The Politics of Public Money: Spenders, Guardians, Priority Setters, and Financial Watchdogs Inside the Canadian Government.


372 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-8020-9503-9
DDC 352.40971




Reviewed by Graeme S. Mount

Graeme S. Mount is a history professor at Laurentian University and
author of Canada’s Enemies: Spies and Spying in the Peaceable Kingdom.


This well written book will be of greatest use to students of economics and political science—the readers most likely to have an interest in the day-to-day behind-the-scenes operations of Canada’s federal government. Good discusses the roles of the Prime Minister’s Office, the Privy Council Office, the Minister of Finance, the Department of National Revenue, the Treasury Board, the Auditor General, and other civil servants in the preparation of federal budgets from the days of Lester Pearson and Walter Gordon onward. There are mentions of guidelines from the International Monetary Fund and the role of the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons. Good notes differences in procedures when minority governments hold office, and there are comparisons with comparable procedures in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands.


The prose is clear and easy to read. Each chapter begins with highly memorable quotations, anonymous ones from civil servants, and attributed ones from elected politicians. “The minister of finance cannot decide all the budget priorities,” said “a former top adviser to a prime minister.” A “Senior Department of Finance official” said, “Sure we get some advice from others, but we in Finance are the budget office.” An unidentified deputy minister said, “Success in Ottawa is measured by, ‘Can you get money?’” Paul Martin (Junior) said, “It’s who do you know in the PMO. … We must move to address this democratic deficit.”


There is no bibliography, but the extensive endnotes reveal a wide range of sources: published books and articles, interviews, House of Commons debates, government papers, speeches, many interviews, the Internet.


Good could have said more about pressure groups that influence the way governments spend public money, and offered reasons why they have so much influence. It would also have been appropriate to suggest whether it matters whether Liberal or Conservative governments hold office. Nevertheless, what Good has done he has done well.


Good, David A., “The Politics of Public Money: Spenders, Guardians, Priority Setters, and Financial Watchdogs Inside the Canadian Government.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed January 27, 2023,