Part 10: Public Policy
Public Policy: a course of action or inaction chosen by public authorities to address
a given problem or interrelated set of problems.
Public policy can be defined as a course of action or inaction chosen by public
authorities to address a given problem or interrelated set of problems.
Leslie Pal adds that every policy has three key elements:
1. The definition of the problem
2. The goals to be achieved
3. Instruments or means chosen to address the problem and to achieve the goals
The actual policymaking process can be divided into six phases:
3. Policy Formulation
Not all policies or decisions involve such an elaborate process including all the
institutions of government; indeed, many can be made unilaterally by the prime minister,
the Cabinet, a minister, the bureaucracy, or the courts.
The authorities are bombarded daily with hundreds of demands. These demands emanates
from many different sources:
a) The provinces and territories
b) Opposition parties
c) The media
d) Advocacy groups
g) Royal commissions
h) Election promises
i) Personal concerns of ministers or the prime minister
j) The government caucus k) The bureaucracy
l) Foreign countries (usually the United States), or other forces within the internal
or external environments of the political system
The policymaking process is set in motion when the prime minister and Cabinet,
frequently termed the government have been impressed with the articulation of a
demand and decide to look into the matter further.
On a smaller scale, a single minister may also make such a decision.
Donald J. Savoi reminds us, however, not to underestimate the extent to which
ministers pursue initiatives recommended to them in mandate letters from the prime
It is at this point that a demand is sometimes said to become an issue.
An issue, therefore, is a demand that has made it onto the public agenda and that is
under serious consideration by the authorities.
In such, a case, the Cabinet ordinarily sends a directive to the bureaucracy that it wants
more information on the matter.
The second phase of the policymaking process involves the prime minister and Cabinet
again, this time in their priority-setting capacity.
Responding to course of action recommended by the public service, they decide which of
the proposals they have selected for consideration are worthy of adoption.
In other words, the prime minister and Cabinet (or, on lesser issues, an individual
minister) must decide whether or not to take action on the issue, and, if they decide to act,
they must determine the general lines of the initiative.
At this point the Cabinet may also choose which policy instrument will be most
appropriate to achieve their objective.
Here a major constraint is the cost of the proposal, since almost all such proposals face
fierce competition for the scarce financial resources available.
If the Cabinet and PM are not sure about what course to follow, they may publish policy
alternatives in coloured papers and make them available to the public.
A Green Paper, for example, consists of an early consideration of an issue, with little
indication of the direction of government policy.
Once it has approved a proposal in principle, the Cabinet usually sends another directive
to the bureaucracy to work out the details in what is called the policy formulation phase.
This is often a very time-consuming process that requires coordination among many
federal government departments (now called horizontal management) and may also
involve consultation with provincial governments, interest groups, and others. Policy communities and policy networks play an increasingly important role at this stage,
and questions may be referred back to the Cabinet for further direction.
On major, complex policy initiatives, the Cabinet sometimes issues a White Paper,
which provides a clear indication of its intentions but still leaves room for public input
with respect to details.
If the proposal requires legislative action, the policy formulation stage culminates in a bill
being drafted on the basis of the Memorandum to Cabinet.
During this process, the minister will probably discuss the principles of the proposal with
interested members of the government caucus.
Once a bill has been drafted and approved by the responsible minister, it is sent to the
leader of the government in the House of Commons.
After reviewing its consistency with relevant Cabinet decisions, this minister reports to
Cabinet and seeks authority for the introduction of the bill into the House of Commons.
The proposal then enters the legislative arena, that is, Parliament the House of
Commons and the Senate.
The relevant minister may accept technical alternations to the bill as it proceeds through
the House of Commons and the Senate, but opposition amendments often cha