Alberta

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I Decision-Making Process

The Alberta formal decision-making process is not an exclusive executive function. In December 1992, the Premier announced the establishment of a new decision-making process for the Alberta government centred around Standing Policy Committees and developed in conjunction with Members of the Legislative Assembly from the party constituting the Government. All existing committees of Cabinet and caucus, with the exception of Treasury Board and the Legislative Review Committee, were disbanded. Following the general election held in March 1997, the Standing Policy Committees were again restructured. There are currently seven Standing Policy Committees: *

- Agriculture and Rural Development (7/7);

- Community Services (6/6);

- Education and Training (6/6);

- Financial Planning and Human Resources (6/6);

- Health Planning (6/6);

- Jobs and Economy (6/6); and

- Sustainable Development and Environmental Protection (6/6).

Each Standing Policy Committee is chaired by a Private Government Member and the Premier designates a Minister to act as vice-chair. The Standing Policy Committees are composed of an equal number of Ministers and MLAs; the unique membership of these committees flows directly from the Premier's commitment to provide caucus with a greater say in the newly reformed decision-making process.

In addition to these committees, the Agenda and Priorities Committee (6/2), Treasury Board (6/2), the Legislative Review Committee (1/8) and the Audit Committee (1/0/6) are also an integral part of the Alberta decision-making process. Not one is exclusively composed of Cabinet Ministers and, in the case of the Audit Committee, most members are not even MLAs. The Premier is a member of all committees with the exception of the Legislative Review Committee and the Audit Committee.

Government policy and legislation all flow as a natural progression from the three-year business planning process. This is a cyclical process that begins in June of each year with Treasury Board setting the overall fiscal framework. In July, the departments are provided with the fiscal framework within which their business plans must be developed. In August and September, each department presents to the appropriate Standing Policy Committee a draft of its annual report which outlines the department's actual performance of the prior year in relation to its projections for that year. This review sets the stage for the October review by the appropriate Standing Policy Committee of the department's revised three-year business plan.

The Standing Policy Committees will report the results of their review to Treasury Board, either confirming their support for the business plans or highlighting where necessary any plans that may have strayed from the overall fiscal framework established by Treasury Board. These reports, along with any other issues raised by the Treasury Department, form the basis for the representations by individual departments to Treasury Board during the months of November and December.

The decisions and recommendations of Treasury Board are reviewed with Cabinet and caucus; the final directions from Treasury Board are formalized into three-year budget targets and final departmental business plans, culminating in the Budget and the tabling of the business plans in the legislature.

Once a Standing Policy Committee has signed off a departmental business plan, the departments can begin submitting draft legislation for consideration by the appropriate Standing Policy Committee. This occurs through November and December, in preparation for the spring sitting of the legislature. While policy submissions to Standing Policy Committees occur throughout the year, the sign off of the departmental business plans also acts as a trigger for work on the bulk of policy initiatives.

New government policy can be initiated from a variety of sources (e.g., the general public, interest groups, industry, etc.). An initiative must first be approved and sponsored by a Minister, then researched and drafted by the department. The Minister presents the proposed policy to the Agenda and Priorities Committee which provides direction and refers the item to the appropriate Standing Policy Committee. The Standing Policy Committee will study the policy in detail, hear public submissions, and send its recommendation to Cabinet for final approval; in some cases, Cabinet may refer the matter to full caucus for discussion. The Standing Policy Committees are the gate-keepers of the decision-making process: any issue that has been rejected by a Standing Policy Committee will not be considered by Cabinet; should a Minister wish to pursue the matter further, changes will have to be made to the proposal.

New government legislation can also be initiated from several sources (e.g., department, MLA, general public, interest group). Once the initiative has been approved by a Minister, the conceptual framework for the bill is taken to Cabinet and, if Cabinet feels the legislation is necessary and sound, it is routed to the appropriate Standing Policy Committee for an in-depth review. A draft of the bill is then forwarded to caucus for discussion and approval. After caucus review, the legislation, which by this time is very close to a final draft, is submitted to the Legislative Review Committee which is responsible for ensuring that the legal text contains the policies the caucus intended. This committee is comprised of a Minister, the chairs of the Standing Policy Committees, an MLA and legal counsel. Once the bill has received the approval of the Legislative Review Committee, it is ready to be introduced in the Legislative Assembly.

The chairs of the Standing Policy Committees attend Cabinet meetings to represent their committee's view and they participate in reaching a final decision. However, because the chairs are not sworn Ministers, they must swear an oath of secrecy to ensure Cabinet confidentiality and to foster frank and open ministerial deliberations.

Since the creation of the Standing Policy Committees, the Premier has moved away from conventional Cabinet decision-making structures: the "Cabinet committee" distinction is simply not made anymore in Alberta. The Standing Policy Committees were designed to be very flexible and to empower caucus, a goal the government believes it has achieved.

There are 83 members of the Legislative Assembly; 63 sit on the Government benches, of whom 19 are Ministers (including the Premier). Currently, all Government backbenchers sit on at least one of the eleven committees. Also, six non-members of the Legislative Assembly sit on the Audit Committee.

II Office of the Premier and Executive Council

The Premier, as leader of the governing party, is supported in the exercise of his responsibilities both by the Office of the Premier and by the Executive Council Office.

1. Office of the Premier

The Office of the Premier is coordinated by a Chief of Staff who manages the staff required for the running of the office. The Office of the Premier is comprised of the Director of Operations, the Director of Communications, the Director of Scheduling and Appointments, and the Southern Alberta Office of the Premier.

The Director of Operations participates in the coordination and monitoring of the government's legislative agenda and acts as a liaison between the Standing Policy Committees, caucus and the Office of the Premier. The Communications Office is responsible for coordinating the Premier's media requests and the information disseminated to the media by Members of the Executive Council (that is, Ministers), and for providing communications advice to the Premier and Members of the Executive Council. The Director of Scheduling and Appointments coordinates the Premier's schedule and supervises the correspondence unit responsible for coordinating written responses to public inquiries dealing with a wide range of issues.

The Southern Alberta Office of the Premier is located in Calgary and provides administrative support to the Premier and Members of the Executive Council for meetings and events which occur in the Calgary office. It also acts as liaison with Ministers' offices and their departments in order to respond to queries from southern Alberta.

2. Executive Council Office

The Executive Council Office is comprised of two main divisions: the Cabinet Secretariat and the Administrative Services Centre; both divisions report to the Deputy Minister of Executive Council and Secretary to the Cabinet.

The Secretary to the Cabinet carries out functions associated with two distinct positions. First, as Clerk of the Executive Council, he has overall and official responsibility for the administration of the Executive Council Office, Cabinet and its committees, and the Office of the Lieutenant Governor. It should be noted that there is also a Deputy Clerk who acts as Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet, and who is responsible for the day to day operations of the office.

Second, as Deputy Minister of the Executive Council, he is responsible for ensuring that all over-arching policies of the government are communicated and coordinated on behalf of the Executive Council. Matters that require strategic direction on the part of the Government, as well as other sensitive issues, are monitored by the Deputy Minister of the Executive Council to ensure their expeditious resolution.

The Cabinet Secretariat organizes and coordinates the planning and policy meetings that take place within the decision-making process of the government. It is also responsible for providing complete administration and record keeping support to Cabinet, the Standing Policy Committees, the Agenda and Priorities Committee and the Legislative Review Committee. In addition, the Secretariat participates in the coordination of the Treasury Board fiscal and business planning process with the departments, the Standing Policy Committees and the Treasury Board.

The Administrative Services Centre, led by a Director, provides human resource, financial and administrative support to the Office of the Premier, the Executive Council Office, the Office of the Lieutenant Governor and several other small entities.

It is important to note that Alberta does not have a central policy analysis and development function within the Executive Council Office or elsewhere in the government. Policy development is a function exercised by individual departments, and in the case of multi-departmental initiatives, it is developed jointly. The Deputy Ministers, led by the Deputy Minister of the Executive Council, meet regularly to manage, coordinate and report on these policy issues. The Executive Council Office is a facilitator in this regard.

The relatively small size of the Office of the Premier and the Executive Council Office requires their staff members to show versatility when dealing with major issues requiring coordination and consultation of both offices. The Deputy Minister of the Executive Council and the Chief of Staff work together to ensure that high quality advice and support is always provided to the Premier.

III Other Central Agencies

1. Treasury

The Treasury Department is responsible for encouraging sound business planning and financial decisions by providing analysis and recommendations to the Provincial Treasurer, Treasury Board and Cabinet. Secretariat support is provided to Treasury Board by Treasury officials. Treasury also develops and maintains frameworks for improving the accountability of departments for their financial and business decisions and for reporting financial information. The department manages the province's financial assets and liabilities.

2. Personnel Administration Office and the Public Service Commissioner

The Public Service Commissioner's principal responsibility is managing the Personnel Administration Office. Under the leadership of the Public Service Commissioner, the Personnel Administration Office develops corporate human resource strategies and policy frameworks that enable departments to fulfil their business plans and achieve the preferred future of the Alberta public service.

The Office provides expert consulting on benefits, classification and compensation, labour relations, occupational health and safety, staffing and workforce adjustment, and workforce development. It represents the government as employer and negotiates collective agreements. Authority for recruitment and promotion in the public service has been delegated to government departments. It should be noted that there is no staffing appeal mechanism in Alberta. Dissatisfied candidates may refer a complaint to the Public Service Commissioner or the Ombudsman, or seek redress through the courts.

The Personnel Administration Office maintains an executive search function for Deputy Ministers, key executive positions and members of significant agencies, boards and commissions. The Deputy Minister of the Executive Council, in consultation with the Members of the Executive Council, is responsible for staffing at the Deputy Minister level. The Public Service Commissioner will advertise the position. A panel, of which the Deputy Minister of the Executive Council is a member, is then created to interview a short list of candidates. The Minister then recommends to the Premier and the Cabinet the most suitable candidate from those approved by the panel. The Office of the Premier does not play a formal role in the staffing of the senior levels of Alberta's public service. Appointments at the Deputy Minister level are made by the Lieutenant Governor in Council.

In April, 1998, Cabinet approved recommendations from a private sector review committee for a new compensation plan for Deputy Ministers. The plan includes a variable pay component of up to 20 per cent of base pay. Cabinet sets a number of cross-government goals that must be met for the Deputy Ministers to be eligible for variable pay. In addition, Deputy Ministers have individual goals to meet that are set by their Minister and the Deputy Minister of the Executive Council, as well as goals and performance measures that are outlined in the business plans. These are detailed in a performance contract that is signed by all parties.

3. Department of Federal and Intergovernmental Affairs*

The Department of Federal and Intergovernmental Affairs is responsible for the management of intergovernmental relations under the direction of the Minister of Intergovernmental and Aboriginal Affairs. This department plays an important role in shaping policy initiatives and strategies for Alberta's relations with federal-provincial-territorial governments. It also provides expertise in international and Aboriginal affairs.


* The first figure appearing in parentheses indicates the number of Cabinet Ministers who are members of the committee; the second figure indicates the number of Government backbench members, and the third refers to committee members who are not MLAs.

* It should be noted that this department is not considered a central agency in the government of Alberta. However, for the purposes of reporting similar information between jurisdictions, it has been included.

Annex 1 - Treasury Board Fiscal and Business Plan Decision Model

Annex 2 - Government Legislation

Annex 3 - Ministerial Report Decision Model

Annex 4 - Office of the Premier and Executive Council


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