Public Service of Canada

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The Public Service of Canada (known as the Civil Service of Canada prior to 1967) is the civil service of the Government of Canada. Its function is to serve as the staff of the Canadian Crown. The Clerk of the Privy Council, as Canada's senior serving civil servant, is head of the Public Service of Canada.

The Public Service is divided into various subsidiary administrative units such as departments, agencies, commissions, Crown corporations, and other federal organizations. Over 40% of the Public Service of Canada is located in the National Capital Region, although there are employees working at approximately 1,600 locations across Canada. The Public Service of Canada is the country's single largest employer.


The purpose of the Public Service of Canada, as the non-political staff of the "executive branch" of government, is the day to day administration of the state and to the effective implementation of government policy and regulation in accordance with Canadian law. The civil service is responsible to the Crown (state) itself and not the ruling government or political party,

In addition to the fundamental role of carrying out decisions taken by the ruling government, the public service also has a planning role, and may develop proposals and recommendations to Cabinet. It will also provide continued feedback and advice to government in all aspects of governmental affairs.


In 2007, there were approximately 200 departments (e.g., Health Canada), agencies (e.g., Parks Canada), commissions (e.g., Canadian Grain Commission), boards (e.g., Veterans Review and Appeal Board), councils (e.g., Canadian Judicial Council) and crown corporations (e.g., Royal Canadian Mint).

In a typical department, it is the minister who holds the respective portfolio who has overall responsibility for the management and direction of the department (i.e. the Minister of National Defence holds the Defence Portfolio, which includes many different organisations, one of which being the Department of National Defence). The deputy minister is the head of the department and is its senior serving civil servant, and therefore has responsibility for all of the department's day-to-day operations. However, it is always the respective minister who is held accountable to parliament for its operations.

A variety of associate and assistant deputy ministers head the various sections of responsibility within a department (i.e. policy, finance and corporate services, environment and infrastructure, etc.). Within the jurisdiction of each Assistant Deputy Minister, is usually one to two Associate Deputy Ministers and beneath them two to five Directors-General who oversee more functional areas of each broad element of the department. Under Directors-General are Directors, who oversee various directorates, which are the core of any department. These directorates constitute the ground level in each department, and are the members of the civil service who implement state decisions, carry out research, and help to formulate proposals.



Hiring (or selection) of civil service employees is typically done through a selection process that is either open to employees of the Public Service only (internal) or open to the general public (external). External processes are typically done to recruit a greater number of applicants. Conversely, internal processes may be held for positions where there is considered to be an adequate internal candidates and/or to provide opportunities for advancement within the civil service.

The area of selection varies greatly depending on whether it is conducted as an internal or external process. The latter are open to Canadian citizens nationally, and sometimes internationally.

Since the 2005 coming into force of the 2003 Public Service Modernization Act, selection processes focus less on a rules-based concept of best-qualified, and more on a values-based approach that enables managers to hire qualified and competent individuals whose experience, skills and knowledge are the right fit given the position's current and future needs.[1]

Federal civil service employees in Canada are employed by the state, but because of Canada's history and formal structure as a monarchy, they are often described as being employed by the Crown, who personifies the state and "enjoys a general capacity to contract in accordance with the rule of ordinary law."[2] Since the Public Service Modernization Act came into force in 2003, individuals had to take an Oath of Allegiance before they could assume their post. However, as of December 31, 2005, this is no longer a requirement, with civil servants taking an Oath of Office instead.

Hiring in the core public administration is governed by the Public Service Employment Act, while other organizations hire independently.[3]

Year Size of Civil Service (CS)[4][5][6] national pop. [7]


CS as a % of national pop.
1918 ~ 5,000 ~ 8,500,000 0.05%
post-World War I 55,000 (1923) ~ 13,500,000 0.41%
1970 198,000 21,500,000 0.92%
1975 273,000 23,400,000 1.2%
1983 251,000 25,367,000 0.99%
1986 217,000 26,101,000 0.83%
2008 263,000 32,248,000 0.82%
2009 274,000 33,894,000 0.81%
2010 283,000 34,149,200 0.83%
2011 282,352 34,483,975 0.82%
2012 278,092 34,670,352 0.80%
2013 262,817 35,056,100 0.75%
2014 257,138 35,427,524 0.73%
2015 257,034 35,749,600 0.72%
2016 258,979 36,155,487 0.72%
2017 262,696 36,591,241 0.72%
2018 273,571 37,067,011 0.74%
2019 287,978 37,797,496 0.76%

As of September, 2006, there were approximately 260,000 employees within the civil service,[9] divided as follows:

Additionally, although not part of the Public Service of Canada, the following 194,000 members were employed by the federal government:

There are approximately 80 distinct job classifications in the core civil service; most work in policy, operations or administrative functions. About 15% are scientists and professionals, 10% work in technical operations and 2.5% are executives.[10]

About 42% of Canadian civil servants work in the National Capital Region (NCR) (Ottawa-Hull), 24% work elsewhere in Ontario or Quebec, 21% in Western Canada, and 11% in Atlantic Canada. Since the headquarters of most agencies are located in the NCR, about 72% of executives work in this area.[10]

Canadian civil servants are also located in more than 180 countries (in the form of foreign service officers) and provide service in 1,600 locations in Canada.

Approximately 80% of federal civil service employees are represented by a bargaining agent (union). The greatest number of civil servants are members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. They negotiate a collective bargaining agreement for blue collar workers and most administrative staff.

Gender and ethnicity

The Canadian Public Service has made significant efforts to reflect the gender balance, linguistic, and ethnic diversity in Canada.[11]

Sub-group Canadian Civil Service Available Workforce
Women 53% 52%
Francophone 32% 24%
self-identified visible minorities 8.1% 10.4%
self-identified people with disabilities 5.9% 3.6%
aboriginal 4.1% 2.5%

Historical timeline

See also


  1. ^ Government of Canada Public Service Modernization Act (2003)
  2. ^ Smith, David E.; The Invisible Crown; University of Toronto Press; 1995; p. 79
  3. ^ "Other governmental organizations". Public Service Commission of Canada. Retrieved 2010-03-16.
  4. ^ "The Civil Service of Canada". 1923. p. 46. Retrieved 2007-07-20.
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-07-03. Retrieved 2007-07-23.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat: Population of the Federal Public Service
  7. ^ Canada's Population
  8. ^ Annual population estimates
  9. ^ "Canada's Public Service in the 21st Century (discussion paper)" (PDF). Public Policy Forum. April 2007. p. 6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-07-31. Retrieved 2007-07-20.
  10. ^ a b "Canada's Public Service in the 21st Century (discussion paper)" (PDF). Public Policy Forum. April 2007. p. 7. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-07-31. Retrieved 2007-07-20.
  11. ^ "Canada's Public Service in the 21st Century (discussion paper)" (PDF). Public Policy Forum. April 2007. p. 8. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-07-31. Retrieved 2007-07-20.
  12. ^ "Civil Service in Canada". Marionopolis College. Retrieved 2007-07-20.
  13. ^ "A Timeline of the Public Service Commission of Canada". Public Service Commission of Canada. Archived from the original on 2007-07-03. Retrieved 2007-07-23.
  14. ^ Roberts, Alasdair. So-Called Experts: How American Consultants Remade the Canadian Civil Service, 1918-1921. Institute of Public Administration of Canada, 1996
  15. ^ J. L. Granatstein, The Ottawa Men: The Civil Service Mandarins 1935-1957 (2015)
  16. ^