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The Federal Bureaucracy

The federal bureaucracy (sometimes known as the public service or the civil service) is the formal organization of government employees who develop and administer government policies and programs. Members of the bureaucracy are non-partisan, (typically) permanent employees who are meant to maintain their positions despite changes in political leadership.

The bureaucracy can broadly be divided into two main components: departments and non- departmental bodies. (Some scholars might also add a third component; central agencies). Departments include organizations like Justice Canada, Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, Health Canada, Heritage Canada, and so on. Each department focuses on a broad area of public policy, and is led by a Minister the belongs to Cabinet. The Minister is accountable to Parliament for the functioning of the Department.

Non-departmental bodies include things like Crown corporations, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, the Elections Canada, and others that are arms-length from the government, but are still part of the broader bureaucracy. Crown corporations are a particularly interesting non-department body, which are essentially companies owned by the government. Crown Corporations are created by an Act of Parliament and then a Minister is appointed to oversee their operations and appoint members of the board. The board maintains control of the Crown Corporation, so while the government owns the corporation and appoints its Board, it is not otherwise involved in the corporation’s operations.

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Contributors: Ryan Cummins, Elish Carey, Evan Koop, and Wajiha Siddiqui