Breaking the Bargain: Public Servants, Ministers, and Parliament


337 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-8810-4
DDC 352.3'5'0971




Reviewed by Agar Adamson

Agar Adamson is the author of Letters of Agar Adamson, 1914–19 and former chair of the Department of Political Science at Acadia University in Nova Scotia.


There are few writers better equipped than the author to tackle the
subject of the public service. Donald Savoie has had a foot not only in
the academic world but also in the real world of politics and public
administration. In this book, he argues that the old balance of power
between politician and bureaucrat has broken down and that the doctrine
of ministerial responsibility is no longer accepted by either civil
servants or politicians. He provides an enlightening chapter on the
power of think tanks and the process by which these organizations have
come to replace the public service as generators of new policies. He
illustrates how the public service has been adversely affected by
freedom of information legislation.

Anyone looking for the roots of the Liberal sponsorship scandals might
well agree with Savoie when he writes, “Today central controls have
been reduced and inefficiencies are ferreted out by audits, access to
information, the media (and eventually) question period.” Central
controls were, of course, in the hands of the public service, which he
argues is no longer interested in finding the root cause of a problem.

Savoie concludes his book with the rather chilling observation that
“the classic role of the House of Commons to provide oversight to the
actions of government has basically withered and died. If the Commons
cannot do this, then it cannot do anything else of substance.”
Breaking the Bargain raises the alarm that our system of democratic
government is in desperate need of repair and that it is time for
Canadians to debate among ourselves what kind of new bargain we want to
build between the public service, the politicians, and the media. This
is a timely book but one that is likely to stand the test of time.


Savoie, Donald J., “Breaking the Bargain: Public Servants, Ministers, and Parliament,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 28, 2024,