Canada

   

Executive Accountability

#13
Key Findings
Though legislative and civil-society resources are significant, Canada falls only into the upper-middle ranks (rank 13) with regard to executive accountability. Its score in this area has improved by 0.2 points relative to 2014.

Surveys show citizens’ policy knowledge to be weak in international comparison, with young people showing a particular political-literacy gap. Public broadcasters’ policy coverage is extensive, with news representing a high proportion of content, while private-sector broadcasters are more superficial.

Parliamentary oversight powers are generally strong. However, budgetary restrictions on the parliamentary budget analyst threaten to undermine the quality of evidence-based policymaking. The parliament-appointed Auditor General has considerable independence.

Political parties vary strongly with regard to internal decision-making procedures. Proposals by economic associations tend to be sophisticated, taking broad societal concerns into account. Other interest groups offer well-researched but less consistently feasible proposals.

Citizens’ Participatory Competence

#18

To what extent are citizens informed of government policymaking?

10
 9

Most citizens are well-informed of a broad range of government policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many citizens are well-informed of individual government policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few citizens are well-informed of government policies; most citizens have only a rudimental knowledge of policies.
 2
 1

Most citizens are not aware of government policies.
Policy Knowledge
6
Few citizens are well informed about government policies. Indeed, most citizens have only a rudimentary knowledge of key public policy issues, as revealed by public opinion polls. A 2013 comparative study of 10 countries found that Canada is ahead of the United States but lags behind European countries in terms of political knowledge. The same study also found a significant gender gap: Canadian women scored 30% lower on average than did Canadian men when tested on their knowledge of hard-news items. Like other established democracies, Canada is particularly falling behind with regard to young voters’ political literacy: younger people are less politically literate than older people by a margin of 20 to 30 percentage points, as shown in a recent study by Stockemer and Rocher (2017). The authors concluded that this generational political knowledge gap accounts for approximately half of the difference in turnout between voters in their early 20s and voters in their 50s.

Citations:
Curran, James et al. (2013) Gender Matters Globally: An Examination of Gaps in Political Knowledge in a 10-Nation Comparative Study.

Stockemer, Daniel and Francois Rocher. Age, political knowledge and electoral turnout: a case study of Canada
Commonwealth & Comparative Politics Vol. 55 (1), 2017.

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#14

Do members of parliament have adequate personnel and structural resources to monitor government activity effectively?

10
 9

The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring all government activity effectively.
 8
 7
 6


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring a government’s major activities.
 5
 4
 3


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for selectively monitoring some government activities.
 2
 1

The resources provided to the members of parliament are not suited for any effective monitoring of the government.
Parliamentary Resources
7
In principle, parliamentary committees have the right to receive government documents in the course of their deliberations, but these documents often arrive incomplete and redacted because of confidentiality considerations, or too late to enable the committee to make effective use of them. Members of the House of Commons and the Senate have access to the research services of the staff of the Library of Parliament, and these staffers are responsible for drafting parliamentary committee reports. Parliamentary committees or individual members of parliament can also request audits from the Auditor General of Canada, although the ultimate decision about what to audit rests with the Auditor General. The Office of the Auditor General is an officer of Parliament that is independent of the government; its mandate is to provide parliament with objective, fact-based information and expert advice on government programs and activities, with the ultimate goal of holding the federal government to account for its handling of public funds. Another important source of information for parliamentarians is the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO).

It is unclear how effective this monitoring is in practice, however. In 2013, the PBO took the previous government to court over its refusal to fully comply with almost half of all information requests and access to information requests. Although the court upheld the PBOs right to demand information, a 2014 report from the office stated that it did not have enough data to analyze 40% of government programs.

The Liberal government has indicated its intention to provide more influence, resources and autonomy to parliamentary committees, in contrast to the previous government. A House of Commons committee put forward a number of legislative suggestions that would give more monitoring resources to members of parliament. However, the 2017 budget places new restrictions on the PBO, including restrictions on research requested by members of parliament relating to parliamentary proposals. Limiting the independence of the PBO could limit the quality and quantity of evidence-based policymaking.

Citations:
Gillezeau, Rob. “The PBO will suffer under the Trudeau government’s new rules,” April 13, 2017. Retrieved October 6, 2017 from http://www.macleans.ca/politics/ottawa/the-pbo-will-suffer-under-the-trudeau-governments-new-rules/

Are parliamentary committees able to ask for government documents?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may ask for most or all government documents; they are normally delivered in full and within an appropriate time frame.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are slightly limited; some important documents are not delivered or are delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are considerably limited; most important documents are not delivered or delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not ask for government documents.
Obtaining Documents
8
In principle, parliamentary committees have the right to receive government documents in the course of their deliberations, but these may arrive incomplete and redacted because of confidentiality considerations, or too late to enable the committee to make effective use of them.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon ministers for hearings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon ministers. Ministers regularly follow invitations and are obliged to answer questions.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are slightly limited; ministers occasionally refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are considerably limited; ministers frequently refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon ministers.
Summoning Ministers
9
Ministers are normally expected to appear before parliamentary committees, but are not legally required to do so, and sometimes decline for various reasons. In recent years, ministers have all too often sent their deputy ministers to appear before parliamentary committees.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon experts for committee meetings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon experts.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are considerably limited.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon experts.
Summoning Experts
10
Parliamentary committees have the right both legally and de facto to summon any expert they choose to provide testimony. In turn, experts have the right to decline the invitation. Committees cannot compel experts to testify.
Parliamentary committees now allow witnesses to appear via Skype, which has increased the pool of experts available.

Are the task areas and structures of parliamentary committees suited to monitor ministries effectively?

10
 9

The match between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are well-suited to the effective monitoring of ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are largely suited to the monitoring ministries.
 5
 4
 3


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are partially suited to the monitoring of ministries.
 2
 1

The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are not at all suited to the monitoring of ministries.
Task Area Congruence
8
There are currently 23 standing or permanent committees of the House of Commons and 18 standing committees of the Senate. Committees in the house and Senate frequently have overlapping mandates. The previous Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper had 39 ministers, while the cabinet of the current Liberal government under Justin Trudeau only has 31 members. There are more ministries than committees with considerable variation in the number of ministries over time. However, since some cabinet positions (e.g., the leaders in the House of Commons and the Senate as well as the President of The Queen’s Privy Council for Canada) have no corresponding department and some ministers (e.g., the Minister for International Cooperation) are heads of agencies under the umbrella of a department run by another minister, the number of government departments is currently 19. There is, therefore, nearly a one-to-one relationship between the number of house committees and departments. Parliamentary committees are thus largely capable of monitoring departments.

To what extent is the audit office accountable to the parliament?

10
 9

The audit office is accountable to the parliament exclusively.
 8
 7
 6


The audit office is accountable primarily to the parliament.
 5
 4
 3


The audit office is not accountable to the parliament, but has to report regularly to the parliament.
 2
 1

The audit office is governed by the executive.
Audit Office
10
The auditor general is appointed by Parliament on the advice of the prime minister for a 10-year term. Once in place, however, auditor generals have virtually a free hand in deciding who to audit and when. The Office of the Auditor General is accountable to Parliament, and the removal of an auditor general requires the approval of both the House of Commons and Senate. There have been few instances when either Parliament or its Public Accounts Committee were able to direct the work of the Office of the Auditor General.

Does the parliament have an ombuds office?

10
 9

The parliament has an effective ombuds office.
 8
 7
 6


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

The parliament does not have an ombuds office.
Ombuds Office
6
The federal government (unlike some provinces such as Ontario) does not have an organization called an ombuds office, but it does have certain organizations that are functional equivalents. These include the Access to Information Office and the office responsible for the protection of whistleblowers. The advocacy role of these organizations is limited, however. There are two ombuds offices with special mandates, the Office of the Ombudsman for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces, and the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime. Other mechanisms that more informally fulfill an ombuds role include departmental units responsible for investigating appeals of decisions related to social programs such as employment insurance and pensions, and the offices of members of parliament, which act as champions for the interests of their constituents.

Media

#13

To what extent do media provide substantive in-depth information on decision-making by the government?

10
 9

A clear majority of mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions.
 8
 7
 6


About one-half of the mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions. The rest produces a mix of infotainment and quality information content.
 5
 4
 3


A clear minority of mass media brands focuses on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions. Several mass media brands produce superficial infotainment content only.
 2
 1

All mass media brands are dominated by superficial infotainment content.
Media Reporting
8
Canada’s main TV and radio stations produce a mix of infotainment and high-quality information programs. Public broadcasters, including the CBC and provincial TV channels such as TV Ontario (TVO), provide extensive and often high-quality coverage of politics and news, with a minimum of five to seven hours per week of in-depth information on government decisions, and often more. Examples of such programs include TVO’s The Agenda and CBC’s The House. A 2013 study comparing news coverage in 11 countries found that the share of news content as a percentage of total broadcast time was highest in Canada, both for domestic and international news coverage. The Canadian media coverage is further enhanced by international news channels such as CNN, BBC World News and Al Jazeera, which are readily available through cable networks. One caveat is that there is little competition among public broadcasters; on the other hand, private broadcasters (with the exception of the Canadian Parliamentary Access Channel) are generally focused primarily on infotainment. Private broadcasters, especially the Canadian Parliamentary Access Channel (CPAC), also provide analysis of government decisions. Certain print media, such as the Globe and Mail, provide comparatively high-quality and comprehensive analysis of public policy. Others, such as La Presse, the National Post and other Postmedia publications, provide good coverage of public-policy issues.

As part of their ambitious agenda, the Liberal government promised to make government more open and transparent by revamping the Access to Information Act. A recent report from the information commissioner criticized the proposed legislative amendment (Bill C-58), arguing that the planned changes would curtail of existing rights and restrict media outlets’ ability to provide in-depth political coverage.

Citations:
Aalberg et al (2013). International TV News, Foreign Affairs Interest, and Public Knowlege, Journalism Studies, 14:3, 387-406.

Information Commissioner of Canada, “Failing to Strike the Right Balance for Transparency Recommendations to improve Bill C-58: An Act to Amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to Make Consequential Amendments to Other Acts” posted at http://www.ci-oic.gc.ca/eng/rapport-special-c-58_special-report-c-58.aspx

Parties and Interest Associations

#8

How inclusive and open are the major parties in their internal decision-making processes?

10
 9

The party allows all party members and supporters to participate in its decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are open.
 8
 7
 6


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, all party members have the opportunity to participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are rather open.
 5
 4
 3


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, a number of elected delegates participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are largely controlled by the party leadership.
 2
 1

A number of party leaders participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
Intra-party Democracy
7
There are three major political parties at the federal level in Canada: the Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats.

In April 2013, the Liberal Party of Canada elected Justin Trudeau as their new leader, through a very open voting process that allowed non-members to vote. The policy formation process is relatively open: new ideas are gathered from Liberal members and supporters through associations and clubs, then written up as policy resolutions that are voted on and prioritized first within provincial and territorial associations (PTA) and then at the Liberal Party’s biannual conventions. All resolutions passed at the convention become official party policy. The Liberal Party currently forms the Canadian government, with Justin Trudeau as prime minister. How inclusive his leadership style is remains to be seen, although he promised a “return to government by cabinet.”

Until his resignation in the aftermath of the October 2015 election, the Conservative Party was tightly controlled by party leader and then Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Decisions on policy and electoral strategy were generally made by a small number of senior officials close to him. While grassroots views and resolutions passed at party conventions provide input into the decisions of the elite, they are not binding. For example, many Conservative party members would like measures taken to restrict abortion, but Stephen Harper refused to act on this for fear of alienating the general public, which is content with the status quo on the issue. The Conservative Party of Canada chose Andrew Scheer, former Speaker of the House of Commons, as the new party leader in May 2017.

Unlike the Conservatives or the Liberal Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party is integrated with its provincial and territorial parties (except in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, and Quebec), which means a member cannot support different parties at the federal and provincial levels. In the October 2015 election, the New Democratic Party under Thomas Mulcair finished third and no longer form an official opposition. A wide range of views were expressed at a recent New Democratic Party policy conference, but all policy resolutions passed at the conference were non-binding on the party leadership.
At the October 2017 convention, Jagmeet Singh won the leadership on the first ballot with 53.8% of the vote. Singh is the first person with an ethnic minority background to be elected leader of a federal party.

Given their short time in office, it is too soon to evaluate either Scheer or Singh’s leadership styles . Time will tell if they deviate from current party practice.

To what extent are economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Business)
8
Many business associations, employers’ groups and trade unions develop policy proposals that identify the causes of problems, make use of scholarly research to support their analysis, propose technically feasible measures to attain policy objectives, take account of long-term interests and anticipate policy effects. Among the most competent associations in this respect are the Council of Chief Canadian Executives, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association, the Canadian Labour Congress and the Canadian Auto Workers. Many of these associations have realized that they must identify their policy proposals with the overall societal interest rather than solely with the narrower interests of their members if they are to gain traction with the public and policymakers. The most successful associations are those that have mastered this art.

To what extent are non-economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Others)
7
Many social-interest groups, environmental groups and religious communities develop policy proposals that identify problems’ causes, make use of scholarly research to support their analysis, propose technically feasible measures to attain policy objectives, take account of long-term interests, and anticipate policy effects. However, as these groups have fewer resources than economic-interest groups, they generally do a somewhat less competent job in proposing reasonable policies. A 2011 report prepared for the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC) found that for many civil-society organizations, broad policy ideas are not always translated into concrete proposals due to a lack of expertise. While some coalitions, such as the Americas Policy Group (APG); the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN); the Climate Action Network (CAN); the Policy Working Group on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health; and the Global Call Against Poverty/Making Poverty History, among others, have a strong record with respect to governmental relations (political and legislative), they represent a minority in this regard.

Citations:
A Map of Canadian Civil Society Organization Coalitions’ Governance, Capacity and Agendas: Common Challenges, Shortfalls and their Implications, report prepared for The Canadian Council for International Co‐operation (CCIC), 2011.
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