Policy on Communications and Federal Identity and Directive on the Management of Communications

Backgrounder

The Communications Policy of the Government of Canada has not been significantly updated since it came into effect in 2002, with limited modifications introduced in 2006. Similarly, the Federal Identity Program Policy has not been substantively changed since 1998. The new combined Policy, supported by the new Directive on the Management of Communications, modernizes Government of Canada communications practices to be in line with today’s digital environment. It also provides clearer and simplified guidance to officials on the conduct of government communications activities.

Overview

Former Communications Policy of the Government of Canada New Policy on Communications and Federal Identity and Directive on the Management of Communications
  • Two policies
  • 330 policy requirements
  • One streamlined policy
  • 97 policy requirements
  • Required non-partisan communications, but no definition
  • Clear definition of non-partisan communications activities, including advertising
  • No independent oversight to prevent partisan advertising
  • Independent, third-party oversight of advertising to ensure non-partisanship
  • No auditing of advertising referenced in the Policy
  • Office of the Auditor General is invited to review mechanism and criteria
  • Ministers are principal spokespersons
  • Spokespersons are designated by senior officials
  • Ministers are principal spokespersons
  • The roles of media spokespersons and subject-matter experts are clarified
  • Subject-matter experts need not be designated to speak publicly
  • Ministers are responsible for approving Public Opinion Research (POR) plans
  • Limited ability of departments to engage with citizens
  • Deputy heads are responsible for approving POR plans
  • Streamlined process allows for greater engagement with Canadians
  • Many requirements duplicated in other Treasury Board policies
  • Requirements no longer duplicated in other Treasury Board policies
  • Specific to email and internet
  • No mention of interaction with the public through digital means
  • Digital media and platforms are the primary means to interact with the public. Multiple channels still used to meet the diverse  needs of the public

Advertising

For the first time, the new Policy explicitly defines the term “non-partisan communications” for government communications.

Furthermore, the Policy now prohibits the advertising of government programs that have yet to be approved by Parliament, and no advertising can take place in the 90 days before a fixed general election date.

A formal agreement between the Government of Canada and Advertising Standards Canada (ASC) has been established to review government advertising against this definition. The Government has also asked the Office of the Auditor General to audit the review mechanism and criteria to assess the effectiveness of the process. The Auditor General will confirm the scope and timing of the audit.

Spokespersons

Ministers continue to be the principal spokespersons for their departments. However, the new Policy clarifies the role of departmental officials to ensure government information is made available to Canadians in a more complete and timely manner. According to the new Directive, subject matter experts, including scientists, can speak publicly about their work without being designated. Media spokespersons continue to speak on departmental policies, programs, services and initiatives.

In performing their duties, all public servants must respect privacy and security policies and the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector.

Digital First

In order to better connect with Canadians, government organizations will use the tools Canadians use, such as social media and the Web, as principal means of communications.

The Government will enhance its use of digital technology to communicate with Canadians. This, balanced with using traditional methods, enables the Government of Canada to reach and engage with Canadians effectively and efficiently in the official language of their choice, regardless of where they reside.

Public Opinion Research

The Government is also updating procedures on public opinion research to make it easier for departments to engage with Canadians in developing policies, initiatives and programs affecting them. And, to limit political involvement in public opinion research, deputy heads – as opposed to ministers – are now responsible for approving annual plans for contracted and significant non-contracted public opinion research.

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