IV Portfolio management

This section describes the objectives and mechanisms for portfolio management to ensure that all organizations under a Minister’s authority work together in the most effective fashion within the context of maintaining appropriate agency independence.

1. Portfolio

In the organization of the federal government, each Minister is responsible for a portfolio, which consists of the organizations reporting to the Minister, and those for which the Minister has been designated responsible. They can include:

  • a department that has a role in shaping future policies and laws, and, in some cases, delivers services to Canadians; and
  • agencies, boards and commissions that take many forms and are established to undertake a wide variety of functions, including providing advice, undertaking research, providing grants, regulating particular economic sectors of industries, and carrying out specialized adjudicative functions affecting individual rights; and/or
  • Crown corporations that provide specific services on a commercial basis.

Each of the organizations is different. They have different mandates, a variety of organizational structures, and a different relationship to the Minister. However, they all provide services to Canadians and report to Ministers, and through Ministers, to Parliament.

2. What is Portfolio Management?

Building on existing statutory roles under a Minister’s authority, portfolio management is about encouraging all organizations to work together in the most appropriate and effective fashion, consistent with statute. It is a tool to secure coherence in developing and implementing the Government’s policy and programs to accomplish its objectives and effectively deliver services to Canadians. It is a means of:

  • achieving better governance;
  • ensuring better policy, legislation and program coordination; and
  • supporting Ministers in their oversight of their portfolios by giving them the best public service advice.

It is important to note that portfolio management does not mean a change in accountability. The arm’s length relationship and the independent status of agencies, boards and commissions will continue to be respected. Similarly, with respect to Crown corporations, their original purpose as an instrument of public policy, and in some cases, their ability to participate competitively in the market place, will not change.

To be an effective means to augment the contribution towards achieving the Government’s objectives and priorities, portfolio management requires the concerted and cooperative efforts of all concerned -- Ministers, Deputy Ministers, and heads of agencies and other organizations in the portfolio. With the necessary flexibility, portfolio management can serve as a valuable tool for the government to strengthen its capacity to effectively develop policy, as well as to deliver programs and services to Canadians. A brief description of the respective roles of Deputy Ministers and heads of other portfolio organizations follows.

3. Role of Deputy Ministers

The Deputy Minister is responsible for advising the Minister on the coherent policy development and management of the Minister’s portfolio. On behalf of the Minister, the Deputy Minister has specific responsibility to ensure appropriate coordination of the portfolio, tailored to the Minister’s responsibility for each organization in the portfolio. This could be achieved, for example, by holding regular meetings with all heads of agencies in the portfolio to exchange information, to coordinate portfolio-wide issues, and to ensure joint participation in the decision-making process. All activities in enhancing portfolio management are carried out while respecting the statutory-based relationship between a Minister and the agencies in the Minister’shis or her portfolio.

4. Role of Heads of Organizations

Some heads of organizations are vested with powers and authorities directly by Parliament. The roles and responsibilities of Ministers and Deputy Ministers with respect to these organizations vary and are set out in their respective enabling legislation. It is, therefore, essential that the right balance be struck between maintaining the necessary arm’s length relationship established for the bodies and the Minister’s responsibility for these organizations from the overall portfolio perspective. Good working relationships between the agency head and the Deputy Minister, as well as the Minister, enable effective cooperation and communciation and contributes to successful portfolio management.

There are at least three areas where the involvement of heads of organizations is beneficial in improving policy development and communication across the portfolio:

  • sharing of expertise in ensuring relevance on any proposed legislative changes;
  • appropriate cooperation on policy development with Deputy Ministers so that they may be effective in giving sound policy advice to their Ministers; and
  • sharing management practices to benefit from each other’s perspective and experience.

Contact for further information

Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet
Machinery of Government
Privy Council Office
Telephone: (613) 957-5491