Accountabilities of the Minister, the Deputy Minister and the Chief of the Defence Staff

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  • This background note provides an overview of the accountabilities of the Minister of National Defence, as well as two key advisors: the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) and Deputy Minister (DM).
  • This note further describes how the integrated National Defence Headquarters supports the DM and the CDS in managing the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces in carrying out their respective responsibilities and executing the Defence mandate.


  • The National Defence Act (NDA) provides for the appointment of the Minister of National Defence (MND), Deputy Minister (DM) and Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), with the latter two accountable to the Minister. The Minister, DM and CDS are responsible and accountable, in both legal and practical terms, for the use of the authorities and resources entrusted to them by Parliament. This is expressed in terms of ministerial control over the Department of National Defence (DND) and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), and effective Parliamentary oversight over the defence programs and activities of the DND and CAF.


Minister of National Defence

  • Under the NDA, the Minister presides over the DND and has the management and direction of the CAF and of all matters relating to national defence. The Minister is also responsible for the construction and maintenance of all defence establishments for the defence of Canada, as well as research relating to the defence of Canada.
  • The MND has legal responsibility and is accountable to Parliament for the Visiting Forces Act, the Aeronautics Act (in relation to defence), the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act, the Garnishment Attachment and Pension Diversion Act as it applies to the Canadian Armed Forces and the Pension Benefit Division Act as it applies to the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act.

The Minister as a member of Cabinet

  • In Canada's Westminster system of Cabinet government, the Minister is obliged to publicly support all of the policies of the Government, and to ensure that current and proposed defence activities reflect the Government's overall policy priorities and national objectives. Among the most important responsibilities of the Minister is the development and articulation of Canada's defence policy. This includes bringing major defence proposals (equipment projects, operations, etc.) to Cabinet for discussion and decision.

Domestic Deployment and Employment of the CAF

  • Under the NDA, the Minister may authorize the CAF to perform any duty involving public service, such as support to civilian agencies in response to events such as floods and wildfires. The Minister may also, on the request of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness or any other Minister of the federal Crown, issue directions authorizing the CAF to provide assistance in respect of any law enforcement matter. To do so, the Minister must believe that the assistance is in the national interest, and that the matter cannot be effectively addressed without the assistance of the CAF.
  • There are also several Orders in Council made pursuant to Crown Prerogative powers that authorize the CAF’s assistance to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Correctional Service Canada or a provincial police force under specified circumstances.

International Deployment and Employment of the CAF

  • All international deployment and employment of the CAF must find authority in both international and domestic law. In the case of all international (and some domestic) deployments, the domestic legal authority will flow from the exercise of the Crown Prerogative. The manner in which the Governor in Council exercises the Crown Prerogative will depend upon the circumstances. In some cases, a deployment decision will be made by Cabinet, in others by the Prime Minister, the MND and the Minister of Foreign Affairs acting together or, in other circumstances, the MND acting alone.

The Deputy Minister and the Chief of the Defence Staff

  • The DM and the CDS are the Minister’s principal advisors, providing the day-to-day leadership and management of the DND and the CAF. They also ensure that the Minister is fully informed and in a position to take and direct all action required in fulfilling the defence mandate. That said, their separate and respective authorities give rise to different responsibilities.
  • Deputy Minister. The DM is authorized by law to undertake, on the Minister's behalf, any of their duties, except making regulations or exercising powers the Minister must do personally. In so doing, the DM is subject to the Minister’s direction. However, the DM does not act for the Minister in relation to the CAF.
  • Specific authorities and responsibilities for the control and spending of funds and the management of property, both real and personal, are conferred on the DM by the Financial Administration Act (FAA). The DM is an "accounting officer" under the FAA and is accountable before parliamentary committees to provide explanations on matters for which the DM is responsible. The DM is also responsible for establishing an independent departmental audit committee and for ensuring that an adequate financial oversight regime is in place.
  • The DM exercises certain other powers assigned by law, which are delegated or set out in policies and directives by the Public Service Commission and the Treasury Board, relating to human resources and staff relations regarding DND employees, official languages and ethics. The line of departmental authority extends from the DM to every member of the DND and the CAF who exercise financial, human resources, contracting or other authorities on behalf of the DM or the Minister.
  • The DM is responsible for the day-to-day management of the Department on behalf of the Minister and for formulating advice for the Minister on policy matters. More specifically, within the priorities, objectives and standards established by the Government, the DM must provide advice on the possible impact of initiatives on the public, the Department, and the government. In managing the department, the DM is responsible for interdepartmental coordination in policy development and decision-making, public service renewal, and conducting international defence relations and the non-military aspects of engagement with multilateral organizations (e.g., the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the North American Aerospace Defense Command).
  • In accordance with the NDA, the Governor in Council may appoint not more than three Associate DMs of National Defence, each of whom shall have the rank and status of a deputy head of a department and as such shall, under the Minister and the DM, exercise and perform such powers, duties and functions as deputy of the Minister and otherwise as the Minister may specify. To date, Associate DMs have had responsibilities for files related to procurement, information management and technology, defence renewal, search and rescue, and other files as may be assigned by the Deputy Minister.
  • Chief of the Defence Staff. The CDS serves as the primary military advisor to the Prime Minister and is the most senior officer of the CAF. Subject to the regulations in the NDA and under the direction of the Minister, the CDS is charged with the control and administration of the CAF. Unless the Governor in Council otherwise directs, all orders and instructions to the CAF that are required to give effect to the decisions and carry out the directions of the Government of Canada or the Minister shall be issued by or through the CDS.
  • The CDS is also the commander of the CAF (while the Governor General of Canada is the Commander in Chief of the CAF, which is largely a ceremonial role). In this role, the CDS is responsible for all CAF operations and readiness, as well as their ability to fulfill the military commitments and obligations of the Government. The CDS advises the Minister on all of these matters. When required, the CDS advises the Prime Minister and Cabinet directly on major military developments.
  • The CDS has a role in international defence and military-to-military relations. The CDS also has a role in advising other departments on the military implications of decisions within the security and defence sphere, and through enhancing coordination between the military and other government departments within the national security community.
  • Under the NDA, the CDS may also be requisitioned in writing by a provincial Attorney General for Aid of the Civil Power (assistance to civilian authorities in the event of a riot or a disturbance of the peace that is beyond the powers of the province to address). The CDS shall, subject to such directions as the Ministers considers appropriate, call out such part of the CAF that the CDS considers necessary.
  • In accordance with the NDA, the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff (VCDS) – or any other officer specified by the Minister or the CDS – acts as the CDS in their absence or incapacity.
  • On behalf of the DM and CDS, the mandate of the VCDS is as a Chief of Staff for National Defence Headquarters, to coordinate and, when appropriate, direct the activities necessary to ensure defence policy and strategic objectives are achieved. In executing the role of the Chief of Staff, the VCDS has both a coordinating and a directive role in working with all senior advisors. In addition, the VCDS is also assigned functional authorities, including joint capability based planning and program management.

Integrated Defence Team

  • The integrated National Defence Headquarters supports the DM and CDS in the execution of their duties, and senior advisors have direct accountabilities to both the DM and the CDS for the activities they perform.  
  • Defence Team support to senior leadership takes many forms, including:
    • providing well-considered and coordinated advice to the Minister and Cabinet on defence issues, CAF matters, and related Government priorities, policies and programs;
    • ensuring that military tasks and defence activities ordered by the Minister and Cabinet are carried out promptly, effectively, and efficiently;
    • providing a cost-effective organization for the acquisition and provision of materiel and other resources to the CAF;
    • ensuring that government-wide policies, regulations, practices and standards are followed in the management of Defence; and
    • providing assistance to the Minister in consulting and informing Parliament and Canadians, and in advancing Canada’s defence relations and other interests around the world.
  • The responsibility and accountability of military staff to the DM for the exercise of financial, administrative, or civilian human resources authorities does not somehow "civilianize" members of the CAF. It means that the DM has the authority to:
    • delegate to both civilian and CAF personnel the exercise of certain administrative or other authorities;
    • give direction on how those authorities are to be exercised; and
    • hold military and civilian personnel responsible and accountable for the exercise of these delegated authorities.
  • Similarly, the responsibility and accountability of DND civilian employees to the CDS does not put them in the military chain of command. It means that they must respond to the Chief’s requirements for advice and support. Specifically, it means that the CDS has the authority to:
    • require senior civilian advisors and their staff to provide advice on matters within their purview;
    • call upon civilians in National Defence Headquarters and elsewhere to provide support to those in the military chain of command; and
    • hold them accountable for the manner in which they have executed these duties.
  • Both military and civilian personnel can occupy positions in the integrated structure of authority and accountability that operates within National Defence Headquarters and elsewhere. Only military personnel, however, can be in the military chain of command.
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