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Cabinet decision-making

Cabinet is the political forum where ministers reach a consensus and decide on priorities and issues. It is the setting in which they bring political and strategic considerations to bear on proposed ministerial and governmental actions.

Basic rules for Cabinet business

Decision-making is led by the Prime Minister. Through Cabinet and its committees, the Prime Minister provides ministers with the principal forum in which they can resolve different perspectives. The Prime Minister organizes Cabinet and Cabinet committee decision-making, determines the agenda for Cabinet business, and chooses committee chairpersons to act on his or her behalf. The Privy Council Office (PCO) is Cabinet's secretariat and administers the Cabinet decision-making process on behalf of the Prime Minister.

Cabinet government works through a process of compromise and consensus building, which culminates in a Cabinet decision.

Consultation among ministers, departments, and portfolios involved must precede the submission of a proposal to Cabinet by the responsible minister or ministers. Ministers must also consult caucus on policy and expenditure proposals. Ministers have the right to seek their colleagues' consideration of proposals that may impact their area of responsibility.

Confidences of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, more commonly referred to as "Cabinet confidences", must be appropriately safeguarded from unauthorized disclosure or other compromise.

Decision-making process and procedures

Cabinet decision-making is guided by electoral commitments as well as by key statements of government policy and priorities. The Speech from the Throne, delivered by the Governor General at the beginning of each session of Parliament, outlines the government's program for Parliament. As a reflection of the overall priorities of the government and the Prime Minister, the Speech provides a general policy framework for the upcoming parliamentary session.

The Minister of Finance presents the government's annual budget which reflects the fiscal framework agreed to by Cabinet. The President of the Treasury Board subsequently tables the Main Estimates.

These frameworks provide the overall direction of the government. They both shape and reflect the ongoing work of Cabinet committees.

The Cabinet process begins when an issue is raised by a minister in the form of a Cabinet document or through general discussion at a Cabinet meeting. The supporting documents are normally circulated to all ministers by PCO before the issue is discussed at the appropriate Cabinet committee.

The Cabinet and cabinet committees

Cabinet committees are an extension of the Cabinet itself. The Prime Minister establishes both standing and temporary (or special purpose) committees, chooses their membership, prescribes their procedures, and changes them as he or she sees fit. PCO provides ministers with information on the Prime Minister's decisions regarding the structure and operations of Cabinet committees.

Committee chairpersons act for the Prime Minister with his or her authority, including setting the committee agenda. For the most part, decisions are made by the appropriate committee, subject to confirmation by Cabinet. This system settles as many questions as possible at the committee stage in order to lessen the workload of Cabinet and to allow it to concentrate on priority issues and broad political concerns.

Treasury Board is established by law as a committee of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, and many of its decisions have the force of law. It provides oversight of the government's financial management and spending, as well as oversight on human resources issues. Treasury Board is the employer for the public service, and establishes policies and common standards for administrative, personnel, financial, and organizational practices across government. It also controls the allocation of financial resources to departments and programs. Treasury Board also fulfills the role of the Committee of Council in approving regulatory policies and regulations, and all Orders in Council (OIC), excluding appointments.

Orders in Council

OICs are legal instruments made by the Governor in Council pursuant to statutory authority (or, infrequently, royal prerogative). OICs address a wide range of administrative and legislative matters, from the disposition of Indigenous lands to the maintenance of the Parliamentary Library. Recommendations to the Governor in Council are signed by the responsible minister. They take legal effect only when signed by the Governor General.

Additional resource

Open and Accountable Government | Prime Minister of Canada ( provides additional information on the basic rules for Cabinet business, the decision-making process and procedures, the legislative program, the Cabinet and Cabinet Committees, OICs, financial procedures, and international treaties.

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