Abstract: Many politicians and citizens have pointed views about the public sector. Its size, cost, and reach are topics of heated debate, pitting big-state progressives against small-government conservatives. “Bureaucracy bashing” has been common in western countries. Recent surges in populist rhetoric in Canada, the U.S., and Europe, have painted the public service as an elite institution contributing to an unresponsive, unproductive, even undemocratic system. Beyond these high-level, left-versus-right debates, the precise function of public servants in Canadian democracy is less refined. In particular, little is known about how bureaucrats, themselves, view their role in 21st Century Canadian democracy. The proposed set of two roundtables is designed to stimulate thought around the position of public servants in Canadian government and politics. Codes of conduct and ethics, and values and missions statements, provide general guidelines for public service behaviour. Yet, these documents remain silent on the important part public servants play outside their boardrooms and cubicles, and in the broader Canadian society and democracy. Just what purpose do public servants see themselves serving?
The two roundtables bring together Canada’s top experts in the fields of democratic governance and public administration. The ultimate goal is to formulate a SSHRC Insight Grant proposal to survey federal, provincial, territorial, municipal, and Indigenous public servants about their perceptions of democracy and their role within it. The resulting study would be the first of its kind in Canada and Westminster parliamentary democracies.