Opinion-Policy Nexus

Dr. Donald Savoie is the "Canada Research Chair in Public Administration and Governance at the Université de Moncton. His research achievements are prodigious and his influence on Canadian public policy, Canadian public administration and Canadian society has been evident for years." Talk about an understatement! Dr. Savoie is really one of the giants of our discipline.  He has written numerous books and journal articles on Canadian politics and public administration and has been very active in public life, advising a variety of governmental and non-governmental organizations in Canada and abroad.  His work has had a powerful influence on government policy and on the work of countless political scientists and commentators across this country. I was very glad to hear him say yes to my interview request!

I've never met Dr. Savoie but I've always admired his scholarship.  His research always tackles big and important questions, which as Peter Russell noted in an earlier interview on this blog, is something younger scholars like me tend to shy away from for whatever reason. As well, I've always been impressed with how Savoie uses the literature, elite interviews, and his own expertise to answer his research questions. His book, Governing from the Centre, was an early model for me as I tried to figure out how to use elite interviews in a theoretically and empirically useful way.

If I could achieve half of what Dr. Savoie achieved over his career, I think I'd be very happy (and lucky!). The following is an email interview I conducted with Dr. Savoie in February 2013.


I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career

Balance in all things is key.  Striking a proper balance between family, friends, work and pleasure matters.

The individual I admire the most academically

Professor Ted Hodgetts, he had it all – a sharp mind, a sharp pen and great civility.  He made a substantial contribution to the literature and was an excellent mentor to many young academics.

My best research project during my career

My first book: Federal-Provincial Collaboration.  It grew out of my doctorate dissemination and it showed me that I could do it.  It gave me great satisfaction to see the process go from an idea to a finished product.

My worst research project during my career

I published extensively in the economic development field with one of the world’s leading economists - Ben Higgins.  We set out some twenty-five years ago to compare U.S.–Canada regional economic development efforts.  We wanted to explain why the Americans were better at it than Canadians.  We never got it done and I still have drafts laying around waiting for more work.  I doubt that I will ever be able to complete the work, though it would make an important contribution to the literature.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research

Hearing how New Brunswick’s former Premier Louis J. Robichaud set out to implement his program of Equal Opportunity and establish l’Université de Moncton during a one-on-one interview.  Robichaud explained in detail how he established the strategy, how he sold it to a reluctant province and how he worked with senior public servants to design an implementation plan.  Quebec had a quiet revolution.  New Brunswick had a not so quiet revolution under Robichaud though it was not well reported in the national media.

A research project I wish I had done

A biography of Louis J. Robichaud.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be

I would be sad, very sad.  I simply cannot imagine a better life.  If a career in academe would not have been possible, I would have likely followed in my father’s footsteps and become an entrepreneur.

The biggest challenge in Canadian politics in the next 10 years will be

Finally coming to terms that national political institutions designed for a unitary state can never be made to work in the interest of all Canadian regions.

The biggest challenge in Canadian political science in the next 10 years will be

Helping Canadians appreciate that Canada will never be fully at peace with itself unless we overhaul how our national political and administrative institutions work.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is

Simple minded purpose works, stay focussed.