The Politics of Canadian Public Policy


286 pages
ISBN 0-8020-2485-8




Edited by Michael M. Atkinson and Marsha A. Chandler
Reviewed by Douglas A. Ross

Douglas A. Ross was a political scientist living in Burnaby, B.C.


This book is clearly aimed at the senior undergraduate textbook market. As such, it provides a useful overview of a number of hitherto neglected issue-areas and a defensible if somewhat too conventional review of the current trends in policy analysis. Atkinson and Chandler introduce the eleven essays that follow with the briefest of comparisons of neo-Marxist and pluralist images of the role of the state in Canadian society, and they then proceed to justify the great diversity in analytical approaches in the book as being reflective of the inherent lack of homogeneity in the field. Ideologies, bureaucratic organization per se, interest group activity of various types, the condition of federal-provincial relations, and so forth, are all treated as relevant variables in the formulation of policy explanations. Determinants of policy, the substance of policy types, variation in policy instruments, and variation in policy impact are all deemed worthy of systematic inquiry: “The object of this collection of essays is to explore the roles of the state in a variety of policy settings, and to provide an overview of different approaches to the analysis of the policy process... In the belief that there is no one path to policy development or any single compelling explanatory theory, we have chosen to survey a range of substantive fields and analytical questions” (p. 15). Such eclecticism, however commendable in introductory textbooks surveying a disparate subject domain, is less than satisfying.

The substantive areas covered in the volume include: William Coleman’s analysis of the evolution of language policy in Quebec as a response to demands from the capitalist elite; Marsha Chandler’s balanced investigation of the influence of political ideologies, the existence of resource rents, and the exigencies of “province-building” on provincial resource policies; Dale Poel’s assessment of the role of lobbying by professionals and the state of federal-provincial relations as determinants of legal aid policy; a study by Arpad Abonyi and Michael Atkinson of the “defensive and adaptive” tendency of Canadian industry toward technological innovation and governmental efforts to improve industrial performance; a concise but thorough dissection of fisheries policy in the Atlantic region by Susan McCorquodale; Kenneth Woodside’s lucid and judiciously handled analysis of the differential impact of tax incentives and direct subsidies; an overview of the rationales for the selection of crown corporations as policy instruments by J.R.S. Prichard and M.J. Trebilcock; Geoffrey Weller’s and Pranlal Manga’s historical review of health policy; and, finally, Simon McInnes’s assessment of the dominance of resource exploitation in Ottawa’s northern development policy. Two other papers address more theoretical concerns: the rudiments of public choice theory, by Mark Sproule-Jones, and the problem of program evaluation, by John Mayne and Robert S. Mayne.

Overall, the quality of writing is high and the level of analysis sophisticated although not exciting. Most of the contributors have avoided obfuscatory jargon. The book is not long and it might usefully have been expanded to include “public policy” analysis of other important issue-areas: for example, foreign policy, defence policy, industrial development and foreign ownership policy, and trade policy — to name but four.



“The Politics of Canadian Public Policy,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 24, 2024,