Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

The Magazine Of Queen's University

Search form

Who really governs in Ottawa?

Who really governs in Ottawa?

Longtime provincial civil servant Harold Gilbert, Sc'51, of Chatsworth, ON, has finally figured out who really governs in Ottawa.

Letter to the Editor
Re: “A new style of public service”
Issue #2-2010, p. 26

As a long-time senior civil servant in the provincial government, I was very interested in Hugh Winsor’s article. It has answered a question I had for many years as to who really was governing in Ottawa.

I had watched with great interest, the migration of civil servants from Regina to Ottawa when the Devine Government was elected in Saskatchewan [May 1982]. Then, later, I had the privilege of chairing a task force for the federal government which, although it was not through the public service, did allow me to get a better understanding of how the Ottawa system of government operated.

After a two- or three-year exposure, I completed my assignment. I was often asked for my opinion as to how provincial governments operate compared to our national government. I always answered by saying that after my period of observation I concluded that whereas in a province everyone knew the government in power, in Ottawa there were really three parties.

First there was the duly-elected government. Then there was the Opposition, whether it was one party or a combination of parties, and then there was the Civil Service. I could never really determine who was the government.

Well, Hugh Winsor’s article has answered my question. The civil service is really the government in Ottawa. However, this now raises another question. Is this a good thing or a bad thing for democracy?

Harold Gilbert, Sc'51
Chatsworth, ON

[Queen's Alumni Review 2010-3 cover]