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Scholar made the culture of government come alive Add to ...

smartin@globeandmail.com

When they aren't attempting to fornicate in canoes, Canadians like to pontificate about the virtues of peace, order and good government. Ted Hodgetts took that dull but worthy national pastime and turned it into a thriving academic discipline.

As the duly revered father of the study of public administration in Canada, Prof. Hodgetts liked to recount an anecdote about his mentor, the political scientist R. MacGregor Dawson, to remind students and colleagues "of the loneliness of the enterprise" in the early days.

Some time in the mid-1940s, Prof. Dawson had turned to him and "in tones that rocked the rabbit warrens that posed for offices" pronounced: "Hodgetts, I envy you; you are at the threshold of the coming discipline of public administration - the academic world is your oyster."

That must have seemed an opaque prophecy to a neophyte lecturer at the University of Toronto, struggling to finish his doctoral dissertation on the unification of the British Civil Service while the Second World War raged in Europe. But, as Prof. Hodgetts acknowledged, he did have a good run in the academic groves. Along the way he collected pretty much every available honour - from a Rhodes scholarship to the Order of Canada.

The author of several seminal books including Pioneer Public Service: An Administrative History of the United Canadas and its sequel, From Arm's Length to Hands On: The Formative Years of the Ontario Public Service and the magisterial The Canadian Public Service, Prof. Hodgetts taught at Queen's and the University of Toronto for a combined total of nearly half a century, and served on three royal commissions, staying active as recently as the Gomery Commission into the Liberal Party sponsorship scandal.

His first, in the 1960s, was as a researcher and editorial director on The Royal Commission on Government Organization (called the Glassco Commission after its chair J. Grant Glassco, a Toronto chartered accountant and business executive). In the 1970s he was one of three commissioners on The Royal Commission of Financial Management and Accountability (named the Lambert Commission after its chair, banker Allan Lambert) and in 2005, at the age of 88, he was appointed to the Advisory Committee of the Commission of Inquiry into the Sponsorship Program and Advertising Activities, the Gomery Commission.

"Hodgetts was a giant in the field of policy studies," said historian Patrice Dutil of Ryerson University's Department of Politics and Public Administration.

"He believed that government institutions - not least its bureaucracies - had cultures all their own and that it was incumbent on scholars in public administration to focus their energies in understanding how they evolved. He was a rigorous scholar and his works on the pioneer public service and on the evolution of the Public Service Commission will endure for a very long time," said Prof. Dutil, who considers himself one of Hodgetts' followers.

"We called him the guru," said Guelph University political scientist O.P. Diwivedi, successively his doctoral student, research assistant and co-author, explaining that the essence of Prof. Hodgetts's intellectual and personal impact was so powerful that it transcended mortality and haunted the air like the scent of "a subtle but faint perfume."

Queen's University political scientist Ned Franks said that Prof. Hodgetts "had a wonderful mixture, that I find in a lot of Scottish Canadians, of an extreme gentleness and a real toughness. He was thoughtful and considerate in his personal relationships and [yet]he knew how to protect himself from attack. He often saw around corners in a way that I couldn't, and he managed to emerge from the battles he fought, pretty well unscathed."

The two men met at Queen's University in the mid-1950s when Prof. Franks was an undergraduate and Prof. Hodgetts was a young lecturer, whose "really wonderful book," The Pioneer Public Service, had recently been published.

"He would discuss terms like power, the state and sovereignty and make you really think about what these words mean and [question]how different people use them and so on," recalled Prof. Franks. "That course was a revelation to me because it questioned the idea that there were firm concepts that never changed their meaning, and [showed]that many people used the same words to mean different things."

In September, 2007, denizens of the political science persuasion met at the University of Guelph to honour Prof. Hodgetts, in the way that scholars do: They presented papers on their latest research for each other's edification. Afterwards, the papers were collected and published in The Evolving Physiology of Government. Political scientist John Meisel wrote the foreword.

"Who else would have the wit to entitle a study of the early Ontario public service, From Arm's Length to Hands On?" Prof. Meisel asked rhetorically. "His prose is always crystal clear, colourful, luminous, and mercifully devoid of even a whiff of jargon. Yet it is laced with allusions to unexpected intellectual and commonplace reference points, thereby imbuing his subject with uncommon vitality and vividness."

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