I Introduction

This guide is intended to assist heads of federal agencies, including heads of boards and commissions, and particularly those newly appointed by the Governor in Council (it is not directed specifically toward heads of Crown corporations). It is structured to explain the role heads of agencies are called to play in carrying out their functions as holders of public office.

Federal agencies are generally established in statute by Parliament to assist the government in carrying out its responsibilities to the Canadian public. The precise manner in which this is done varies considerably depending on the nature of the agency and its statutory mandate. The powers necessary to carry out the agency’s functions are vested in the individual who heads the agency (or the board that directs or oversees it) rather than in the Minister. However, Parliament normally requires that each agency report to it through a Minister, and where an agency draws from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, the "appropriate Minister" must sponsor the necessary request for funds through Estimates and the Crown must approve those requests by means of the Appropriation Bill.

Federal agencies have functions which may be administrative, quasi-judicial, regulatory or advisory. Like the mandates of the agencies themselves, the tasks and legal obligations of the various agency head positions vary considerably. There is therefore a great diversity of federal organizations currently in existence. The nature of these entities spans a wide range of activities and there is a corresponding range in the federal statutes to which they are subject. These agencies include entities as different as, for example, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Immigration and Refugee Board and the Canadian International Trade Tribunal.

The powers necessary for an agency to carry out its functions are normally vested in the individual that heads the agency. The head of a federal agency is generally appointed by the Governor in Council, pursuant to an enabling statute. The duties and statutory obligations of agency heads vary considerably, as do the mandates of their associated agencies. What is common to all agency heads is their role as the agency’s chief executive officer and their responsibility for the conduct of the work of the agency and the effective functioning of the organization.

The Guide is designed to outline general points relating to the organization and operations of the federal public administration. Thus, it describes agencies within the broader framework of the roles of Parliament, the Governor in Council, the Prime Minister, Ministers and Secretaries of State, and the Cabinet decision-making process. In more specific terms, it outlines the Governor in Council appointment process and looks at related issues such as compensation mechanisms. The Guide also examines the accountability of agency heads to their Minister and to Parliament, their responsibilities for human resources, financial and program management and public affairs. The Guide deals with the place of agencies within the portfolio under a Minister’s responsibility. Public service values and conflicts of interest are also discussed since both have an impact on the conduct of heads of agencies as part of the general probity framework in the public sector. Information on agency networks, that serve as an informal source of information and contacts across government is provided in the last section of the booklet. Descriptions of the functions of central agencies and other organizations of particular importance to agency heads are provided in the annexes.

This Guide was prepared by the Machinery of Government Secretariat of the Privy Council Office, in collaboration with the Management Priorities and Senior Personnel Secretariat, and with the assistance of the Treasury Board Secretariat and the Office of the Ethics Counsellor. It is designed to provide a brief overview of a range of topics with which heads of agencies should be familiar. Individual sections also include lists of contacts to whom agency heads can turn for more detailed information on specific subjects.