Clients, Citizens and Federalism: A Critical Appraisal of Integrated Service Delivery in Canada

By Fafard, Patrick; Rocher, Francois et al. | Canadian Public Administration, December 2009 | Go to article overview

Clients, Citizens and Federalism: A Critical Appraisal of Integrated Service Delivery in Canada


Fafard, Patrick, Rocher, Francois, Cote, Catherine, Canadian Public Administration


Citizen-centred federalism avoids the clash over ideas by starting at the other end of the spectrum. It focuses our attention on how a service is delivered (Ambrose, Lenihan, and Milloy 2006b: 11).

[S]ervice delivery in the public sector is always about much more than just service. Because the clients of government services are never "just" clients, as they might be in the private sector. They are not just consumers of government services: they are usually also taxpayers and citizens, that is, bearers of rights and duties in a framework of democratic community, with civic and public interests that go well beyond their service needs (Heintzman and Marson 2005: 570).

We have all experienced the frustration that comes with dealing with an organization, public or private, where the rules seem to serve its interests not ours. Sometimes this frustration is compounded by the complexity of the organization or the transaction. In the public sector, such complexity is endemic, especially when you have to deal with different parts of the same government or, more to the point, different orders of government--local, regional, provincial or federal. The multitude of efforts to address this problem has resulted in many labels, although in Canada references to "citizen-centred service" have become the norm, at least for the federal government. Moreover, given the reality that a wide range of services requires at least some degree of coordination between different orders of government, Donald Lenihan and his colleagues have sought to introduce the notion of "citizen-centred federalism," an approach to federalism wherein, as the quote above suggests, services to citizens are the central focus. This, in their view, leads to both better service and better federalism (Ambrose, Lenihan, and Milloy 2006a).

In an effort to assess the potential for, as well as the limits to, such a citizen-centred approach to federalism, this article offers a critical evaluation of citizen-centred federalism. To do this, we carefully evaluate the use of several of the key concepts that underlie this approach. What does it mean to speak of "citizen," "service" and, indeed, "federalism"? The quote from Ralph Heintzman and Brian Marson at the outset of this article suggests that these concepts are more complex than is often assumed by enthusiastic proponents of citizen-centred service and citizen-centred federalism.

Our core argument is one of caution. We argue that the many efforts by governments to collaborate on better and more effective service delivery and service integration are, in the main, based on an instrumental conception of both citizenship and federalism. To effectively deliver the full range of services (i.e., both private as well as public goods) to citizens, both orders of government need to also incorporate a more organic conception of what it means to be a citizen and what it means to live in a federation. In other words, our analysis suggests that, if the full potential of citizen-centred federalism is to be realized, governments have to move beyond the current preoccupation with the efficient delivery of (some) services to individuals. Rather, the focus needs to be broadened and steps taken to separately and simultaneously pursue the broader public interest as efficiently as possible and to deliver services in ways that strengthen the fabric of the federation or, if you will, the underlying culture of federalism in Canada (Fafard, Rocher, and Cote, forthcoming).

To develop this argument, we have organized this article into three substantive parts beyond this short introduction. In the next section, we focus on the key concepts that underlie the notion of citizen-centred federalism: citizen- or client-centred service and, more broadly, the shift to a "new public management" or, following Kenneth Kernaghan (2000), "post-bureaucratic organizations." We then present an extended critical account of both citizenship and federalism and contrast instrumental and organic conceptions of each. …

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