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Defending a Contested Ideal

Luc Juillet
Ken Rasmussen


Luc Juillet et Ken Rasmussen

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1When we were first approached with the idea of writing a history of the Public Service Commission on the occasion of its centenary, our enthusiasm was initially accompanied by a few doubts. Nowadays, administrative history is not very popular amongst scholars of public administration, but, in this case, the book would necessarily be seen as a follow-up on The Biography of an Institution: The CivilService Commission, 1908-1967, the seminal study published in 1967 by Professor Ted Hodgetts and his colleagues. Given that the book is somewhat of a landmark in the field of Canadian public administration, modesty and good sense seemed to advise against simply attempting to follow in its footsteps: the work would have to be of a different nature. Moreover, writing a serious academic study of an institution at a time when it would be celebrating its anniversary seemed particularly daunting and condemned to disappoint many of those who love the institution and have been part of its history.

2In the end, we undertook this project because the Public Service Commission is a unique institution with a history that is intimately intertwined with the evolution of a fundamental principle of Canadian public administration: the principle of merit. Over the years, and still today, as we attempt to ensure competent and efficient management of public resources, provide equality of opportunities in public employment, and ensure a proper balance between preventing patronage and ensuring the public service’s responsiveness to elected officials, the principle of merit remains a key part of our debates on the future of the public service. In fact, the principle of merit, and hence the institution designed to protect it and make it an operational reality, occupy an important place in our conception of the role and the constitutional position of the public service in our democracy since the early twentieth century. For this reason, it became apparent to us that an examination of the history of the Public Service Commission and its evolving role in the protection of merit could also be an opportunity to better understand how Canada has addressed some of the difficult questions raised by operating an effective public administration in ways that also meet the broader objectives of democratic government. We hope that the readers will find this work useful in this regard.

3In completing this work, we have accumulated a debt of gratitude toward many people. We want to thank the leadership of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada and the Public Service Commission for the trust that they showed in offering us this opportunity. The president of the PSC, Maria Barrados, offered unwavering support throughout the project, while at all times respecting our independence as we crafted the analysis presented in the book. In fact, the Commission has been as scrupulous in its respect of our academic freedom as it has been generous in its support, providing invaluable access to documents and people. For this reason, we express our gratitude to Mme Barrados as well as to Bernard Miquelon and Robert Desperrier. We thank everyone who has read the manuscript, in full or in part, and provided useful comments and suggestions, especially Gilles Paquet, James Iain Gow, Maria Barrados, and Marie Tremblay. We also greatly benefited from the generosity of the many individuals, including the former presidents of the Commission, who agreed to be interviewed for this book.

4Many people also provided research assistance and editorial support. Alick Andrews provided with much appreciated assistance in setting up and conducting many of the interviews, but we also benefited from the experience and wisdom that he accumulated over many years in human resource management in the public service. Aaron Hamilton, Travis McLellan, Michael Perry and Marc Gervais provided research assistance on various parts of the manuscript. Louise Normand played a key role in shepherding the manuscript to completion, displaying flawless professionalism in the process. Patricia Balfour provided excellent copy editing, not only helping us to improve our writing but also to clarify our thinking. We thank her for her expertise and hard work. We are also very grateful to the staff of the Public Works and Government Services Translation Bureau in Québec City for the excellent translation of this book. Finally, the team at the University of Ottawa Press deserves special recognition for producing the book with exceptional timeliness and effectiveness. In this regard, we express our heartfelt gratitude to Gilles Paquet, whose continued support was essential in bringing the project to fruition.

5As we began our research, we were both offered the opportunity to take on leadership positions at new schools of public policy in our respective universities. While these appointments represented great opportunities, they added considerably to the challenge of finding the time to research and write the book. That we were able to finish it at all was due to the support of our respective institutions. At the University of Reginas Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, Ken Rasmussen thanks especially Sarina Wowchuk for her support. At the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, Luc Juillet expresses his sincere gratitude to Robert Asselin, France Prud’Homme and Ginette Robitaille for their assistance. Finally, many evenings and weekends were sacrificed to this project, cutting down on time that should have been spent with our families. Luc Juillet wishes to thank Sophie, Véronique and Sacha for their love, unconditional support, and understanding. Ken Rasmussen would like to thank Suzanne, Kaitlin and Jonathan for their love and support over the years.

© Les Presses de l’Université d’Ottawa | University of Ottawa Press, 2008

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