“He just doesn’t get it.” This common criticism has been uttered by mayors, councillors and political staff about civil servants and by civil servants about other civil servants and elected officials and their political advisors. There is a growing body of literature that deals with the relationship between the civil service, elected officials and their political advisors. Some of this focuses on the federal level of government in Canada. Mallory (1967) argued that since the Dorion Report of 1965, little had been done to inform or reform our understanding of the political-administrative dichotomy and that the Minister’s Office in particular was in need of reform. Campbell and Peters (1988) talked about what they called the “presumed separation in tasks of politics and those of administration” and Atkinson and Coleman (1985) explored “blurred distinctions” as they considered traditional roles. Savoie (2003) provided the most in-depth consideration of the relationship and how it was changing. Aucoin (2008) wrote much about new public management and new political management. Blakeney & Borins (1998), Kernaghan & Langford (2014) and Inwood (2012) wrote about traditional roles of civil servants and elected officials and their staff. Recently, Constantinou (2013) has written about political acuity at the provincial level. At the municipal level in Canada, the work of Siegel (2015 and 1994) has provided the most helpful insight into roles and responsibilities as well as behaviours and best practices.
Based on interviews with mayors, councillors, political staff and senior municipal officials, this paper examines the relationship, where tensions exist and the importance of political acuity for civil servants. This paper proposes a framework for a new approach understanding political acuity and argues that political acuity should be a core competency in municipal government and provides a roadmap for training civil servants.