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Book Review

1239 words - 5 pages

Book Review by Martha Hall Findlay, March 2011

Approaching Public Administration – Core Debates and Emerging Issues Edited by Roberto P. Leone (Wilfrid Laurier University) and Frank L.K. Ohemeng (University of Ottawa); 2011, Emond Montgomery Publications
I recommend this book to all Members of Parliament. I will go further, and suggest that it should be mandatory reading for all Ministers. As an MP, I was very pleased to be asked to read it and to provide my thoughts. As I responded when first asked to do this, “We are seeing some real challenges in our public administration, and this will encourage me to read a book that I know I should read, but which I might not otherwise rush to.” This ...view middle of the document...

The format, in which each chapter poses a question, then includes one or more essays responding “NO” and one or more responding “YES”, forces the reader to challenge his/her assumptions and consider alternative perspectives. I appreciated this approach very much. Just when you think you agree with something, the next essay challenges the basis for that agreement. That kind of questioning always gets one to a

better conclusion, and it forced me to question a good number of assumptions I had about both the civil service and its evolution. It has also prompted important questions about its future. As a reviewer, I enjoyed the book from three different perspectives of my own: (i) as a business person with experience both in senior management in big, bureaucratic corporations as well as running smaller, more nimble enterprises; (ii) as a lawyer interested in the constitutional and parliamentary/legal environments that create, or permit, the system we now have; and (iii) as an MP who has served as Opposition Critic in various portfolios, including Public Works and Government Services. As a business person, I very much appreciated the debates and different perspectives in the chapters entitled “Should the Public Sector Be Run Like a Business?” and “Should Governments Use the Private Sector to Deliver Public Services?” I will admit to having found the debate on whether “New Public Management” has worked as a concept or not a bit frustrating. There seems to be a common desire to enhance both quality and efficiency in the public service. It is, after all, hard to argue against these goals. But fundamentally, government is not a business, so it can’t be run like a business. Despite efforts in public administration to use best practices from the private sector, a laudable goal, they are not so easily transferable. Absent the key drivers that govern the private sector, one can’t expect that private sector management practices will necessarily work in the public sector. Government lacks the profit motive that combines the desire to create or provide a better product or service in order to encourage sales, with a desire to lower costs and create efficiencies in order to maximize revenue over expense. The discipline that results from those forces, and how that affects all levels of management, does not naturally exist in government. The book has done a good job of offering the different perspectives to date, but I hope to see more discussion on how to combine the best of both worlds. It is telling that the essays discussing the role of the private sector in delivering public services are NOT part of this discussion, but found in a separate section of the book. My only comment on those chapters would be to suggest that our...

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