. You protect one another’s turf.

The consequences of this culture are so devious. Everything is hidden from the citizen: the decision-making process, costs, responsibilities. Seniority is the sure guide to promotion. Pay increases are a right. They own their jobs and can choose their colleagues and their successors. Power is unassailable.

Do you have other examples of consequences to share with us?

What’s the difference between Power and Authority?


Power and authority are closely related, but nevertheless very different, concepts.
Knowing the difference between them is crucial for understanding how Responsible Government works. In a brief capsule, Institute President Vincent Pouliot explains the relationship between power – the potential to act – and authority – the will to act. Download the pdf script here.



New on the website


Despite the virtues of parliamentary government, it has a serious weakness. It can lead to excessive power concentrated in the lower house of parliament, and therefore to unaccountable government.The Canadian model of Responsible Government, as originally conceived in the 1840s and implemented in the Province of Canada, offers a corrective to this weakness.
Click here for an exploration of this topic, newly posted on the Institute website.

News of interest


Canada has recently been treated to a striking example of the dangers of unaccountable government, with the Liberals using their majority to spare Prime Minister Trudeau from appearing before a parliamentary ethics committee to answer questions about his visit to the Aga Khan’s private island in 2016.

We’ve posted two articles about this development on the Institute’s website: Liberal majority on ethics committee votes down...&.. Liberals Shut Down Opposition Bid…. We invite you to read them and welcome your comments.

Meanwhile, in the campus newspaper of the University of Toronto at Mississauga, Kassandra Hangdaan critiques Trudeau’s new method of appointing senators and questions whether the resulting Senate is truly representative and nonpartisan. This article too is on our website; again, comments are most welcome.

The Institute at Congress 2018


Having had an important presence at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Toronto in June 2017, the Institute of Responsible Government will be participating in a workshop at the 2018 Congress, to be held in Regina from May 26 to June 1.

The Institute will be presenting a scholarly paper, exploring the nature of Canadian federalism in light of the constitutional structure that was in place at the time of Confederation. You can read the abstract of the paper, which has been accepted by the Canadian Political Science Association, by clicking here.




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