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Representative government and the private social welfare agencies : a case study of participation of labour groups in the policy-making processes of Vancouver Red Feather Agencies. MacLaren, Phyllis Eileen


This study is concerned with the government of private social welfare agencies, and in particular, with the measure of agreement that the conduct of their government shows with the principles of political representation. Diverse and, as yet, imperfectly reconciled theories exist as to the nature of representativeness in government, but for the purposes of this investigation the concept has been specified in terms of a number of selected propositions that would probably be taken as axiomatic in the political traditions of western countries. These include the notions that all enfranchised members of a political society should enjoy the effective right to participation in the choice of their government; that the representative himself is charged to act with a view to the good of the whole group and not with partiality towards some particular and subordinate interest within it; and that the membership has a right to require an accounting from the representative for the manner of his performance in office. The examination of these questions has been annexed in the present study to the special case of the representation on the boards of directors of the private welfare agencies of the segment of the organized, labour movement falling into the relevant jurisdiction. Among the methods used in making the investigation were: (1) a review of the criteria of membership recognized by the private agencies both in their formal constitutions and in their procedural traditions; (2) an assessment of the conduct of the agencies' general meetings when viewed as a mechanism of accountability; 3) an analysis of the composition of the agency boards by certain occupational categories; and (4) a number of interviews with selected union officials, themselves differentiated, on the basis of whether they were members of agency boards or not. The findings of the study are that there is a pervasive ambiguity about the status of the agencies in relation to the formal categories of "private" and "public", that the agencies are unable to render a consistent or plausible account of the theory of political organization to which they hold themselves bound, and that their internal political processes fail to satisfy even those criteria, of legitimacy that they themselves volunteer. The question of the representation of labour groups was held in abeyance for want of agreement in any quarter as to what would constitute evidence for an answer to it.

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