Law Library Stacks

Back to Parliamentary Oversight of the Executive Branch

Summary

The Canadian Parliament’s system for oversight of the executive branch consists of nine permanent, specialized offices called “Officers of Parliament,” whose mandates, powers, and limits have been established by parliamentary statute. In addition, the Parliament can appoint ad hoc commissioners to investigate specific matters.

I. Parliamentary Oversight System

Canada is a country with shared legislative and executive competences between the federal government and the provincial governments. This report discusses only the federal oversight offices, but each province has established its own parliamentary oversight offices.

A. Officers of Parliament

The Canadian Parliament’s system for oversight of the executive branch consists of nine permanent, specialized offices called “Officers of Parliament,” whose mandates, powers, and limits have been established by parliamentary statute.[1] The independence of the Officers of Parliament from the executive branch is crucial in guaranteeing the integrity of their oversight function and the research they conduct toward that end.

The Officers of Parliament report to either the Senate or House of Commons or both.[2] The nine offices comprising the Officers of Parliament and their responsibilities are as follows:

  • The Office of the Auditor General supervises the government’s stewardship of public funds,[3] including the Consolidated Revenue Fund,[4] and examines the financial statements required by law to verify if the statements present information faithfully in accordance with stated accounting policies.[5]
  • Elections Canada is responsible for insuring the fairness and impartiality of  federal elections.[6]
  • The Office of the Commissioner of Official languages ensures equality of status and equal rights and privileges regarding use of the French and English languages in all federal institutions.[7] It is responsible for supporting and developing the French and  English  linguistic minority communities and promoting the equality of status and use of both languages in Canadian society.[8]
  • The Office of the Information Commissioner is responsible for guaranteeing citizens’ rights to access federal information permitted by law, and receives and investigates citizens’ complaints regarding access to records under the Access to Information Act.[9]
  • The Office of the Privacy Commissioner addresses complaints related to breaches of privacy, misuse of private data, and the refusal of access to personal information.[10]
  • The Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner is responsible for investigating public servants’ complaints regarding professional wrongdoing and reprisals.[11]
  • The Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner oversees the possible conflicts between private interests and the duties of public office holders.[12]
  • The Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying examines complaints about wrongful lobbying activities and maintains a register of lobbyists.[13]
  • The Parliamentary Budget Officer conducts independent analyses of national funds, government financial estimates, and trends in the economy; unlike other Officers of Parliament, it is part of the Library of Parliament.[14]

To supplement the efforts of the Officers of Parliament, the Parliament can appoint ad hoc commissioners to investigate specific matters.

B. Appointment of Commissioners

Commissioners are appointed by the nomination of the Governor in Council “after consultation with the leader of every recognized party in the Senate and House of Commons and approval of the appointment by resolution of the Senate and House of Commons.’’[15] The two exceptions are the Election Canada Commissioner, who is appointed by the Chief of the House of Commons, and the Parliamentary Budget Officer, who is appointed  by the Governor in  Council  alone.[16] The statutory term of office of the Commissioners is seven years, except in the cases of the Auditor General and the Commissioner of Election Canada, who serve for ten years, and the Parliamentary Budget Officer, who is appointed for five years.[17]

C. Mandate of the Officers of Parliament

The Officers of Parliament conduct oversight of the day-to-day business of the government, with investigation powers arising from their own initiative, the law, Parliament’s requests, or private complaints. They also have a role in education, advocacy, and policy reforms within their mission. The Officers of the Parliament report directly to the Parliament or its committees, through speakers and annual or special reports.[18]

Back to Top

II. Recommended Sources for Further Research

The items cited in the footnotes are the most useful sources for research.

Back to Top

Prepared by Tariq Ahmad[*]
Foreign Law Specialist
August 2017


[*] This report was prepared with the assistance of Law Library intern Marie-Philippe Lavoie.

[1] Officers and Officials of Parliament, PARLIAMENT OF CANADA: PALINFO, https://lop.parl.ca/ParlInfo/compilations/officersandofficials/officersofparliament.aspx (last updated Oct. 2, 2014).

[2] Id.

[3] Auditor General Act, R.S.C. 1985, c A-17, http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/PDF/A-17.pdf; see also OFFICE OF THE AUDITOR GENERAL OF CANADA, http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/admin_e_41.html (last visited July 26, 2017); Jamie Baxter, From Integrity Agency to Accountability Network: The Political Economy of Public Sector Oversight, 46(2) OTTAWA L. REV. 231, 237 (2014–15), available at https://commonlaw.uottawa.ca/sites/commonlaw.uottawa.ca.ottawa-law-review/files/46-2-baxter.pdf.

[4] Auditor General Act art. 5.

[5]  Id. art. 6.

[6] Fair Election Act, S.C. 2014, c 12, http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/PDF/2014_12.pdf; see also ELECTIONS CANADA, http://www.elections.ca/home.aspx (last updated July 20, 2017).

[7] Official Languages Act, R.S.C. 1985, c 31, art. 2(a), http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/PDF/O-3.01.pdf; see also OFFICE OF THE COMMISSIONER OF OFFICIAL LANGUAGES, http://www.officiallanguages.gc.ca/en (last visited July 26, 2017).

[8] Id. art. 2(b).

[9] Access to Information Act, R.C.S. 1985, c A-1, art. 30, http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/PDF/A-1.pdf; see also OFFICE OF THE INFORMATION COMMISSIONER OF CANADA, http://www.oic-ci.gc.ca/eng (last updated May 25, 2017).

[10] Privacy Act, R.S.C., 1985, c P-21, art. 30(1); see also OFFICE OF THE PRIVACY COMMISSIONER OF CANADA, https://www.priv.gc.ca/en (last visited July 26, 2017).

[11] Public Servant Disclosure Act, S.C. 2005, c 46, art. 19, http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/PDF/P-31.9.pdf; see also OFFICE OF THE PUBLIC SECTOR INTEGRITY COMMISSIONER OF CANADA, http://www.psic.gc.ca/eng/home (last visited July 26, 2017).

[12] Conflict of Interest Act, S.C. 2006, c 9, http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/PDF/C-36.65.pdf; see also OFFICE OF THE CONFLICT OF INTEREST AND ETHICS COMMISSIONER, http://ciec-ccie.parl.gc.ca/EN/Pages/default.aspx (last updated June 16, 2017).

[13] Lobbying Act, R.S.C. 1985, c 44, http://laws.justice.gc.ca/PDF/L-12.4.pdf; see also OFFICE OF THE COMMISSIONER OF LOBBYING OF CANADA, https://lobbycanada.gc.ca/eic/site/012.nsf/eng/h_00000.html (last updated May 19, 2017).

[14] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S.C. 1985, c P-1, http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/PDF/P-1.pdf; see also OFFICE OF THE PARLIAMENTARY BUDGET OFFICER, http://www.pbo-dpb.gc.ca/en (last visited July 26, 2017).

[15] Baxter, supra note 3, at 243.

[16] Id.

[17]  Id. at 242.

[18]  Id. at 237, 245.