Chapter 5: Government Departments and CentralAgencies
The Legislature, the Executive and Departments
It is customary to speak of three branches of government – legislative, executive and judicial.
Definition of a Department
J.E. Hedgetts states that a “department is an administrative unit comprising one or more
organizational components over which a minister has direct ministerial management and
control.” It is a constitutional convention that the minister should very closely supervise the
actions of an operating department.
Classification Systems for Departments
Three types of departments by considering the relative power of departments as determined by
size, budget, responsibility for coordination, and knowledge or research capability. The three
types are horizontal policy coordinative, horizontal administrative coordinative and vertical
constituency. Of the three types the “horizontal policy coordinative” departments tend to be the
The horizontal administrative coordinative departments are usually felt to be the least influential,
in that they are assumed to be the “nuts and bolts” departments that provide the wherewithal for
other departments to operate.
“Sponsorship program” – made available public funds to community groups in an attempt largely
to raise the profile of the federal government in Quebec
The “vertical constituency” departments are involved in providing services directly to the public.
These are high-profile departments, in that they have the largest budgets and deal with the large
Aminister’s relative position in cabinet is determined in part by his or her portfolio, but also in
large part by such other factors as regional power base, personal diplomatic and judgmental
skills, and relationship with the prime minister.
The organization structure of the government is the personal prerogative of the prime minister.
Public Service Rearrangement and Transfer of Duties Act gives the prime minister lots of power
to transfer duties, yet everything has to be approved by parliament.
It is tempting for each new prime minister to reorganize ministries to suit his or her style of
governing, and virtually every prime minister has made certain changes. However, these shifts must be made with care, because major organizational shifts may impose significant tangible and
intangible costs on government.
One real cost of organizational change is that the resulting departments may be too much for the
minister responsible. To address this problem, prime ministers have appointed secretaries or
ministers of state in addition to the cabinet ministers who head departments.
The Legislature and Government Departments
Anew department can be created only by anAct of Parliament. The statute establishing the
federal Department of VeteranAffairs is typical, being just six pages long and couched in very
general terms imposing only broad conditions on the department’s operation.
Ministers and departments are allowed a great deal of leeway in the pursuit of departmental aims.
Another important element of Parliament’s relationship to the executive is the annual budget.
Every year the executive must seek parliamentary approval to spend fund in the upcoming year.
The Executive and Government Departments
Order in Council – a formal regulation approved by the governor in council and, in the case of
the federal government, published in the Canadian Gazette, a biweekly listing of official
announcements prepared by the government.
Organization of a Typical Operating Department
At the apex is the minister, who sets the priorities and assumes responsibility for all actions taken
within the organization. As explained earlier, the minister may also have a personal staff
appointed on a political basis to work directly and personally for him or her, and who are
replaced when he or she leaves or the government changes. These personal staff provide the
minister with overly political advice.
Deputy Ministers are next and they are the administrative heads of departments. They are
permanent heads of departments in that they do not usually leave when governments change.
They are not elected/appointed, they generally work their way up the ranks of public service in
their specific department. They act as a connection between political desires of the minister and
the administrative concerns of the public servants in the department.
In practice, the relationship can be rather difficult. Some deputies have complained that political
staff functions as gatekeepers preventing them from taking important information to the minister.
Beneath the level of deputy minister, the nomenclature can become more confusing. Usually,
there will be several “assistant deputy ministers” reporting to the deputy minister. Sometimes the
superior status of one of these positions will be established by designating it as “associate deputy
minister” or “senior assistant”. CentralAgencies
The organization of the government of Canada demonstrates a very broad span of control with
numerous departments, agencies, and so forth coming under the direct control of cabinet.
In Canada, the concept of representative cabinet is very important. This principle means that
many diverse interests must be represented in the federal cabinet.
These conventions of representative cabinet and equality of cabinet ministers require the wide
span of control discussed above, which in turn r