The Office of Premier of Ontario 1945-2010: Who Really Advises?

The Office of Premier of Ontario 1945-2010: Who Really Advises?

This article focuses on the composition of the Ontario Premier’s office and uses an institutionalist approach to put the influence of advisors in context. It looks at expenditures attributed in the Public Accounts to the Premier’s Office and staffing. It assumes that the number of advisors and their placement in the decision-making hierarchy should have a material impact on the quantity and quality of the advice being received by the Premier. Among other things the articles shows that the classic policy/administration divide was not clearly defined in Ontario. Instead it exhibits a back-and-forth habit of experimentation that depended on the personality of the prime minister, the capacities of political and bureaucratic advisors, and the stages of the governmental cycle. There have been discernible cycles in the hiring of political staff and in the growth of expenditures that would indicate the Premier’s Office was more concerned with campaign preparations and externalities than it was in rivaling bureaucratic influence. Compared to Ottawa, where the structures of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office have been far more distinct in this similar time frame, the Ontario experience reveals itself as one of constant experimentation.

For almost two generations, observers of all sorts have almost unanimously lamented the growth in influence of prime ministerial advisors. Members of parliament and public servants have complained that brash young advisors have been presumptive in claiming to speak on behalf of “the power” and in holding that their “spoken truths” had more relevance and importance than any other advice. Scholars have chimed in with the conclusion that the strength of the PM’s advisors are indicative of a will to “steer from the centre.” In Canada, the most distinguished advocate of this model has been Donald Savoie who diagnosed a growing tendency to “govern from the centre” and the emergence of a new form of “court government” that required an important cadre of advisors.1