Public Service of Canada

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The Public Service of Canada, known as the Civil Service of Canada prior to 1967, is the civil service, or bureaucracy, of the Government of Canada. Its function is to serve as the staff of the Canadian state. The head of the Public Service of Canada is the Clerk of the Privy Council and he or she is Canada's senior serving civil servant.

The Public Service is divided into various subsidiary administrative units such as with departments, agencies, commissions, Crown (i.e. state) corporations, and other federal organizations. Over 40% of the Public Service of Canada is located in the National Capital Region, although there are employees working at approximately 1,600 locations across Canada. The Public Service of Canada is the nation's single largest employer.


The purpose of the Public Service of Canada is to serve the constitutional democratic Canadian state. As is suggested by referring to the Public Service of Canada as part of the "executive branch", its fundamental purpose is to execute or carry out state decisions.

The decisions of the state take various forms and are taken in various ways. The most fundamental decisions of the state are those expressed in the constitution. Altering these decisions often requires the participation of multiple Canadian legislative assemblies (i.e. federal and provincial). It is the duty of the executive branch, including the public service, to execute or carry out the constitution—that is, to act in ways that are consistent with it.

The state also takes decisions through its legislatures, federal and provincial. The federal legislature of the Canadian state is Parliament, consisting of the Senate, the House of Commons and Her Majesty the Queen as head of state. When Parliament takes a decision, the result is generally a statute (though a particular house may also take lesser decisions such as resolutions of the house). The duty of the executive branch of the state, including the public service, is to execute or carry out the decisions that the state has taken by way of statutes.

A third way the state takes decisions is through the enactment of subordinate or delegated legislation. Statutes can and often do delegate to someone other than Parliament (often to the executive of the state) the power to make a subordinate form of legislation, generally referred to as regulations. The public service, as the administrative arm of the state, also has the duty to execute or carry out any regulations so enacted.

In addition to the fundamental role of carrying out decisions taken by the state, the public service also has a role to play in supporting the executive in its other main role or function. In addition to carrying out decisions already taken, the executive of the state has an important leadership role in helping the state to respond to the opportunities and challenges that arise in the ongoing operation of the state. In carrying out this forward-looking or planning role, the executive develops proposals relevant to each level of state decision. It may initiate a proposal to amend the constitution, it may introduce a bill (i.e. a proposal to Parliament to enact a new statute), or, acting within the delegated regulation-making powers already given, it may develop new regulations or amendments to existing ones.

The public service supports the executive in this planning role and this role also is service to the Canadian state. Because the public service is serving the state, not the executive, its purpose and duty is to perform this supportive role in a politically neutral way, giving impartial advice relating to the substance of the problems, opportunities and options available and leaving the political considerations to the political staff of the executive.


In 2007, there were approximately 200 departments (e.g., Health Canada), agencies (e.g., Parks Canada), commissions (e.g., Canadian Grain Commission), boards (e.g., Veterans Review and Appeal Board), councils (e.g., Canadian Judicial Council) and crown corporations (e.g., Royal Canadian Mint).

In a typical department, it is the minister who holds the respective portfolio who has overall responsibility for the management and direction of the department (i.e. the Minister of National Defence holds the Defence Portfolio, which includes many different organisations, one of which being the Department of National Defence). The deputy minister is the head of the department and is its senior serving civil servant, and therefore has responsibility for all of the department's day-to-day operations. However, it is always the respective minister who is held accountable to parliament for its operations.

A variety of associate and assistant deputy ministers head the various sections of responsibility within a department (i.e. policy, finance and corporate services, environment and infrastructure, etc.). Within the jurisdiction of each Assistant Deputy Minister, is usually one to two Associate Deputy Ministers and beneath them two to five Directors-General who oversee more functional areas of each broad element of the department. Under Directors-General are Directors, who oversee various directorates, which are the core of any department. These directorates constitute the ground level in each department, and are the members of the civil service who implement state decisions, carry out research, and help to formulate proposals.



Hiring (or selection) of civil service employees is typically done through a selection process that is either open to employees of the Public Service only (internal) or open to the general public(external). External processes are typically done to recruit a greater number of applicants. Conversely, internal processes may be held for positions where there is considered to be an adequate internal candidates and/or to provide opportunities for advancement within the civil service.

The area of selection varies greatly depending on whether it is conducted as an internal or external process. The latter are open to Canadian citizens nationally, and sometimes internationally.

Since the 2005 coming into force of the 2003 Public Service Modernization Act, selection processes focus less on a rules-based concept of best-qualified, and more on a values-based approach that enables managers to hire qualified and competent individuals whose experience, skills and knowledge are the right fit given the position's current and future needs.[1]

Federal civil service employees in Canada are employed by the state, but because of Canada's history and formal structure as a monarchy, they are often described as being employed by the Crown, who personifies the state and "enjoys a general capacity to contract in accordance with the rule of ordinary law."[2] Since the Public Service Modernization Act came into force, individuals must take an oath of allegiance before they can assume their post.

Hiring in the core public administration is governed by the Public Service Employment Act, while other organizations hire independently.[3]

Size and distribution

The Public Service has expanded over the years as populations have grown. The number of services provided to Canadians has increased with the introduction of new offices throughout the country. The civil service has also been reduced several times, often due to restraint programs designed to reduce the cost of the civil service, such as the reductions of the mid 1990s led by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, and most recently under the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2012.

Year Size of Civil Service (CS)[4][5][6] national pop. [7]


CS as a % of national pop.
1918 ~ 5,000 ~ 8,500,000 0.05%
post-World War I 55,000 (1923) ~ 13,500,000 0.41%
1970 198,000 21,500,000 0.92%
1975 273,000 23,400,000 1.2%
1983 251,000 25,367,000 0.99%
1986 217,000 26,101,000 0.83%
2008 263,000 32,248,000 0.82%
2009 274,000 33,894,000 0.81%
2010 283,000 34,149,200 0.83%
2011 282,352 34,483,975 0.82%
2012 278,092 34,670,352 0.80%
2013 262,817 35,056,100 0.75%
2014 257,138 35,427,524 0.73%

As of September, 2006, there were approximately 454,000 members employed by the Canadian federal government,[9] divided as follows:

  • Federal departments: 180,000
  • Federal agencies: 60,000
  • Parliamentary officers and administrators: 20,000
  • Canadian Forces and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP): 106,000
  • Federal business enterprises (including crown corporations): 88,000

Only those in the first three categories would be considered civil service employees.

There are approximately 80 distinct job classifications in the core civil service; most work in policy, operations or administrative functions. About 15% are scientists and professionals, 10% work in technical operations and 2.5% are executives.[10]

About 42% of Canadian civil servants work in the National Capital Region (NCR) (Ottawa-Hull), 24% work elsewhere in Ontario or Quebec, 21% in Western Canada, and 11% in Atlantic Canada. Since the headquarters of most agencies are located in the NCR, about 72% of executives work in this area.[10]

Canadian civil servants are also located in more than 180 countries (in the form of foreign service officers) and provide service in 1,600 locations in Canada.

Approximately 80% of federal civil service employees are represented by a bargaining agent (union). The greatest number of civil servants are members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. They negotiate a collective bargaining agreement for blue collar workers, and most administrative staff.

Gender and ethnicity

The Canadian Public Service has made significant efforts to reflect the gender balance, linguistic, and ethnic diversity in Canada.[11]

Sub-group Canadian Civil Service Available Workforce
female 53% 52%
Francophone 32% 24%
self-identified visible minorities 8.1% 10.4%
self-identified people with disabilities 5.9% 3.6%
aboriginal 4.1% 2.5%

Historical timeline

  • Before responsible government, Canada had no real civil service; government officials were appointed by either the Crown or the colonial administration. provincial. These officials usually served for an unspecified period ("during the pleasure of the Crown") for as long as they were deemed fit for the position.[12]
  • 1849 - when responsible government began in 1849, there was a recognition that the roles of the political and non-political government officials needed to be defined and distinguished from one another.
  • 1868 - the Canada Civil Service Act was enacted [13]
  • The "Civil Service Act" of 1882 created a process for examining candidates for the civil service, with a Board of Civil Service Examiners
  • 1908 - the Civil Service Amendment Act created the Civil Service Commission, to oversee appointments to government positions (the "inside service").
  • The Civil Service Act 1918 brought the outside service under the domain of the Commission, along with greater oversight with regards to appointments and promotions for members of the "inside service".[14]
  • 1920s - the Commission created of a competitive system of examinations for appointment and promotion (a merit system) as a viable alternative to the patronage system.
  • 1921 - formal restrictions were placed against the employment of married women. Women already holding permanent positions who married had to resign. These restrictions were not removed until 1955.
  • 1924 - The Civil Service Superannuation Act was intended to promote and protect a career civil service.
  • 1932 - staff control regulations are established and Treasury Board is given authority over the Civil Service Commission's staffing responsibilities.
  • 1949 - the number of World War II veterans assigned to positions in the civil service under the statutory veterans preference rises to 55,000.
  • 1951 - The Financial Administration Act of 1951 provided final authority to the Treasury Board for management (administration and organization) of the public service.
  • 1957 - The CSC establishes the Pay Research Bureau to provide objective information on rates of pay and conditions of employment in government and industry, and to recommend salary rates for civil servants.
  • 1961 - The new Civil Service Act of 1961 gave civil servants the right of appeal against not only promotions, but also transfers, demotions, suspensions and dismissals.
  • 1962 - The Government adopted recommendations by the Royal Commission on Government Organization (Glassco Commission) on the management of the Public Service, including delegating authority to departments to manage their own personnel and to be held accountable for efficient performance.
  • 1966 - Bilingualism becomes an element of merit in the national capital area.
  • 1967 - Public Service Employment Act (PSEA) and Public Service Staff Relations Act (PSSRA) come into effect. The PSEA gave the renamed Public Service Commission the responsibility for all the elements of the staffing process. The PSSRA created a collective bargaining regime in the civil service.
  • early 1970s - rapid expansion of the public service.
  • Late 1970s - significant reduction of public service.
  • 1979 - The Bilingualism Bonus was introduced for public servants who met the bilingual language requirements of their positions.
  • 1984 - the Commission on Equality in Employment issued its report, which recommended that targets and not quotas are the most effective means of achieving equity in the employment of members of under-represented groups.
  • 1986 - further employment layoff programs again reduce the public service.
  • 1992 - Public Service Reform Act amends both the PSEA and the Public Service Staff Relations Act. This provides more flexibility for managers to respond quickly to changing operational needs or to allow employees to acquire new skills. The Act also enabled the PSC to prescribe standards of competence to measure merit.
  • 1995 - a restraint-focused federal budget leads to further reductions (45,000) in the size of the civil service.[15]
  • Late 1990s and early 2000s - rapid growth of the public service
  • 2003 - Public Service Modernization Act is passed and comes into effect in 2004 and 2005. The Canada School of Public Service is formed.
  • 2005 - New Public Service Employment Act is released with significant changes to the staffing system. Recruitment is now the responsibility of Deputy Heads. A new Public Service Staffing Tribunal is put in place to deal with complaints of abuse of authority in internal appointments. The Public Service Labour Relations also comes into effect. The Financial Administration Act is also amended and provides for strong accountability on managers of the public service.

See also


  1. Government of Canada Public Service Modernization Act (2003)
  2. Smith, David E.; The Invisible Crown; University of Toronto Press; 1995; p. 79
  3. "Other governmental organizations". Public Service Commission of Canada. Retrieved 2010-03-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "The Civil Service of Canada" (PDF). 1923. p. 46. Retrieved 2007-07-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat: Population of the Federal Public Service
  7. Canada's Population
  8. Annual population estimates
  9. "Canada's Public Service in the 21st Century (discussion paper)" (PDF). Public Policy Forum. April 2007. p. 6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-07-31. Retrieved 2007-07-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Canada's Public Service in the 21st Century (discussion paper)" (PDF). Public Policy Forum. April 2007. p. 7. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-07-31. Retrieved 2007-07-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Canada's Public Service in the 21st Century (discussion paper)" (PDF). Public Policy Forum. April 2007. p. 8. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-07-31. Retrieved 2007-07-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Civil Service in Canada". Marionopolis College. Retrieved 2007-07-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "A Timeline of the Public Service Commission of Canada". Public Service Commission of Canada. Archived from the original on 2007-07-03. Retrieved 2007-07-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Roberts, Alasdair. So-Called Experts: How American Consultants Remade the Canadian Civil Service, 1918-1921. Institute of Public Administration of Canada, 1996

External links