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I Decision-Making Process
In Quebec, Cabinet is at the heart of the decision-making process. As the main decision-making body of government, the Cabinet, chaired by the Premier, assumes responsibility for the overall direction of the government, the enforcement of laws and the administration of the state. This body is responsible for the activities that are essential to the proper management of the state. Cabinet is made up of Ministers, Ministers of State and Ministers responsible for various sectors. Cabinet is responsible for, among other things, approving bills and draft regulations, setting out a financial framework, establishing policies and programs, coordinating the activities of departments and agencies and appointing senior officials and heads of public corporations and agencies.
The Premier has chosen not to assign Ministers their responsibilities through a mandate letter. Rather, the Premier communicates his expectations to Ministers at a meeting, either before or after their appointment to Cabinet. Once (during his inaugural address to the National Assembly), Premier Parizeau announced specific objectives concerning each Minister's portfolio, but this has not become a practice.
To enhance its planning and coordination efforts and make government activities more efficient and consistent, Cabinet has struck three Cabinet committees. While these committees differ in nature, their missions complement one another. The main purpose of the Cabinet committees is to prepare major strategies and debate important policy and budgetary issues:
- the Priorities Committee (10);*
- the Treasury Board (5); and
- the Legislation Committee (6).
Cabinet also has four standing committees, which are charged primarily with coordinating government activities -- mainly those taken by Ministers in their respective sectors:
- Cabinet Committee on Regional and Territorial Affairs (16);
- Cabinet Committee on Education and Culture (6);
- Cabinet Committee on Employment and Economic Development (10); and
- Cabinet Committee on Social Development (9).
Any Minister wishing to bring a matter before Cabinet must do so by means of a Memorandum whose form and content meet the requirements set out by Cabinet. Before being tabled at a Cabinet session for decision, a Memorandum may have to go through several stages to enable Cabinet members to make the most appropriate and informed decisions possible.
The Memorandum must first be submitted to the General Secretariat of the Executive Council. The Secretary General can submit any Memorandum received by his office to a Cabinet committee, a secretariat of the Office of the Executive Council or any department concerned by the subject for an opinion. The committee, secretariat or department that is asked to review the matter has two weeks to respond. The opinions and recommendations are usually submitted to the committee that will be considering the Memorandum. Only once all the required opinions and recommendations have been issued can the Memorandum be forwarded to Cabinet. However, one week must elapse from the time they are received before the Memorandum can be submitted to Cabinet.
A Memorandum is considered ready to be submitted to Cabinet once the Office of the Secretary General has received all the requested opinions and analyses and it is complete, from an administrative point of view. Naturally, a Memorandum will not make it onto the Cabinet agenda until all the difficulties it poses in terms of ministerial coordination have been ironed out. In this regard, the role played by the Cabinet coordinating committees is a crucial one, since it is up to these committees, and more specifically their chairpersons and secretaries, to ensure the consistency of the government's policies and actions and to resolve the differences that might arise between the Ministers concerned by the Memorandum in question. The Cabinet committees submit recommendations to Cabinet as to the appropriateness of moving ahead with a file and as to the substance of that file.
Once a Memorandum is placed on the agenda of a Cabinet session, it is usually discussed at that session -- unless the Minister submitting it is absent. For Cabinet to take a decision, the members must arrive at a consensus. In the absence of such a consensus, the Premier usually suspends debate to allow a period of reflection, further work on the file or additional consultations. Once a session is concluded, the Secretary General sees to it that a record of the Executive Council proceedings is prepared and that any decisions are acted on.
In the event that a decision involves tabling a bill in the National Assembly, the Office of the Secretary General sends the decision, along with the Memorandum which prompted it and the text of the accompanying bill, to the Legislation Committee, which ensures the bill's legal and legislative consistency. The committee also considers harmonizing the bill with all applicable Quebec legislation. Lastly, it looks at the proposed legislation's suitability in terms of the objective, the bill's complexity, scope and consequences from a legal point of view, and the simplicity/quality of the wording. The Legislation Committee also ensures that the bill conforms to the decision taken by Cabinet.
In addition, the committee confirms that all the stages of the process for developing the bill in question have been completed and that any required consultations have in fact been held. Once the committee completes its review of the bill, the committee secretary forwards it to the unit in the National Assembly responsible for translating and printing it. In order to be printed, Cabinet bills require the written approval of the Premier or chairperson of the Legislation Committee.
This approval process generates enhanced ministerial solidarity around government projects and holds each Minister accountable for the intersectoral implications of the actions he or she plans to take. The emphasis is on better advance coordination in developing the major issues to be tabled at Cabinet. The process enables the concerned Minister to adequately brief certain colleagues on the problem, the issues and the expected effects of his or her project.
Only Cabinet members sit on the various Cabinet committees. Backbenchers do not sit on these committees, nor do they attend Cabinet meetings. Although they have no direct role to play in the decision-making process, they can nonetheless influence the government indirectly, through standing commissions of the National Assembly. These commissions can examine issues as they see fit. Moreover, when Cabinet proposes to table a rather sensitive bill in the National Assembly, it makes sure to consult caucus beforehand.
The government has several means at its disposal to assess its policies and programs. Cabinet retreats enable the executive branch to examine the government's achievements and prepare for the coming session of the National Assembly. These retreats are followed by caucus retreats, during which the same issues will be raised and debated. This forum gives caucus an additional tool with which to influence the decision-making process. In addition, each political party organizes annual general councils at which the members usually formulate very specific recommendations on government policy directions and issue their assessment of the government's conduct. Ministers make it a point to maintain a strong presence at these general councils.
In the same vein, the Priorities Committee engages in a multi-year review exercise orchestrated by the Priorities Committee Secretariat to assess government policies and programs. These assessments can sometimes lead to summits, which are convened to take stock of the situation, analyse the assessments and reach agreement on the approaches to take for the coming years.
Currently, the National Assembly has 125 members, 74 of whom are Government members. Cabinet is composed of 23 Ministers, including the Premier. In addition, some backbenchers occupy the position of parliamentary assistant or chair a standing commission of the National Assembly.
II Central Agencies
The primary responsibility of the Office of the Executive Council is to assist the Premier and Cabinet in managing the affairs of the state. The Office is led by the Premier and reports to him through the Secretary General. The decision-making process is also supported by the Office of the Premier and Treasury Board.
1. Office of the Premier
The Office of the Premier of Quebec, headed by the Chief of Staff, is comprised of employees chosen by the Office.
The Office of the Premier advises and supports the Premier in his role as leader of the political party forming the Government. It ensures liaison with Ministers and members without ministerial portfolios and sees to it that the party machinery runs smoothly. The Office of the Premier advises the Premier on overall strategies, as well as on major initiatives undertaken by the Government. The Office of the Premier has no official role to play in the appointment of Deputy or Assistant Deputy Ministers. The Chief of Staff does, however, play an unofficial role in this regard when it comes to important appointments.
The support functions of the Office of the Premier include allocating his time, coordinating his schedule and travel, and preparing his correspondence.
2. Office of the Executive Council
As the chief public servant of Quebec, the Secretary General and Clerk of the Executive Council is responsible for the operation of the General Secretariat and carries out, in respect of the General Secretariat and the Office of the Executive Council, the functions assigned to the Deputy Minister of a department.
The Secretary General and the General Secretariat for which he is responsible are charged with providing Cabinet and its committees with the administrative support services they need to function. He ensures liaison between the Executive Council, its committees, departments and agencies. Accordingly, all the units comprising the Office of the Executive Council come under his authority.
The Secretary General also acts as Clerk. As such, he heads up a technical support administrative unit charged with processing the draft orders to be adopted by Cabinet.
a) Priorities Committee Secretariat
The Priorities Committee is supported by a team that helps it carry out its functions efficiently. This advisory role is assumed by the Priorities Committee Secretariat, under the direction of an Assistant Secretary General.
The Secretariat's role is not to carry out research projects or to take the place of the departments and agencies. Programming expertise lies (and must remain) in the departments. Consequently, responsibility for developing a triennial departmental strategic plan rests entirely with the departments, whose task it is to propose the appropriate means (policies, programs) for meeting government objectives. It is also their responsibility to mobilize their partners and client groups in developing their strategic plan in order to help them contribute to the objectives that have been set.
The Secretariat performs the following tasks:
- proposes to the committee a plan and work methods enabling it to adequately examine the issues for consideration and reach a consensus on aspects that are deemed to be important;
- provides the committee with data, information, analyses and proposals aimed at facilitating its work;
- helps the committee diversify its advisory sources, both for obtaining information and defining approaches;
- prepares economic and social development indices, making it possible to compare Quebec with other developed societies and measure the impacts of the Government's actions; and
- supports the departments in developing their strategic plan by informing them of the Priorities Committee's decisions and consensus opinions on the nature of the Government's actions, the amount of resources to allocate to these actions and the approaches proposed.
b) Coordinating Committees Secretariat
The four Cabinet coordinating committees receive support from a secretariat led by Assistant Secretaries.
The Secretariat, in its dealings with each of the chairs of the committees it supports, is charged with:
- preparing a summary of the Memoranda, analyses and opinions issued by the various administrative entities concerned (Treasury Board, Department of Finance, and the departments and secretariats concerned);
- determining the degree to which these policy proposals or proposed interdepartmental measures conform to the strategic plans approved by the Priorities Committee;
- assessing the interdepartmental and intersectoral coherence of the actions proposed in the Memoranda brought to its attention; and
- facilitating, where needed and at the request of the chair of the Cabinet coordinating committee concerned, conciliation between the departments involved.
c) Legislation Secretariat
The Legislation Committee is assisted in its work by a dedicated section of the General Secretariat. This Secretariat, comprising a small number of advisors and support personnel under the direction of an Associate Secretary General, sees to the preparations and organization of the committee meetings and prepares the minutes of the proceedings, which are transmitted to Cabinet if necessary.
In more general terms, it analyses the Memoranda or bills that are to be submitted to the committee and sees to it that the activities involved in developing these bills, in the departments and the Statutes Office of the Justice Department, are carried out according to a timetable allowing the Government to implement its legislative agenda. It coordinates the revision of the bills that the Government plans to table in the National Assembly and ensures an institutional link with the National Assembly units in charge of translating and printing the bills.
d) Senior Appointments Secretariat
Reporting to an Associate Secretary General, this Secretariat is responsible for, among other things, senior appointments.
As such, the Secretariat is charged, in conjunction with the Premier and the responsible Ministers, with seeking out and recommending candidates for positions staffed at the Government's discretion, such as Deputy Ministers, Assistant and Associate Deputy Ministers and agency heads and members. This responsibility also includes career management for government administrators within the meaning of the Public Service Act (their development, determination of their remuneration and other working conditions) as well as for Chairpersons, Vice-Chairpersons, Secretaries and members of agencies.
It also is charged with analysing the various questions pertaining to the organization of senior management positions in the various departments and agencies. Lastly, it advises and supports the Secretary General on matters concerning the application of the code of conduct and ethics governing senior public servants.
e) Deregulation Secretariat
This Secretariat, which operates under the responsibility of an Associate Secretary General, is charged primarily with ensuring the implementation of the policy on regulatory activity. Basically, this consists in tightening the process for developing government regulations, asking departments and agencies to prepare their triennial regulatory review plans in accordance with the policy in effect, analysing the content of these plans, reporting to Cabinet and ensuring follow-up. It is also responsible for reviewing bills and draft regulations in light of the provisions of the regulatory policy, as well as recommending measures to reduce red tape in the application of acts and regulations that affect businesses and individuals and encouraging their adoption by departments and agencies.
f) Economic and Employment Summit Secretariat
Under the responsibility of an Associate Secretary General, this Secretariat is charged with supporting, in terms of content, liaison and logistics, the follow-up mechanism overseen by the Premier and seeing to the execution of job creation projects emanating from the Summit by coordinating the actions of the departments and agencies and coordinating the liaison with outside organizations responsible for promoting the social economy. It also provides the necessary support to the advisory committee established in connexion with the $250 M fund to combat poverty through labour market integration. It also ensures, in conjunction with departments and Cabinet committees, follow-up on the government policies and actions growing out of the Summit, other than reforms to public services.
g) Government Agencies Secretariat
This Secretariat was established in October 1997 to oversee implementation of the recommendations of the Task Force on Government Agency Review.
Operating under the responsibility of an Associate Secretary General, the Secretariat is charged primarily with ensuring the application of government decisions on government agencies, providing the government with proposals concerning the recommendations contained in the Task Force report that have yet to be followed up on, and developing expertise as to the operation of government agencies.
h) Economic Projects Coordination Centre
This Centre operates under the responsibility of an Associate Secretary General. The Centre's mandate consists primarily in following up on and ensuring the implementation of the job creation projects that grew out of the Summit in sectors other than the social economy, referring, where applicable, economic development projects whose direct coordination is not its responsibility to the appropriate departments and units, and ensuring their follow-up. It must support the proactive strategies proposed by the departments with a view to seeking investments or promoting private or partnership projects in sectors where their implementation would have structuring effects on economic activity, and it must monitor changes in these projects.
i) Administrative Reform Branch
The Branch is charged with advising the Secretary General on the implementation of various reforms aimed at enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of the Quebec public service.
j) Secretariat of the Order of Quebec
The Secretariat of the Order of Quebec is responsible for laying the groundwork for the Government to name individuals to the Order of Quebec, as provided for in the Act respecting the Ordre national du Québec.
k) Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs Secretariat
Under the authority of the Minister for Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs, this Secretariat provides the Government of Quebec with support and advice in the area of Canadian intergovernmental relations. It ensures coherence of action on the part of the Government of Québec in its dealings with the federal and provincial governments. The Secretariat reports to an Associate Secretary General.
It is also responsible for coordinating the internal trade file. In conjunction with departments and agencies, the Secretariat takes part in the proceedings of Canadian intergovernmental conferences and helps develop and negotiate agreements with the federal and provincial governments.
The Secretariat is responsible for the network of Quebec offices in Canada that ensure, within their respective territories, links with federal and provincial stakeholders. It also coordinates activities relating to Quebec economic and trade promotion in Canada. The Secretariat oversees the Government's relations with Canada's Francophone and Acadian communities and manages, in cooperation with the departments and other Quebec stakeholders, the program of financial support for partnerships between Quebec and Canada's Francophone and Acadian communities. Lastly, the Secretariat negotiates and implements cooperation agreements with governments or agencies in certain provinces.
l) Aboriginal Affairs Secretariat
Under the responsibility of an Associate Secretary General, this Secretariat provides the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs with the expert advice and support he needs to carry out his mission.
Specifically, the Secretariat's mandate comprises the following:
- coordinate the Aboriginal activities of departments and government agencies;
- assume responsibility for developing government policies that are to apply to the Amerindian and Inuit communities;
- provide the Aboriginal community with general information and publicize the relevant government policies to the Quebec population as a whole; and
- conduct the negotiation of comprehensive agreements in cooperation with the departments concerned, advise the departments on the negotiation of sectoral agreements and oversee implementation of the agreements concluded.
m) Administration Branch
The Administration Branch provides the Office's various administrative units with human, materiel, financial and computer resource management services, as well as communications management services. It also acts as the Office's mouthpiece in its dealings with central agencies.
n) Consultation Mechanisms
There is no official mechanism for consultation between the Office of the Premier and the Office of the Executive Council. Each week, the Secretary General and the Director of the Office of the Premier get together to discuss the Cabinet meeting agenda; occasionally, the Premier attends this informal meeting.
3. Treasury Board
Treasury Board is a standing committee of Cabinet. In creating Treasury Board, the National Assembly introduced a mechanism for monitoring the use of Quebec's resources and taking charge of administrative policy development.
Treasury Board's authorities are set out in the Financial Administration Act, the Public Service Act, the Act respecting the process of negotiation of the collective agreements in the public and parapublic sectors, the Act respecting government services to departments and public bodies and the acts to establish certain departments or government agencies. In addition to its own authorities, Treasury Board -- as a standing committee of Cabinet -- plays a government advisory role, providing advice on the administrative and financial implications of bills, draft regulations and policy proposals and on specific courses of action. The Department of Finance sets the objectives, and Treasury Board is charged with attaining them. Under the Financial Administration Act, Treasury Board is responsible for preparing and monitoring the implementation of the Estimates.
Treasury Board comprises five members designated by the Government from among the members of the Executive Council. It meets every Tuesday to decide on the requests submitted to it by departments and agencies or to make recommendations on matters referred by the Government.
To fulfil its responsibilities, Treasury Board relies on the technical support and consultation services of the Treasury Board Secretariat, which is headed by a Secretary (a position at the level of Deputy Minister).
The Secretariat's structure reflects the mandates assigned to it; thus, there is the Budgetary Policy Sector, the Management Policy Sector and the Personnel and Staff Relations Policy Sector. All three sectors analyse the budgetary and administrative implications of the files submitted for Treasury Board or Cabinet approval.
The method of preparing the Estimates, in its current form, dates back to the 1972-73 introduction of the planning, programming and budgeting (PPB) system, one of the underpinnings of the administrative reform instituted by the Financial Administration Act. Each department and most agencies are assigned a closed overall envelope that they use to allocate their resources in order to respond to their most pressing needs. Thus, the principle whereby government expenditures must be limited by the Government's ability to pay applies as well to the budget estimates process.
The Estimates preparation cycle commences at the Treasury Board Secretariat following the Budget Speech delivered by the Finance Minister at the start of each fiscal year. This speech presents data on income, expenditures and the deficit not only for the coming year, but for the two previous ones as well. Thus, the Government sets an expenditure objective and, on that basis, the Treasury Board Secretariat launches the budget cycle for the following year. This cycle begins in May and comprises three stages: the triennial forecast, the program review and detailed appropriations.
The aim of the triennial forecast is to conduct an initial assessment of the cost of renewing the existing programs for the next three years. The completed triennial forecast is compared to the objective set by the Government in its Budget Speech. Based on the outcome of this comparison, the Treasury Board President submits a Memorandum to Cabinet recommending the preparation procedures and approaches that will guide the departments in developing their budget estimates for the coming year. At the same time, the budgets are approved for each of the departments and agencies. These envelopes are then transmitted to the departments, accompanied by program review preparation instructions and forms. It is during this second stage that departments can proceed with the review of their activities and the resources allocated to them to develop the reduction measures required to achieve the expenditure objective.
Towards the beginning of October, the program review file prepared by each department is returned to the Secretariat. This is an analysis of the requested adjustments, taking into account, if applicable, the economic parameters review carried out at the same time for the Department of Finance. Once the adjustments recommended by the Treasury Board Secretariat have been made, the outcome of the program review is assessed against the objective set out in the Budget Speech, resulting in a number of government fiscal balance scenarios. Lastly, the Treasury Board President submits a new Memorandum to Cabinet to review, if applicable, the budgetary approaches and obtain the necessary mandates to implement the expenditure reduction measures, handle the departments' requests and prepare the final budget envelopes. Once the decisions taken by Cabinet have been factored in, the Treasury Board Secretariat sends the departments the final envelopes, usually at the end of December or beginning of January, to confirm to them the outcome of the program review. The envelopes are accompanied by the instructions and forms required to prepare for the last stage of the budget cycle, namely the detailed appropriations.
The purpose of preparing detailed appropriations forecasts is to break down the amounts of the final envelopes for their presentation in the appropriation ledger, to be tabled in the National Assembly. The final envelopes must be broken down by programs, items and activities according to the numbering and heading system specified by the Treasury Board Secretariat. The envelopes are also broken down by super category and category of expenditures according to the nomenclature appearing in the appropriations book.
Once the departments' detailed forecasts have been received, the Budgetary Policy Sector prepares the two documents to be published when the appropriations are tabled in the National Assembly: the appropriation book as such and the supplementary appropriation information. For the Budgetary Policy Sector, the publication of these documents marks the end of the estimates cycle that began almost a year earlier. This Sector plays a key role in monitoring budget implementation: it tracks expenditure changes and provides Treasury Board with regular status reports identifying the main budget overruns that are anticipated. Where appropriate, Treasury Board can take concrete measures to rein in spending.
4. Resource Management
Treasury Board exercises the powers entrusted to the Government to develop and implement the overall administrative policy governing the public service. Management policies cover the following areas: management of goods and services, management of information technologies, financial management and workforce control. Treasury Board is charged with establishing overall policies and programs for managing the public service's human resources and with assessing their implementation. In addition, it negotiates collective agreements with public service employee associations and determines the pay, benefits and other working conditions for non-unionized public sector workers.
The Public Service Act gives the Treasury Board President responsibility for, among other things, holding recruitment and promotion competitions, carrying out research, studies or surveys on human resources management and proposing to the Government or a department or agency measures designed to improve human resources management and development within the public service.
It should also be pointed out that staffing authority is entirely delegated to the departments and agencies: Deputy Ministers have statutory authority to manage the human resources in their department; the same is true of agency heads.
Established by the Public Service Act, the Public Service Commission has responsibilities associated with an administrative tribunal. In addition to hearing employee appeals as provided for under the Act, the Commission is charged with verifying the impartiality and fairness of decisions affecting public servants, as well as compliance with the Act and its regulations as regards the employee recruitment and promotion system. The Commission comprises between three and five members, including a chairperson who heads up the organization. Members are appointed, after their names are put forward by the Premier, by a resolution of the National Assembly.
The Public Service Act also defines the category of government administrators. This employment category comprises the Secretary General of the Executive Council, the Associate and Assistant Secretaries General of the Executive Council, the Secretary along with the Assistant and Associate Secretaries of Treasury Board, Deputy Ministers and Assistant or Associate Deputy Ministers. Government administrators are appointed by Cabinet on the recommendation of the Premier. Also on recommendation of the Premier, the Government can change a government administrator's employment category.
There is a special decision-making process for senior appointments, in accordance with the policies on management of incumbents of senior positions appointed by the Government's prerogative, adopted by Order 1488-96 of December 4, 1996. The names of the candidates that the Premier intends to appoint to Deputy Minister or Assistant or Associate Deputy Minister positions are entered on the Cabinet meeting agenda one week in advance, in order to give the Ministers time to consider their candidacies. Nevertheless, the final decision rests with the Premier. As for the positions of government agency heads or members, it is up to the Minister concerned to bring the matter before Cabinet.
As part of the accountability process for senior public servants, Deputy Ministers receive a letter from the Secretary General asking them to prepare and submit to him their objectives for the coming year. Following this request, the Deputy Minister meets with the Secretary General, who consults the Minister before determining the management results that are expected of the Deputy Minister.
As for the heads of government agencies, they are asked to inform the Secretary General of the approaches and mechanisms that have been agreed to with the Minister responsible for implementing the act establishing the agency.
The Secretary General of the Executive Council is the head of the public service and, as such, responsible for Deputy Ministers. The Secretary General communicates his vision of the public service through the Government's corporate objectives and the objectives set by each Deputy Minister.
The Secretary General also has a number of means at his disposal to ensure the coordination of government activities. The forum of Deputy Ministers meets once every three weeks to review the decisions taken by Cabinet and discuss projects that the Government plans to undertake. The committee of Assistant or Associate Deputy Ministers also meets every two months to consider general public administration issues. Periodically, the two groups organize special meetings during which the Secretary General informs the Deputy and Assistant or Associate Deputy Ministers of new initiatives to be undertaken.
Each Monday there is a coordinating meeting between representatives of each Executive Council Office secretariat and a representative of the Treasury Board Secretariat. The aim of the meeting is to prepare and coordinate files that are to be submitted at Cabinet meetings.
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