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James Ross Hurley

Governments Under Stress: Political Executives And Key Bureaucrats In Washington, London and Ottawa, Collin Campbell, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1983, 388p.

Colin Campbell suggests that this book, which treats a number of issues concerning the relationship between central agencies and executive leadership in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, may appeal to the latent chief executive in many of its readers by asking. "If you were president or prime minister, how would you try to get it 'right' from the start"?

In seeking an answer to this question, Dr. Campbell developed a useful framework of analysis to study executive government in three political systems which have common roots as well as significant differences: two are parliamentary and one congressional, two are federal and one is unitary. In each of the systems, there was at least one change of government during the period of study, so that comparisons can be made not only among the three countries but also between successive governments in each.

The arm-chair executive may be awed at the influences or constraints that face a newly elected president or prime minister in a complex industrialized society. Colin Campbell, in analyzing the interaction of these influences, leadership styles and the organization and operation of central agencies, has made a major contribution to our understanding of how a new incumbent must cut his or her cloth to fit the circumstances. Among the influences he cites are those that may persist far into the future (the bipolar nature of global politics); those which may sustain themselves at least through more than one mandate (stagflation); those that occur during a mandate and relate principally to the legislative and electoral calendars; the partisan situation of the incumbent; institutional resources at the disposal of the incumbent, and the personality of the incumbent.

Campbell has chosen to focus on how these constraints or "influences" affect the way a president or prime minister pursues a particular style of leadership which in addition to the setting the tone of the government, may bring about changes in the resources, organization and operation of central agencies designed to achieve his or her goals. He suggests that there are four leadership styles: broker politics, where key policy decisions are made in the periphery through negotiations between units with competing expertise and authority. which are tracked and managed by central agencies, administrative politics. where single departments and agencies gain near hegemony over segments of policy management; planning and priorities, where units are challenged to propose crosscutting policy alternatives which central agencies are expected to bring together in a comprehensive strategy; and politics of survival where, under severe political stress, many matters previously decided at the periphery, are brought to the centre for decision.

Interviews with 265 career and politically appointed senior officials in central agencies in Washington, London and Ottawa provided the basis for analyzing the interaction of influences, executive leadership and central agencies. This approach has its limitations. The degree to which officials are at liberty to discuss all relevant matters is restricted and, as Dr. Campbell discovered in London. access to officials or even to organization charts may be difficult. Concentration on central agency staff also leads to a somewhat formal analysis of how a new president or prime minister tries to get it "right" from the start and perhaps places insufficient emphasis on some of the other influences that may bear on leadership style and on policy development or evaluation (elected members and party "brass", friends in the City or. formerly. Transport House, Canadian senators who may be unofficial policy advisors. transition teams, etc.). Placing the emphasis on formal structures lessens the degree of consideration given to informal structures. such as shadow committees of senior officials, which may play in part central agency functions (although Dr Campbell does refer, for example, to DIM 5 and DM 10).

Notwithstanding these limitations, Campbell has provided a highly interesting examination of central agency performance in three areas: strategic planning, the development and integration of economic and fiscal policies; and the allocation and management of human and physical resources The study weaves together a rich variety of facts, information on organization, operations and resources, as well as assessments and opinion. A number of observations appear to arise out of his study: collective decision-making in parliamentary cabinet government may be more effective in pursuing a government's goals than the centralization of executive authority in the hands of the president; the United States has fallen behind other systems in its machinery for co-ordinating interdepartmental decision-making and in selecting policy advisors; the capacity to delegate and to avoid becoming enmeshed in detail through the effective use of gatekeepers may contribute to "successful" governance by a president or prime minister; institutional and constitutional factors limit the degree to which a U.S. president can pursue an active priorities and planning style of leadership.

Dr. Campbell concludes with some prescriptive counsel for presidents and prime ministers who want to get it right from the start while acknowledging that, in the last analysis. executive leadership is an art. There is much food for thought. but some of his recommendations stray from factual assessment and deal with perception. The practitioners of the art will have to determine how appropriate his counsel is in the light of their own circumstances. One would hope that, in a subsequent study, Dr. Campbell might interview some former practitioners (presidents, prime ministers and members of cabinet) to seek their assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of central agencies and how best a chief executive might get it right' from the start.

While this study represents a major achievement in the area of comparative executive government, he has perhaps concentrated too heavily on the executive branch. References to Congress and Parliament abound in his book, but the importance of congressional relations or parliamentary House planning is not highlighted. It is significant that the Office of the President of the Privy Council is not listed as a Canadian central agency. Questions arise: how do caucuses, congressional leadership. meetings of House leaders and the prevailing situation in Congress or Parliament affect executive strategic planning and, indeed. leadership style? How do or should central agencies take account of these "influences" in developing strategic plans?

It there are aspects of this study that could be further developed or fleshed out Colin Campbell has nonetheless provided a good framework for analysis and has manipulated a mass of information to produce a coherent work that establishes a benchmark and will stimulate further study. Although this may be considered an academic" work. the style of writing and the presentation do no intimidate: the book should appeal to the latent executive as well as to political practitioners, officials and students of government.

James Ross Hurley, Federal Provincial Relations Office, Ottawa


Canadian Parliamentary Review Cover
Vol 7 no 2
1984






Last Updated: 2019-07-15