Language selection


Working with central agencies

On this page

There are three central agencies in the Government of Canada: the Privy Council Office (PCO), the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS), and the Department of Finance Canada (FIN). These central agencies contribute to the successful formulation and implementation of government policies and programs. They oversee interdepartmental information sharing, consultation, and co-ordination. They also provide integrated advice and support to the Prime Minister and Cabinet on government-wide issues.

Privy Council Office

The PCO is headed by the Clerk of the Privy Council, who is also Secretary to the Cabinet and Head of the Public Service of Canada. The Clerk reports directly to the Prime Minister. Unlike the Prime Minister's Office, the PCO is staffed with public servants who offer non-partisan support and advice.

The PCO's role in assisting the Prime Minister and Cabinet gives it substantial influence. Departments and agencies must consider the advice of the PCO carefully because it generally reflects the wishes of the Prime Minister and/or Cabinet.

The PCO has three main roles:

  1. Support to Cabinet
    The PCO acts as the secretariat for Cabinet as a whole and the committees of Cabinet (except Treasury Board of Canada (Treasury Board), which is supported by the TBS). The PCO arranges meetings, proposes and circulates agendas, distributes documents, provides advice to committee chairpersons, records Cabinet minutes and decisions, and transmits subsequent Cabinet decisions to departments.

    The PCO works with departments and agencies on their proposals to Cabinet, called Memoranda to Cabinet, or MCs, challenging departmental submissions to ensure that they meet the information needs of Cabinet and that they are consistent with the government's overall policy direction. The PCO makes sure that departments and agencies coordinate their efforts with respect to policy proposals or issues that cut across departments and agencies, ensuring that all interested ministers and their officials are given an opportunity to express their views.

  2. Non-partisan advice to the Prime Minister
    The PCO assists the Prime Minister in strategic policy planning, ensures coordination of the government's policy objectives, and manages major issues. For example, the PCO assists the Prime Minister in writing the Speech from the Throne and works closely with the FIN when it prepares the Budget. The PCO provides policy advice in specific areas, including foreign affairs, defence, national security, intergovernmental affairs, and any other policy issues of particular concern to the Prime Minister.

    The PCO advises the Prime Minister on machinery-of-government issues, Governor-in-Council appointments, and constitutional matters.

  3. Link between the Prime Minister and the public service
    As Head of the Public Service, the Clerk of the Privy Council is responsible to the Prime Minister for the overall performance and effective management of the public service. The Clerk advances the government's public service management agenda, provides advice on the appointment of senior public service personnel, serves as the spokesperson for the public service, and prepares an annual report on the state of the public service.

Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat

The TBS assists the Treasury Board, a Cabinet committee established by law, in fulfilling its responsibilities. The TBS is headed by the Secretary of the Treasury Board, who is a deputy minister. The TBS also includes the Office of the Comptroller General of Canada, which is responsible for providing government-wide direction and assistance on financial management and internal audit. In addition, the TBS provides advice to the Treasury Board in its formulation of policy pertaining to human resources, employee compensation, service delivery, information management, information technology, official languages, and asset and acquired services.

The Treasury Board is comprised of ministers responsible for the management of government expenditure and human resources in the public service, including the President of the Treasury Board and four other ministers appointed by the Prime Minister. It is the only permanent committee of Cabinet.

Department of Finance Canada

The FIN is responsible for the government's fiscal policy, including tax policy, and for analyzing the economic and fiscal impact of proposals by any minister. FIN assists the Minister of Finance in developing the government's fiscal framework in which overall spending takes place. As the federal government's leading source of socio-economic analysis and advice, it also advises the Minister of National Revenue on economic trends, tax policy, financial sector policy, as well as international trade and finance, and federal-provincial fiscal arrangements.

FIN's most prominent role is assisting the Minister of Finance in developing the annual Budget. The Budget is a statement of the government's fiscal plan in light of its current and expected financial situation. It outlines the government's projected revenues, incorporating any changes in taxation and spending, and announces new spending plans. Through the budget process, the Minister of Finance establishes a fiscal framework within which the government's expenditure management system can operate effectively.

FIN is also active in a number of other areas. They assist the Minister of Finance in:

  • Developing tariff policy and legislation
  • Managing federal borrowing on financial markets
  • Administering major transfers of federal funds to the provinces and territories
  • Representing Canada within international financial institutions and groups, such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization

FIN is a central actor in virtually all policy decisions, because the allocation of funds from the fiscal framework is almost always required to proceed with a policy initiative.

Additional resource

Open and Accountable Government | Prime Minister of Canada ( provides additional information on central agencies.

Date modified: