CSPS Transitions of Government

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Annotated Reading List: Transitions of Government

At the request of the Privy Council Office, the Canada School of Public Service (CSPS) has identified recommended readings related to the management of transitions of government.

The selected readings examine both political and public service perspectives on transition and draw on experiences from past transitions within Canada and abroad.

For ease of reference, readings have been organized by: the federal experience, other Canadian/provincial experiences, and international experience.


(1) Off and Running: The Prospects and Pitfalls of Government Transitions in Canada

Zussman, David. (2013).Off and Running: The Prospects and Pitfalls of Government Transitions in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Summary: Zussman examines approaches to transition at the federal level from 1984 to 2011. He draws on: his career in public affairs, including his role in the transitions for the Chrétien governments, extensive interviews with more than forty key individuals involved in the last eleven federal government transitions, and the international literature on government transitions, public administration, and management. Zussman goes step-by-step through the transition process from the pre-election stage of transition planning through to implementation and consolidation of a new government. This book is ideally suited to those seeking an understanding of how government works during one of the most crucial points in its life cycle.

(2) A public servant’s guide to new governments

Fyfe, Toby. (April 21, 2014). Retrieved online from the Canadian Government Executive website.

Summary: This interview of David Zussman succinctly captures important points for public servants across Zussman’s four phases of transition (articulated in greater depth in Off and Running). This interview can be accessed online.

(3) How transition teams help incoming governments

Roscoe, Elizabeth. (June 25, 2018). Retrieved online from the Policy Options website.

Summary: The article briefly outlines lessons learned and priorities for a transition team based on Elizabeth Roscoe’s experience on Stephen Harper’s transition team in 2006. This interview can be accessed online.

(4) Canada: Managing Transitions of Government

d’Ombrain, N. (1998). Canada: Managing Transitions of Government. Copy of paper, originally provided to OECD.

Summary: d’Ombrain examines the role of the Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary of the Cabinet in his responsibilities for managing the transition of government. Topics include: the history of preparing for federal transitions; the key points for ensuring a successful transition; a walk-through of the different phases involved in a transition; and, the substance and presentation of transition briefings. This paper was prepared by a former Assistant Secretary of Machinery of Government at PCO, and is suited for those seeking a view of transition from a senior and experienced practitioner at the centre of government.


(5) Cycling into Saigon: The Conservative Transition in Ontario

Cameron, David R. & Graham White. (2000). Cycling into Saigon: The Conservative Transition in Ontario. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Summary: In 1995 in Ontario, the omens for a successful transition were not promising. Cameron and White describe how the transition from the Rae to the Harris government was a surprising success, involving necessary co-operation between political mortal enemies. Cycling into Saigon has lessons for everyone involved in this key stage of the electoral process.

(6) Étude d’une transition gouvernmentale: Le cas du Québec en 1985

Bourgault, Jacques et Stéphane Dion. (1993).Chapter 6 « Étude d’une transition gouvernmentale : Le cas du Québec en 1985 » in Taking Power – Managing Government Transitions / Prendre le Pouvoir – La gestion des transitions gouvernementales. Toronto: The Institute of Public Administration of Canada.

Summary: After the December 2nd 1985 Québec election and a Parti Québécois defeat, it took less than ten days for the Parti liberal du Québec to transition into government. This chapter highlights three aspects of the transition: the transition team approach as a balancing act between planning ahead and remaining flexible; structural changes to implement priorities and leaning the decision-making process; and the dynamics between the public service and the incoming government, with a deputy minister shuffle.

(7) Toujours le même, mais différent : la transition de 2013 au sein du Parti libéral de l’Ontario

Bays, Connor. (2014). Toujours le même, mais différent : la transition de 2013 au sein du Parti libéral de l’Ontario / Same But Different: The 2013 Liberal Intra-Party Transition in Ontario. Revue parlementaire canadienne / Canadian Parliamentary Review 37(3), pp. 28-32. Retrieved online from the Canadian Parliamentary Review / Revue parlementaire canadienne website.

Summary: Kathleen Wynne’s ascension to the head of the Ontario Liberal party in January 2013 automatically made her the province’s newest premier. Although the Liberals’ status as governing party remained unchanged, her victory necessitated the planning and execution of a transfer of power within the same party. This paper examines the Wynne transition as informed by15 not-for-attribution interviews with public servants and political figures. This article can be accessed online in both French and English.


(8) Transitions: preparing for changes of government

Riddell, Peter & Catherine Haddon. (October 2009). Transitions: preparing for changes of government. Retrieved online from the Institute for Government website.

Summary: According to the authors, changes of government in Britain do not always work as well as they should. The text examines three such transitions going back to the 1970s, and observes the dislocations, and the initial misunderstandings and mistakes, both in policies and people, and proposes improvements. International comparisons (pp. 49 – 59) explore lessons learned from other Westminster democracies (Canada, Australia and New Zealand), and other tiers of government in the United Kingdom (Scotland, Wales, and the municipal government in London). This piece highlights attempts to improve the transition process in other Westminster democracies. Specifically, how to improve the information flow between the civil service and opposition parties, with the prospect of increased preparedness to support a new government in the event of a transition of power. This study can be accessed online.

(9) Five Days that Changed Britain

BBC. (2010). Five Days that Changed Britain. Documentary. Referenced on BBC website.

Summary: A behind-the-scenes story of five days in May 2010 when the United Kingdom’s political leaders negotiated over who should form the next government. A four-part clip series can be found on YouTube (Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4).

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