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Neutrality (in public service)

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PPGPortal > Home > Concept Dictionary > N, O > Neutrality (in public service)
 

Neutrality (in public service) 

The principle that public employees have a duty to carry out government decisions loyally, irrespective of the party or persons in power and irrespective of their personal opinions.

(Institute of Public Administration of Canada. Our Principles. http://www.ipac.ca/OurPrinciples)

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Political neutrality, as usually understood in Canada, requires public servants to abstain from only that degree of partisanship which will compromise their capacity to serve alternative governments with equal loyalty. Some scholars have suggested that the concept of “neutrality” should not be taken literally. The public service is not neutral between the government and the government’s opponents but is, in fact, obliged to serve the government party, often against the interests of its opponents. Indeed, departmental officials have always been expected to take their policy lead from their political masters and to tailor their advice to the policy priorities of the government of the day. Political neutrality, as usually understood, requires public servants to abstain from only that degree of partisanship which will compromise their capacity to serve alternative governments with equal loyalty. By convention, public servants tend to reserve their partisan advice for “policy” matters (for example, how to achieve the government’s partisan objective) and to abstain from “party” matters, such as political campaigning, leaving the latter to political advisers who serve only the minister or government of the day. But the line is never clear-cut and professional public servants in Westminster systems often engage in highly partisan activities, for instance, drafting speeches and letters defending government decisions and helping to prepare their ministers for the cut-and-thrust of parliamentary questions. Most of this partisan advice, significantly, is conducted anonymously behind the scenes, with politicians left to take public responsibility. Provided that individual public servants are not openly identified with particular items of partisan advice, their capacity to offer equally partisan support to a subsequent government from another side of politics is not seriously compromised.

     

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© University of Toronto 2008
School of Public Policy and Governance