How Ottawa Decides: Planning and Industrial Policy Making 1968-1984


225 pages
Contains Illustrations, Index
ISBN 0-88862-369-0




Reviewed by G.P. Wood

G.P. Wood was a lecturer at the Department of Political Science, St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia.


The essential difference between this and the first edition of How Ottawa Decides is the addition of a final chapter by Richard Van Loon to cover events from 1980 to 1984. As in the first edition, Richard French focuses on the planning capabilities of the federal government beginning with the Trudeau government of 1968 and ending with Trudeau’s return to power in 1980. He argues that three distinct planning systems, embodied in the Department of Finance, the Treasury Board Secretariat, and the Privy Council Office, were developed during the period and operated in a competitive rather than complementary manner. The idea that these planning systems were dysfunctional is illustrated by French through an examination of the interaction of the planning systems around such fields as resource allocation, fiscal policy, and industrial strategy. The final chapter, by Richard Van Loon, traces the development of planning since 1980, focusing on the operation of the Policy and Expenditure Management System. He concludes that the new system does seem to provide a “better integration of priorities and political action,” although there is room still for significant improvement in other aspects of planning. The combined talents of two authors with extensive bureaucratic, political, and academic experience have produced an excellent and thorough description of the Canadian planning experience. While Van Loon suggests that the political economy of this decade might require a different analytical framework than that offered by How Ottawa Decides, he also suggests that “the lessons drawn may not be without some continuing pertinence.” Clearly, this will ensure the ongoing value of the book.


French, Richard D., “How Ottawa Decides: Planning and Industrial Policy Making 1968-1984,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 16, 2024,