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 of the Government of Canada. Its function is to serve as the staff of the Canadian Crown. 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 departments, agencies, commissions, Crown 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 country'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:

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

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.
  4. "The Civil Service of Canada" (PDF). 1923. p. 46. Retrieved 2007-07-20.
  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.
  10. 1 2 "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.
  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.
  12. "Civil Service in Canada". Marionopolis College. Retrieved 2007-07-20.
  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.
  14. Roberts, Alasdair. So-Called Experts: How American Consultants Remade the Canadian Civil Service, 1918-1921. Institute of Public Administration of Canada, 1996
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