Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Shaughnessy Cohen Prize Series, with Donald J. Savoie

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Donald J. Savoie

In Whatever Happened to the Music Teacher? How Government Decides and Why (McGill-Queen's University Press), Donald J. Savoie explores exactly how decisions are made in Ottawa. Thirty years ago, a move towards private sector-style management and operations changed the way the capital was run. Donald argues that policy making in Canada has become a matter of opinion, shaped by focus groups and lobbyists who frame information to suit their organizations' interests.

Not only has his book contributed to an essential discussion about public servants and policy decision, it also earned Donald a spot on the prestigious Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing shortlist.

This year will mark the 14th iteration of the prize, presented annually by the Writers’ Trust of Canada. The prize rewards the year's finest book addressing a political subject of interest to Canadian readers.

The winner of the prize, who will receive $25,000, will be announced at Politics & the Pen on April 2, 2014, a gala that has become Ottawa's hottest ticket over the years. In addition to the finalists, the event draws hundreds of politicians, staffers, diplomats and philanthropists as well as playing hosts to dozens of respected Canadian authors.

Donald speaks with Open Book about the titular music teacher and a new project comparing the public and private sectors.

Visit Open Book in the lead up to the award announcement in order to catch interviews with all five acclaimed finalists for the 2014 prize!

Open Book:

Tell us about the book for which you were shortlisted and how the project came about.

Donald J. Savoie:

The idea for the book came out of an informal meeting between one of Canada’s leading businessman, a newly elected premier of Nova Scotia, a senior provincial public servant and myself. The businessman asked how come his community could no longer afford to have a music teacher but that a government department, which only employed two public servants fifty years ago, now employs one hundred and fifty, doing the same kind of work that was done fifty years ago? I decided to answer the question. I look to the growing loss of music teachers in our communities to draw attention to what is happening to front line program delivery and services.


In your opinion, what qualities or characteristics signify that a book qualifies as political writing as opposed to simply non-fiction?


The best answer is found in the mandate of the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize. It reads: “a book of literary nonfiction that captures a political subject of relevance to Canadian readers and has the potential to shape or influence thinking on Canadian political life.”


The prize is presented at an evening event in Ottawa called Politics and the Pen. What are you most looking forward to about P&P? Have you attended before?


I have never attended the event and will not be able to attend given my wife’s health condition.


If you were to recommend one past finalist or winner of the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize to readers, which title would you choose?


Jane Jacobs, Dark Age Ahead.


If you win the prize, how will you celebrate?


By writing another book.


What can you tell us about your next project?


The workings of the machinery of government compared with the workings of a private sector firm. I want to explore why the private sector is better in certain areas than the public sector and conversely why government is better than the private sector in other areas.

Donald J. Savoie holds the Canada Research Chair in Public Administration and Governance at the University of Moncton. He is a former civil servant and has extensive work experience in both government and academia. He has been an advisor to federal, provincial, and territorial governments, the private sector, the World Bank, and the United Nations. He is the author of numerous books, including Power: Where Is It?

For more information about the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing, please visit the Writers' Trust of Canada website.

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