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4 minute read

The complexity of Governance is difficult to capture in a simple definition.

The need for governance exists anytime a group of people come together to accomplish an end. Though the governance literature proposes several definitions, most rest on three dimensions: authority, decision-making and accountability. At the Institute, our working definition of governance reflects these dimensions:

Governance determines who has power, who makes decisions, how other players make their voice heard and how account is rendered.

Governance is how society or groups within it, organize to make decisions.

O Canada! Inhabited for millennia by distinctive Indigenous groups, Canada is a federal state, officially bilingual and multicultural at the federal level, formed by two founding nations with two principal legal traditions.

As we unpack this simple statement three big issues come to the fore:

1Who has a voice in making decisions?
2How are decisions made?
3Who is accountable?

Governance challenges include:

  • Effective representation of diverse population;
  • Ageing citizens;
  • Integrating transportation networks;
  • Preparing for the effects of climate change;
  • Everything is faster;
  • New disruptive technologies are both driving and enabling change and everything from policy making to service delivery to citizen activism;
  • As expectations grow, the relationship between government and citizens is changing;
  • Renewing our notions of privacy of openness;
  • Control of government data;
  • How to incorporate the direct involvement of citizens between elections while responding to the newly empowered activist citizens.

In short, rigid government control over data, decisions, and the social agenda is just no longer tenable.

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How governance is evolving


Today, a broad range of factors shares our current governance environment:

  • Income growth
  • educational attainment
  • growing aspirations
  • technology and the information revolution
  • as well as globalization and harsh fiscal realities

Citizens with more knowledge, education, and affluence want faster and more transparent accountability from their government’s and are showing less deference to governments that speak or decide for them.

With social and economic complexity, the very shape of government has changed.

New functions have brought new institutional arrangements, a host of agencies, boards, commissions, and corporations designed to advise, regulate, adjudicate and deliver services.

Their relationships with government and the governed are multifaceted and complex. This is the world of distributed governance and this is not an easy environment to navigate.

Governance in Canada continues to evolve, for one thing, the role of provinces has grown, this is due to demands for devolution led by Quebec, and a changing economy as natural resource revenue grew in the west, and manufacturing shrank in Central Canada. Also demands by indigenous groups for a greater role in decision making has led to new forms of governance.