Canadian Government Policy Cycle

These pages provide resources for an understanding of the Canadian federal government policy cycle

Why is the Government contemplating action on an issue?
Possible explanations include:

(a) Statistics revealed a problem in Canadian society

(b) Scientific research has revealed a problem for Canadian society

Federal Science Library - search individually or collectively the collections of the Canadian Agriculture Library, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Fishieries and Oceans Canada, Health Canada, National Science Library and Natural Resources Canada
CIHR (Canadian Institutes of Health Research)
NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada)
SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada)

(c) Party/policy or election platform called for the policy

(d) A body tasked with an investigation has made a recommendation for action
Reports from commissions of inquiry, task forces, legislative committees, advisory bodies and departments may have the additional benefit of providing historical background to the issue
Government of Canada Publications

(e) Opinion called for the policy

Find policy Google custom search - covers 14 prominent Canadian research organizations. Canadian Public Policy Collection - provides access to publications from think tanks, public policy institutes, government agencies, advocacy groups, university research centres and other public interest groups. See also: Conference Board of Canada eLibrary, and the Social Research and Demonstration Corporation. The PolicyFile database is largely American, but does include some Canadian material, e.g. Fraser Institute and the Canadian Labour Congress. Think Tank Search (Harvard Kennedy School) is a Google Custom Search of more than 690 think tanks and research centres.

  • Interest Groups

Particularly those that appear before Parliamentary Committees: Senate and House of Commons

(f) Canada's international commitments called for policy measures
Canada is a signatory to treaties which require regular reporting on progress towards implementation and which may involve the assessment by other countries of Canada's progress. These implementation reports in the area of human rights cover economic, social, and cultural aspects and summarize Canada's policy initiatives in these areas at both the federal and provincial/territorial levels. 
For example: Promoting human rights, Canada's performance and reporting to the United Nations, and Canada's human rights commitments. To illustrate: Canada is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The UN Committee found some areas of concern and made recommendations to Canada. The Senate investigated the matter and issued a report: Children: the Silenced Citizens (April 2007)

(g) Parliamentary committees made a policy recommendation
Both the Senate and House of Commons have committees. There are also joint committees of both the House of Commons and Senate. It can be helpful for those interested in the evolution of policy to follow the work of a relevant committee.

Committees study and report on legislative proposals (bills). Committees can also investigate topics of interest and summon witnesses. Witnesses may appear on their own behelf, on behalf of the Government or can represent varous interest groups.

When the Committee has concluded its study, a report is usually prepared. At the end of the report, there can be recommendations, which may or may not be unanimous and a request to the Government to respond to these recommendstions. These responses indicate the Government's policy position and care is taken in their drafting

Example of a report and Government response: Declaration of Health Emergency by First Nations Communities in Northern Ontario and Government response to the Third Report of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs, "Declaration of Health Emergency by First Nations Communities in Northern Ontario"

(h) A Government oversight body has recommended a policy change

Auditor General of Canada
Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunictions Commission
Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada
Commissioner of Official Languages
Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development
Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissoner
Correctional Investigator
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime
Information Commissioner
Privacy Commissioner
Procurement Ombudsman
Public Sector Integrity Commissoner
Royal Canadian Mounted Police External Review Committee
Security Intelligence Review Committee
Taxpayers' Ombudsman
Veterans' Ombudsman

What action is the Government taking to address the issue?

Preliminary Work

(a) Goverment may study the issue
Library of Parliament may be asked to prepare a backgrounder on the issue
Policy Horizons Canada publishes a wide range of reports on emerging issues in society, economy, environment, governance and technology
Risk Management
Reports may be prepared by commissions of inquiry, task forces, legislative committees, advisory bodies, departments. These reports may have the additional benefit of providing the historical background to the issue - Government of Canada Publications

(b) Government may wish to raise the issue for public discussion

(c) Government may release an outline of its policy objectives and possible future action

Policy Actions

(a) The Prime Minister or a Cabinet Minister may make a statement by itself or accompanying a package of measures

(b) Government  may engage in capacity-building, which goes beyond providing information and transfers to people and organizations the means to advance policy objectives. Example: Pan Canadian Healthy Living Strategy
Government Publications Canada
Federal Publications Locator
Library and Archives Canada Electronic Collection

(c) Government may apply economic instruments such as taxes, fees and public expenditures

Funding a New Initiative: How a Department Gets Approvals and Money

Taxes, fees, duties, public expenditures

(d) Government may impose new rules such as laws and regulations

Choosing the right tools to accomplish policy objectives

Content last updated: June 24, 2020