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Service delivery reform within the Canadian public sector 1990‐2002

Janice Foley (University of Regina, Regina, Canada)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Article publication date: 25 April 2008




The purpose of this paper is to examine to what extent service delivery in the Canadian federal government actually improved after a decade of reform efforts, and how employee empowerment accounted for any improvements that arose.


Five focus group interviews were conducted in 2002 with federal government employees involved in service delivery. Interview transcripts were content analyzed. The employee empowerment and service quality literatures, including critical perspectives, provide the theoretical underpinnings of the study.


Productivity and service enhancement did materialize, but little empowerment occurred. Work intensification was revealed. The shortcomings of applying private sector‐style definitions of productivity to the public sector were identified.

Research limitations/implications

Study findings have limited generalizability due to small sample size. Findings must be verified through additional research. Comparative findings from countries that introduced service reforms more comprehensively than did Canada would be of interest.

Practical implications

Public sector efforts to improve service delivery should address possible material barriers affecting service delivery and pay more attention to employee needs. The efficacy of quantitative performance targets should be re‐examined.


The outcomes of a public service reform initiative intended to improve service quality by allegedly empowering front‐line workers are presented from an employee perspective. As there is limited empirical research done on this topic from that perspective it should be of general interest to researchers in the fields of public policy and human resources management.



Foley, J. (2008), "Service delivery reform within the Canadian public sector 1990‐2002", Employee Relations, Vol. 30 No. 3, pp. 283-303.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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