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The Institutionalized Cabinet seeks to discover the forces behind the emergence and persistence of the major change in government cabinets in three of Canada's four western provinces: Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia (Alberta declined to participate). For Christopher Dunn, the change itself is quite clear: the traditional or unaided cabinet of the past has been transformed into the more complex institutionalized cabinet. Less evident, though, are the causes of this development. Attempts have been made to explain the appearance of the institutionalized cabinet in both Western Canada and elsewhere in the nation, but they have yielded few insights. There are significant gaps in our understanding of the modern cabinet, and Dunn's book tries to rectify this situation.
It largely succeeds in this endeavor, laying out nicely the main attributes of the unaided and the institutionalized cabinet. The unaided cabinet has few committees, minimal central staff, no real planning, and is in many cases dominated by the premier; the institutionalized cabinet thrives on cabinet committees, central agency officials, planning mechanisms, collegial decision-making, and a premier who is more ringmaster than boss. With this distinction in hand, Dunn demonstrates how cabinets in the three provinces have moved from one type to the other. In Saskatchewan, the transformation came early, with the emergence of socialist governments in the 1940s. Both Manitoba and British Columbia had to wait longer, but they, too, eventually adopted the trappings of the institutionalized cabinet. Equally important, the institutionalized cabinet, once embraced, became a mainstay in all three provinces.