Canadian Politics - Public Policy

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Political Science
Christopher Cochrane

Canadian Politics Part 10: Public Policy Key Terms: 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: 1. Initiation 2. Priority-Setting 3. Policy Formulation 4. Legitimation 5. Implementation 6. Interpretation 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. Initiation 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 e) Lobbyists f) Corporations 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 minister. 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. Priority-Setting 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. Policy Formulation 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. Legitimation 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
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