Values Alive: A Discussion Guide to the “Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector”

Table of Contents

Section 1: Introduction

The Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector (Public Sector Code) describes for public servants at all levels the values and ethical practices that guide direction, decision making and behaviour. They are of benefit, however, only when they do not remain words on a page but become living principles, practised every day both among ourselves in the workplace and in the work we do for Canadians.

The purpose of this discussion guide is to demystify the Public Sector Code, help stimulate thinking and dialogue about how best to apply its values, and provide examples of how the expected behaviours related to those values are demonstrated. This guide also contains definitions of some key terms, questions and answers about the Public Sector Code, and some suggestions to stimulate discussion in your workplace.

This guide is intended to assist all public servants in integrating the concepts found in each value statement into all areas of their work lives, from day-to-day decision making to policy development to regular operational work, no matter the level or position they occupy.

Section 2: The Public Sector Code: Questions and Answers

Why do we have a Public Sector Code?

The Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act (PSDPA) is one of the drivers of the Public Sector Code. The PSDPA is a significant part of the government’s actions to increase the confidence of Canadians in the public sector and is a key element of the public sector values and ethics regime. Conversely, the Public Sector Code provides the ethical context within which the disclosure of wrongdoing can be encouraged by providing standards for “right-doing.”

The PSDPA, which came into force on , requires the following:

  • The establishment of a code of conduct for the federal public sector (Section 5 of the PSDPA); and
  • The establishment by the chief executive of each public sector organization of an organizational code of conduct consistent with the Public Sector Code (Section 6 of the PSDPA).

Who is a “public servant”?

The Public Sector Code uses the term “public servant” as it is defined in the PSDPA to describe all employees of organizations covered by the Act, and therefore by the Public Sector Code. Every member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and all chief executives (including deputy ministers and chief executive officers), students and casual workers are included in the definition of public servant for the purpose of the PSDPA and the Public Sector Code. This terminology may represent a change for employees in some organizations who have not previously identified themselves as public servants. As well, it is a broader definition than the definition of “employee” in legislation such as the Public Service Employment Act (PSEA) and the Public Service Labour Relations Act.

What is the “public sector”?

The PSDPA requires the establishment of a Code of Conduct that applies beyond the core public administration to organizations in the federal public sector, which includes Crown corporations and separate agencies. This expands the application from approximately 200,000 public servants in the core public administration to 400,000 public servants in the public sector. The Public Sector Code was developed recognizing the distinct operational contexts of Crown corporations and separate agencies.

The PSDPA defines the “public sector” as the following:

  • The departments named in Schedule I to the Financial Administration Act and the other portions of the federal public administration named in Schedules I.1 to V to that Act; and
  • The Crown corporations and other public bodies set out in Schedule I of the PSDPA. However, the public sector does not include the Canadian Forces, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service or Communications Security Establishment Canada, which are subject to separate requirements under the Act.

Why does my organization have its own code?

Section 6 of the PSDPA requires that all federal government organizations develop their own codes to be read in conjunction with the Public Sector Code. Organizations have flexibility in how they wish to organize and shape their own codes. The sole requirement provided in subsection 6(2) of the PSDPA is that the organizational codes be consistent with the Public Sector Code. Therefore, each organization is required to undertake its own analysis to ensure this consistency.

Each organization has the opportunity to develop a code that specifies, defines or clarifies public sector values in ways that support their specific priorities and cultures. Although organizational codes must not lower the expected standards of behaviour found in the Public Sector Code, they allow for a variety of interpretations and applications to suit the business of each organization.

These codes are each a condition of employment for public servants. Failure to comply with either the Public Sector Code or the organizational code may result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.

Why does the Public Sector Code contain values and ethical behaviours?

The Public Sector Code provides organizations and public servants at all levels with a common understanding of expected behaviours. The values and ethics expressed by the Public Sector Code are not just tools used to solve a problem; they have been designed to reinforce a positive ethical culture and ethical decision making in the public sector. They also highlight the trusted role that public servants play in serving the public and the public interest. In any choice that a public servant makes, it is expected that his or her analysis will consider these values.

What are some examples of how public service values apply?

Situations where the values of the Public Sector Code can guide behaviour and choices occur in all workplaces. They can arise when:

  • A manager hears an off-colour joke;
  • When a public servant sees an unlabelled box of government documents sitting in a corner;
  • When a new supervisor learns that one of his or her employees is not performing to expectations;
  • When a public servant considers becoming active in an election;
  • When a public servant is concerned about whether a policy is being applied ethically;
  • When a public servant sees an opportunity to perform a task in a new way; or
  • When a senior executive is invited for lunch by a former colleague and friend who now works for a supplier.

Each of these situations presents the public servant with an opportunity to demonstrate the values found in the Public Sector Code. It is because public servants strive to meet the ideal of these values in each daily decision that the public will continue to trust the work of public servants.

How can I make ethical decisions?

An ethical model for decision making has been included in section 6 to assist in reading this guide, specifically when working through some of the ethical dilemmas presented in the following section. Each ethical challenge must be resolved by considering the specific situation; however, the expected behaviours found in the Public Sector Code and the process described by the model should remain constant.

Who are the leaders in an organization and what are their responsibilities for demonstrating public sector values?

There is more than one type of leader in an organization. There are those we typically think of who are leaders by virtue of their position or degree of influence over formal decision making or work activities (senior managers, managers, project leads, specialists, etc.), and there are informal leaders, those who are naturally good at rallying people. Both types of leaders affect morale and set a tone in the workplace, positive or negative.

As individuals we are also leaders. People pay attention to what others do, and through our own actions we set a tone for what is acceptable behaviour.

Although it is important in an organization to have strong formal leaders, we all play a part in shaping the workplace by recognizing that our actions register with and influence others.

What happens when values conflict?

There may be circumstances where there is tension between or among public sector values. At such times, attempts must be made to balance the values and avoid upholding one at the expense of others. For example, customer service and the value of helping the public cannot exist at the expense of sound stewardship and the quality of programs and services offered.

In addition, public servants may face occasions where their personal values are at odds with the behaviours expected by the Public Sector Code. This can be a difficult situation for a public servant. Nonetheless, public servants are expected to abide by the Public Sector Code at all times.

Where can I go for help or to talk about my questions and concerns?

For support or assistance in any of these types of situations, public servants can speak to their colleagues, their supervisors and other resources that may be available through their organization. Sections 4 and 5 of this guide provide information on avenues of resolution and other resources.

For further information on the Public Sector Code and other policies, please consult TBS’s FAQs on the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector.

Section 3: Our Values

Respect for Democracy

The system of Canadian parliamentary democracy and its institutions are fundamental to serving the public interest. Public servants recognize that elected officials are accountable to Parliament, and ultimately to the Canadian people, and that a non-partisan public sector is essential to our democratic system.

Public servants shall uphold the Canadian parliamentary democracy and its institutions by:

  • Respecting the rule of law and carrying out their duties in accordance with legislation, policies and directives in a non-partisan and impartial manner.
  • Loyally carrying out the lawful decisions of their leaders and supporting ministers in their accountability to Parliament and Canadians.
  • Providing decision makers with all the information, analysis and advice they need, always striving to be open, candid and impartial. Footnote 1

What does it mean?

A professional and non-partisan federal public sector is integral to our democracy.

Given the diversity in the types of organizations now subject to the Public Sector Code, there will necessarily be a wide range of interpretations and applications of this important principle.

A common element among all organizations is that to ensure the trust of Parliament, the Canadian people and management in all organizations, public servants employed in our institutions must be non-partisan in their work and serve each successive and duly elected government loyally and impartially. Although there has been a steady increase in the political rights of public servants over several years, and particularly since the inception of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the significance of the duty of loyalty remains.

For further information about political rights and obligations of public servants in organizations covered by part 7 of the PSEA, please see the Public Service Commission of Canada website.

What is meant by the “duty of loyalty”?

The duty of loyalty has existed as a foundation of the employment relationship for many decades, and this duty exists in all jurisdictions, public and private, as it is a general expectation that employees will serve their employers loyally. The expectations, parameters and restrictions regarding this duty have been established through years of jurisprudence, as well as through instruments such as the Public Sector Code and its predecessors. Within the federal public service, where the employer is the Government of Canada, the duty of loyalty may be somewhat more complex.

Generally speaking, the duty of loyalty requires that the public sector serve the elected government of the day, impartially and effectively. Public servants are expected to balance their right to free expression with their obligation to be impartial and politically neutral while performing official duties. A public servant may speak out about issues of the day as long as the public servant’s criticism has no impact on his or her ability to effectively perform the duties of a public servant or on the public perception of that ability. Furthermore, disclosure of wrongdoing within the procedures established by the PSDPA is not a breach of the duty of loyalty.

For more information on leading jurisprudence and the duty of loyalty in general, please visit TBS’s Duty of Loyalty web page.

What does this mean for me?

Public servants are expected to remain true to the rule of law, and to the values contained in the Public Sector Code, while carrying out the decisions of their leaders. Ministers are accountable to Parliament and to Canadians, and they depend on public servants to carry out programs and implement policies in accordance with their direction.

Public servants develop expertise in a wide range of issues and must be able to juggle complexity with the need to produce results. Ministers and all who serve them depend on that expertise, and on the honesty and transparency of the public servants who have the expertise. It is imperative that information is freely given, that experts are candid, that risks are not hidden, and that every effort is made to ensure that advice given is impartial.

For information on how the respect for democracy value applies to Crown corporations and separate agencies, please see the Appendix.

Respect for democracy in action: An example of an ethical dilemma


Edwin is the supervisor of a government unit whose activities have an impact on the local community. The community is fairly small, and he knows most of the people who live there. He is persuaded to attend, on his own time, a meeting of a community organization opposed to one of his department’s projects that the group believes will negatively affect the community at large and the general employment prospects of all its residents. Edwin is moved by their arguments and gets up to speak publicly at the meeting to encourage the members to protest the government’s project. The press is there. They record and broadcast Edwin’s speech on the evening news. The next day, Edwin’s manager, Alice, directs him to stop these activities, but Edwin maintains that he is a citizen and has the right to free expression. How can they resolve their differences?

Possible resolution

Alice can explain to Edwin that his public participation and criticism of his employer at rallies jeopardizes his impartiality and effectiveness in his position as supervisor of the unit. She can also add that the Public Sector Code and the jurisprudence are clear. A public servant’s right to free expression must be balanced against the public servant’s requirement to be and appear to be impartial and neutral, and to be balanced against his or her duty of loyalty to the employer. Edwin should respect his manager’s direction.

Things to think about

What Edwin was doing was clearly in conflict with his ongoing responsibilities to ensure that his duties in the agency are carried out in accordance with the mandate of the agency given to it by Parliament.

Respect for People

Treating all people with respect, dignity and fairness is fundamental to our relationship with the Canadian public and contributes to a safe and healthy work environment that promotes engagement, openness and transparency. The diversity of our people and the ideas they generate are the source of our innovation.

Public servants shall respect human dignity and the value of every person by:

  • Treating every person with respect and fairness.
  • Valuing diversity and the benefit of combining the unique qualities and strengths inherent in a diverse workforce.
  • Helping to create and maintain safe and healthy workplaces that are free from harassment and discrimination.
  • Working together in a spirit of openness, honesty and transparency that encourages engagement, collaboration and respectful communication. Footnote 2

What does it mean?

The respect for people value reminds us all how important each individual public servant is in the effective functioning of government. Each of the expected behaviours outlines that success is not measured solely by the results achieved, but also by the process used to achieve those results. This analysis must include the treatment of colleagues, supervisors, subordinates and the public.

What does it mean for me?

The first two bullets above create an expectation that public servants (managers, public servants and colleagues from other organizations) will treat others (managers, public servants, colleagues from other organizations and members of the public) in such a way as to acknowledge the value and importance of each individual’s contribution to both the work and the workplace. However, nothing in these statements prevents the delivery of honest and direct feedback, differences of opinion, the provision of discipline or other corrective measures, but rather requires that all of these types of communication be done respectfully and with consideration for the individual.

Each person in the workplace, whether he or she is a new public servant, a long-term public servant, manager, senior manager or chief executive, contributes to keeping a work environment free from discrimination and harassment. This can be done by addressing offensive comments or behaviours as soon as they are observed, leading by example, demonstrating open, tolerant and inclusive behaviours, and ensuring that decisions and policies respect and encourage diversity of opinions and people. When public servants feel unable to address harassing or discriminatory behaviours on their own, organizations often provide separate supports to assist public servants in filing complaints and navigating the process.

In treating colleagues, subordinates, clients and supervisors respectfully, public servants create an atmosphere where people are encouraged to think creatively and take risks in proposing innovative ideas and solutions. In addition, by expecting the best of colleagues, and by looking at them through this lens, public servants should remember to be tolerant, patient and compassionate when interpreting others’ behaviour and when reacting to their choices. The better public servants are as individuals, the stronger the collective public sector.

Respect for people in action: An example of an ethical dilemma


Sometimes dilemmas stem from simple misunderstandings between two generations of employees. Mitch just started with the team and is fresh out of university. Whenever he has a question or needs some guidance or help, he sends his boss, Louise, an email with his question. He appreciates this informal method of communication and finds it efficient because he does not even have to leave his desk. However, whenever Louise provides her response, she always comes to his office. This makes Mitch feel as if maybe she is checking up on him and does not trust that he is in his office doing his work. He does not understand where this lack of trust comes from, as he feels that otherwise their relationship is good. He is starting to feel targeted and that maybe Louise does not respect him and his work ethic. What should he do?

Possible steps for resolution

The first recommendation would be for Mitch to speak with Louise. If he were to do so, he may learn that Louise speaks with her employees face to face as much as possible to reinforce that she is available for their questions and concerns. He would further learn that she is equally puzzled by his insistence on using email, and she has wondered to herself why he is avoiding her instead of coming to talk to her, as most of her other employees do. Through this discussion they would both learn that they had misinterpreted the motives of the other by imagining why they themselves would behave a certain way, and assuming that it is the same for the other.

A situation such as this can most likely be resolved informally through dialogue between Mitch and Louise. But when other, more contentious situations arise where a public servant is not comfortable speaking with his or her supervisor, the public servant can speak to a senior colleague or supervisor, or approach other resources such as Informal Conflict Management Services, Human Resources, or a union representative to support him or her in this discussion.

Things to think about

They could both think about the expected behaviours set out in the statements outlined in the second and fourth bullets above to remind themselves that it is their differences that help make the workplace diverse, but these differences must be understood in order for everyone to benefit.


Integrity is the cornerstone of good governance and democracy. By upholding the highest standards of integrity, public servants conserve and enhance public confidence in the honesty, fairness and impartiality of the federal public sector.

Public servants shall serve the public interest by:

  • Acting at all times with integrity and in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny, an obligation that may not be fully satisfied by simply acting within the law.
  • Never using their official roles to inappropriately obtain an advantage for themselves or to advantage or disadvantage others.
  • Taking all possible steps to prevent and resolve any real, apparent or potential conflicts of interest between their official responsibilities and their private affairs in favour of the public interest.
  • Acting in such a way as to maintain their employer’s trust.Footnote 3

What does it mean?

The value of integrity focuses on behaviours that reinforce the concept of having a strong ethical compass to guide all work in the public sector.

Integrity is defined, in the context of the public sector, as the ability to put the common good ahead of any personal or private interest or advantage.Footnote 4 Other common characteristics associated with having integrity are honesty, accountability and a lack of hypocrisy.Footnote 5

The use of power, even the most basic power such as that administered in responding to letters from citizens, requires vigilance on the part of those to whom it is entrusted. The integrity principle addresses these issues of power. Trust in government can be damaged at the slightest sign of abuse, making integrity a key value in the public sector.

What does it mean for me?

To act in a manner that “will bear the closest public scrutiny” is to behave at all times in a way that will meet expected standards of ethics when our actions are viewed by reasonably informed members of the public.Footnote 6 The “front page test,” which is often referenced informally, has public servants ask themselves how their actions would appear to others if they were reported on the front page of a newspaper. Would these actions reinforce the public’s trust in the public sector, or would they give rise to disrespect or disrepute?

Compliance with legislation and policy is not enough to meet this test. The Public Sector Code sets out a higher standard of behaviour. Although public servants are obliged to respect the law, they cannot rely on compliance and ignore required actions that go beyond the letter of the law but that are necessary for ethical reasons. Examples include avoiding the appearance of a conflict of interest, ensuring that the public is protected, and providing sound advice at all times.

Because of the authority, influence or power that public servants may exercise in their official responsibilities, it is important to resist any exchange of advantages for the exercise of that authority, influence or power. Such a trade would compromise or corrupt the integrity of the public sector. The advantage could be as simple as an offer of free hockey tickets in exchange for some non-public information or as complicated as a criminal act.

A public servant must also be careful to be as impartial as possible in his or her dealings with others. This means favouritism or bias must not be shown. Public servants must ensure that they do not grant preferential treatment to friends, relatives, or community or peer groups over others, and that they do not allow their treatment of any person or group to be negatively influenced by their personal experience or views. Integrity means not losing objectivity when dealing with clients, valuing one of them to the detriment of the others, or being biased against them and placing them at a disadvantage.

The avoidance, prevention and resolution of conflicts of interest are among the key ethical responsibilities of the public sector and are essential to maintaining a public servant’s integrity.

In the public sector employment relationship, as in any other employment relationship, there is a bond of trust between the employer and the employee public servant. This bond of trust is based upon accepting responsibilities and carrying out official duties to the best of one’s ability, with integrity and honesty, in favour of the public interest. Public servants are human beings and may make mistakes in good faith or even commit acts of misconduct. In these circumstances, public servants are expected to tell the truth about what happened, accept responsibility for their conduct, and take every possible step to ensure there is no recurrence.

What is a conflict of interest?

A conflict of interest is a situation in which the public servant has private interests that could improperly influence the performance of his or her official duties and responsibilities. A real conflict of interest exists at the present time, an apparent conflict of interest could be perceived by a reasonable observer to exist, whether or not it is the case, and a potential conflict of interest could reasonably be foreseen to exist in the future.Footnote 7

In carrying out their official duties, public servants should arrange their private affairs in a manner that will prevent real, apparent or potential conflicts of interest from arising. If a conflict does arise, it should be resolved in the public interest.

Public servants have a responsibility to review their private interests, activities and assets regularly for conflicts of interest, proactively resolve or report the conflict of interest within their organizations, and take the necessary measures recommended by their chief executive or delegated authority to resolve the situation. The range of solutions recommended can, for example, include disposing of assets that are in conflict with the public servant’s official duties, recusing oneself from a competition where the public servant has a relationship with an applicant, and a full divestment of any assets in question.

Integrity in action: An example of an ethical dilemma


Hélène is a public servant in an agency that provides counselling and federal government financial assistance to senior citizens. She has been in her position for many years, and along with having great expertise, Hélène loves her job. She takes pride in providing her clients the best service possible, and she is always careful to be impartial in her dealings. As a result, Hélène has developed a solid professional reputation and excellent relationships with her clients.

Hélène was saddened to hear of the death of one of her clients, Mr. Beaulieu, but was very surprised several months later when she was informed that Mr. Beaulieu had left her his retired racehorse in his will. They had often discussed their mutual love of horses, but she had no idea that Mr. Beaulieu was going to do this, and she would have never asked him for anything. Not knowing what else to do, Hélène immediately reported the matter to her agency’s conflict of interest office to seek advice.

Possible steps for resolution

Seeking help from her organization on this decision was certainly a helpful first step. The analysis to follow could include questions around the nature of the gift and whether it could be considered “minor.” Also, if Hélène accepted the gift, would it compromise her integrity or the integrity of her agency? Would it appear to do so? Any appropriate solution should take the answers to these questions into consideration.

Things to think about

This is an example of how sometimes, by doing nothing more than being excellent at their jobs, public servants find themselves in a conflict of interest. A conflict of interest does not imply that there was any wrongdoing, but simply that the situation presents competing interests, or in this case, the appearance of competing interests. Under the Public Sector Code, it is as important to avoid apparent conflicts of interest as it is to avoid real or potential conflicts of interest.

In the actual case upon which this scenario is based, the Federal Court of Appeal upheld the department’s instruction to the employee to return the legacy. It was not because the employee had committed misconduct, but rather, the acceptance of the legacy and the appearance of a conflict of interest could erode the public’s confidence and trust that the decisions made by public servants in such sensitive areas are based on the highest standards of impartiality and integrity.Footnote 8


Federal public servants are entrusted to use and care for public resources responsibly, for both the short term and the long term.

Public servants shall use resources responsibly by:

  • Effectively and efficiently using the public money, property and resources managed by them.
  • Considering the present and long-term effects that their actions have on people and the environment.
  • Acquiring, preserving and sharing knowledge and information as appropriate.Footnote 9

What does it mean?

Federal public servants are entrusted to use and care for public resources responsibly, for both the short term and the long term.

Stewardship describes a relationship where a person or group of people (in this case, public servants) are entrusted with the assets or property of another person or group (in this case, the public).

Effective use means that the use of the resource produces the desired results. It implies that goals are clearly and thoroughly understood, and that all aspects of those goals are met.

Efficient use means using the appropriate level of resources, including people, time, supplies and energy, while achieving the desired level of productivity. An efficient service is one that is respectful of resources required by all participants.

The appropriate use, treatment and retention of information, especially of protected and classified information, comprise an important part of the stewardship value. Public servants are expected to protect these types of information in accordance with applicable information management and security standards.

What does it mean for me?

The role of the Canadian federal public sector is to continually innovate and find ways to effectively manage, care for, and administer resources on behalf of the Canadian people in the public interest. Within this relationship is the responsibility to make professional decisions that consider the impact of those decisions beyond the short term.

Public resources include but are not limited to financial, natural and human resources. They are finite and so must be used in a manner that is maximally productive and not wasteful. Decisions and actions that can affect the value, function and state of public resources must be made in the public interest and be consistent with other Canadian values as outlined in the Public Sector Code, as well as with values expressed in organizational codes of conduct of the responsible public sector organization.

Striking a balance between short- and long-term goals can be a complex task. Limited resources can sometimes make it challenging to see beyond immediate goals to understand trends and to anticipate needs of future generations of Canadians. Often good stewardship requires frugality, but there are instances when it may also require investment in order to ensure the longevity or future availability of public resources. These include but are not limited to financial, natural and human resources, as well as corporate knowledge and information.

The Canadian people entrust public sector organizations with the responsibility to manage the information they gather and the knowledge they acquire in a professional manner that helps support public sector program delivery. Information and knowledge must be treated as any other public resource and be collected, used, handled, stored and disposed of according to the relevant governing legislation (such as the Library and Archives Act, the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act) and management policies (such as those for the appropriate storage of secure information).

The information that the government holds, the skills and training of its public servants, and the research that it brings to bear in policy development and implementation constitute key drivers in the current information economy. Using these resources to the maximum benefit of the country and its citizens is at the heart of this principle, and innovation is a key to its success.

Stewardship in action: An example of an ethical dilemma


Archie joined his work unit six months ago and is still on probation. In his unit, he provides services directly to the public from a very busy office that struggles with a lack of resources. The team works closely and depends on one another to get the work done. As part of his initial training, he learned that legislation requires that following each interaction with a member of the public, he is to properly document and file certain information from that transaction.

Archie has noticed that many of the other members of his team do not take the time to do the required record keeping, stating that it sometimes takes as long as the service delivery itself. His colleagues have started to make comments about how many people they serve in a day compared with how many he serves.

Possible steps for resolution

Archie should speak to his supervisor immediately to clarify his priorities. His supervisor should consider how to balance legislative requirements and the creation and protection of documents with the importance of providing good client service. Situations like this often call for creative solutions, and involving the team in finding a solution can lead to better results.

Things to think about

It is not uncommon for values to seem to compete as in this example. The value of excellence, where public servants are expected to provide good service to their clients is essential. However, under the stewardship value, the creation and protection of key documentation also forms an integral part of any public servant’s work. By taking a holistic view of client service and information management, and how they work together to create a product that is truly in the public interest, managers incorporate ethical decision making in their day-to-day choices.


Excellence in the design and delivery of public sector policy, programs and services is beneficial to every aspect of Canadian public life. Engagement, collaboration, effective teamwork and professional development are all essential to a high-performing organization.

Public servants shall demonstrate professional excellence by:

  • Providing fair, timely, efficient and effective services that respect Canada’s official languages.
  • Continually improving the quality of policies, programs and services they provide.
  • Fostering a work environment that promotes teamwork, learning and innovation.Footnote 10

What does it mean?

There are five basic elements of the first value statement of the requirement for excellence: services provided by public servants must be fair, timely, efficient and effective, and respect Canada’s official languages. Efficiency and effectiveness have been described in the section on the value of stewardship; the remaining elements are described in the following.


Services that are delivered fairly are those that are delivered without discrimination. Service must be delivered in a manner that fulfills expectations of unbiased, enabling behaviour on the part of the public servant, where information is not withheld, where needs and requests are fully explored, and where cooperation is assumed.


Sometimes timelines are defined in service standards, sometimes they are required by law, and sometimes they are common courtesy. The Public Sector Code refers not just to behaviours expected with respect to services to the public, but also to cooperative behaviours in the workplace among colleagues.

Respecting Canada’s official languages:

This includes providing services that respect Canada’s official languages and that comply with the Official Languages Act and all relevant policies. Again, it is important to remember that this relates not only to external services; it also relates to colleagues and internal administration, documents, records, etc. It is a point of pride in the Government of Canada to be able to serve in both official languages, to the maximum extent achievable, and to respect each other’s language preferences as much as possible.

What does it mean for me?

In order to achieve excellence, each of the five elements in the statement outlined in the first bullet above must be considered, a standard must be set for each, and these standards must be met.

Continuous improvement is a goal of all government policies, programs and services. It is vital that public servants remain alert to the need for continuous improvement and make note of ways to improve policies, programs and services. It also means allowing for small-scale failure and intelligent risk management as essential parts of successful innovation.

Change must often come from within, because the deepest knowledge of how to provide better service frequently comes from the experts who know how things work every day. This means listening to stakeholders, clients, colleagues and others who have feedback to give, as well as leveraging technologies.

Public sector values and behaviours above all contribute to a work environment that is respectful and promotes growth and development for its members through learning, recognition and achievement. Excellence means continually striving for a workplace that reflects continuous improvement and fosters a culture where innovation is encouraged and appreciated.

Excellence in action: An example of an ethical dilemma


Two teams in two different sections must work together in order to deliver a product to an internal client that will result in a change in the way the client does business. Team A prefers a consultative approach and has created a framework to consult with various other groups in order to design the most useful product possible, addressing as many needs from the client community as they can. Team B, however, is hesitant. It has a framework already prepared from a previous project with a different client, including the feedback it had received from that round, and it has already been sent up the managerial chain of command in order to obtain proper levels of approval. The team wants to make sure that the work that was approved is not lost, and it would prefer not to redo what has already been done by inviting changes or modifications through a further consultative process. The two team leads are at odds.

Possible steps for resolution

The two team leads may need to discuss the issue with their supervisors. The supervisors should review the expected behaviours outlined in the second and third bullets above in order to weigh whether they want to review and revamp the process that was used before, whether there was sufficient consultation done before, or whether there should be a compromise approach.

Things to think about

The value of excellence, which includes the fostering of learning and innovation as well as the principle of continuous improvement, must be balanced against any risk assessment and appropriate approvals. However, when weighing these considerations, it is important that new ideas, processes and possibilities are given due consideration and that the old way of doing something is not adopted automatically.

Section 4: Avenues for Resolution

The Manager as first point of contact

An important element of the Public Sector Code is the emphasis placed on managers within the public service. Not only do managers carry the responsibility of modelling the expected behaviours that are described in the Public Sector Code, but they are also identified as one of the recommended first points of contact for public servants who have questions or concerns. Therefore, it is incumbent upon managers to understand the contents of the Public Sector Code and what each of the values means in terms of behaviour, both for themselves and for the people they manage. Each manager and supervisor will need to work with their colleagues, their own manager or supervisor, or other experts to make sure they understand how to answer questions about responsibilities and obligations under the Public Sector Code, as well as where to go for further information (see Section 7 of this guide).

What if I, as a public servant, have an ethical dilemma or want an interpretation of the Public Sector Code?

  • Talk to your manager to find a solution or for the desired clarification.

What if that doesn’t resolve the issue or I don’t feel comfortable talking to my manager?

  • Talk to a more senior manager.
  • Consult a trusted colleague.
  • Talk to the Senior Ethics Official for your department or organization to find a solution or for the desired clarification.
  • Consult your department’s Informal Conflict Management Services.
  • Consult Labour Relations within your department or organization.

I have a specific complaint or grievance that requires formal redress. What resources are available to me?

  • The Public Service Staffing Tribunal has the mandate to investigate and rule on alleged staffing irregularities under the authority of the PSEA.
  • The Canadian Human Rights Commission is an independent body that deals with allegations and complaints under the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Employment Equity Act.
  • The Labour Program of Employment and Social Development Canada (formerly Human Resources and Skills Development Canada) investigates workplace health and safety concerns.
  • The grievance procedure allows employees to express concerns to increasingly higher levels of management within each organization.

I have a concern that there has been wrongdoing in my workplace. What can I do?

Sections 12 and 13 of the PSDPA provide that public servants who have information that could indicate a serious breach of the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector can bring the matter, in confidence and without fear of reprisal, to the attention of their immediate supervisor, their organization’s senior officer, or the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner for disclosure. The Public Sector Integrity Commissioner also receives disclosures for organizations where the chief executive has decided that it is impractical to designate a senior officer for disclosure because of the size of the organization.

I believe a reprisal has been taken against me because I made a disclosure of wrongdoing. How should I proceed?

If you have reasonable grounds for believing that a reprisal has been taken against you for making a disclosure of wrongdoing, you may file a complaint with the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner. The complaint may also be filed by a person designated by you, such as a bargaining agent or other representative. The PSDPA specifies a time limit for the complaint, which is 60 days after you know, or ought to have known, that a reprisal had taken place. It is important, therefore, to consult the office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner as early as possible if you believe a reprisal has been taken against you.

Here are some resources for further information on the PSDPA:

Section 5: Duties and Obligations—Responsibilities and Opportunities

Public servants

It is the obligation of all public servants who are subject to the Public Sector Code to comply with its expectations and demonstrate the behaviours and values described in this guide. Every day presents an opportunity for public servants to reflect these values in their work. It is also their responsibility to ask questions and seek guidance when these expectations seem unclear. Public servants must inform themselves, by whatever means is most comfortable for them, so that they may make professional decisions and choices that are in line with the Public Sector Code. Public servants can ask questions of their colleagues, supervisors and expert advisors, or use this guide or any of the other resources listed in Section 7.


Managers have a special role to play in demonstrating public sector values. Their behaviour sets the expectation for other public servants, but they also have a role in advising other public servants on the meaning of these expectations. They must undertake this while being responsible for applying consequences to those who refuse or fail to meet them. It is important that managers know the resources available to them and the specific person to contact with their questions. If managers have given public servants guidance, it is important that they follow up with them to ensure that there are no other issues outstanding and that the public servants’ dilemmas have been resolved.

Chief executives

The PSDPA outlines a number of responsibilities for chief executives. The titles of chief executives can vary, depending on the institution they lead. A chief executive can be, among other examples, a president of an agency, a deputy minister of a department or a commissioner of a large organization. Chief executives must create their own organizational codes of conduct that are consistent with the Public Sector Code. The Act also requires that they consult with bargaining agents in developing these codes of conduct. In relation to disclosures, chief executives must appropriately protect confidentiality within the process when making founded incidents of wrongdoing public and taking corrective action.

The Public Sector Code provides additional responsibilities for chief executives. Chief executives are expected to model the values found in the Public Sector Code in their daily decision making, leadership and management styles. Their special status gives them the opportunity to create and maintain a strong ethical culture, where issues of values and ethics are discussed openly. Conversely, a lack of leadership in this area can create a culture where the values and expected behaviours are ignored and decision makers cannot benefit from the guidance found in the Public Sector Code.

Chief executives are expected to take steps to ensure that the managers reporting to them have access to the information and resources they need in order to help their staff deal with issues of an ethical nature. Chief executives are uniquely positioned to lead by example and to demonstrate how to put the values of the Public Sector Code into practice. They may interpret their organizational codes and decide what is acceptable in their organizations based on their priorities and cultures.

Chief executives are monitored and evaluated on their implementation of these values through their organization’s performance in the Public Service Employee Survey, the Management Accountability Framework, and the PSDPA annual report. The chief executives of the public service will create the future public service through their implementation and promotion of both the Public Sector Code and their respective organizational codes.

Senior officers

The role of the Senior Officer for Disclosure is a role legislatively required in most organizations, where practicable, by the PSDPA. The Act provides that each public servant, at whatever level in the organization, will have access to someone specially designated who has access to top decision makers in the organization to voice concerns or raise allegations of wrongdoing. The people occupying this role can guide public servants through the process of disclosing a potential wrongdoing while overseeing any undertaking that may be required as a result of the disclosure.

Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer (OCHRO )

TBS, through the OCHRO , works with chief executives and their officials to identify where they need guidance on administering or applying the Public Sector Code or in resolving conflict of interest, the best ways to provide such guidance, and to identify, in partnership with the Canada School of Public Service, course material needed to support the Public Sector Code. As mentioned, through the Management Accountability Framework, OCHRO also serves as a monitoring and feedback role for organizations in evaluating their values and ethics programming.

Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada (PSIC )

The Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada provides a safe and confidential mechanism that enables public servants and the general public to disclose wrongdoing committed in the public sector. It also protects from reprisal public servants who have disclosed wrongdoing and those who have cooperated in investigations.

Public Service Commission of Canada (PSC )

The Public Service Commission of Canada provides support and services through investigations and audits into potential wrongdoing in staffing actions. It also provides similar services, as well as interpretation and assistance, for matters relating to political activities as defined by Part 7 of the PSEA.

Section 6: A Guide to Ethical Decision Making

Eight steps to ethical decision making

  1. Gather the facts: Collect as much information as you can—what you know and what you don’t know—and do not jump to conclusions.
  2. Define the ethical issues: What is the main ethical concern in this situation? Check with the Public Sector Code and your organizational code, and identify the key organizational values that may be at stake.
  3. Follow the rules: Review directives, departmental and Treasury Board policies, guidelines, laws and regulations to see what is relevant to the situation. Your decision must be legal and in line with the appropriate policies and legal authorities.
  4. Determine who will be affected by your decision: Seeing a situation through another person’s eyes is an important skill. Identify the people or groups that could be affected by your decision and try to see their point of view (citizens, businesses, clients, colleagues, management, branch, department, minister, media and others). Ask yourself, “Will everyone affected by this decision be treated with fairness and equity? Is this option in line with the public interest? What would taxpayers think?”
  5. Identify your responsibilities and the consequences of your choice: Think about your possible choices. What are the risks and impacts (short and long term) associated with each one. Ask yourself, “What message would I be sending or what perceptions could be created by whatever option I choose?” Consider your reaction if the choice of action affected you.
  6. Consider your character and integrity: Are you comfortable with your decision, and can you be proud of it? Will your decision promote ethical behaviour in the organization? Is your decision worthy of the public interest?
  7. Confirm your decision: Talk to your manager or consult the appropriate departmental advisor (i.e., from Labour Relations, Finance, Information Technology, etc.) and/or your organization’s Ethics Directorate.
  8. Commit to action: Take action and be ready to stand by your decision. When the dilemma has been solved, it is a good idea to consider lessons learned for next time. Share your experience with colleagues, which is always a good way to begin a dialogue on ethics and values with your peers.

Section 7: Activities and Discussion Tools

This section provides some suggestions for activities that will encourage discussion and dialogue about values and ethics in the workplace. These suggestions should be considered as a starting point to help you find or develop other activities that will make the values and expected behaviours come alive.

News of the day:

Bring an article with an interesting ethical issue or perspective on public service values to a staff meeting for discussion.

Formal debate:

Select two teams of at least two colleagues to debate a particular issue relevant to values and ethics. The debate should follow formalized debate procedures, many examples of which are available on the Internet. To really challenge your teams, have them debate in favour of the position they would normally oppose!

Build your own scenario:

This activity may be appropriate for a longer meeting or a staff retreat. Divide your work team into at least two groups. Have each group develop, on paper, a scenario involving one or more public sector values, and on a separate page, the possible avenues for resolution and things to think about. Have the groups exchange the scenarios only, analyze the scenario and discuss the possible resolution. The teams will present the results in plenary to the other groups and the original authors of the scenario for their comments, critiques and discussion.

Consult the website of the National Managers’ Community for a variety of activities that will assist in building a shared vision and values. These activities include the following:

  • The Team’s 30-Minute Mission Statement;
  • The Team’s Charter—Community Charter;
  • The Future Search;
  • The Values Audit;
  • Appreciative Inquiry; and
  • A Community of Practice for values and ethics in your workplace.

Appendix: Crown Corporations, Agents of Parliament and Separate Agencies

The Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector applies to organizations in the public sector as defined by the PSDPA.Footnote 11 This expands the scope from what existed in the 2003 Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service to include Crown corporations and separate agencies.

Crown corporations

The expanded scope of the Public Sector Code has created challenges in ensuring that all organizations can identify with the wording used. For example, statement 1.2 of the Public Sector Code has raised issues with Crown corporations and Agents of Parliament that did not identify with the wording regarding directly supporting a minister.

The Financial Administration Act states the following:

Each Crown corporation is ultimately accountable, through the appropriate Minister, to Parliament for the conduct of its affairs.Footnote 12

The 2005 TBS report to Parliament Review of the Governance Framework for Canada’s Crown Corporations states the following:

Ministers are ultimately accountable to Parliament for the overall effectiveness of Crown corporations in their portfolio, in addition to being answerable for all activities of the Crown corporation, including its day-to-day operations. The Board of Directors is accountable to the responsible Minister for the stewardship of the corporation. The chief executive officer (CEO) of the corporation is accountable to the Board of Directors.Footnote 13

Although public servants working in Crown corporations may not identify with the wording in statement 1.2 of the Public Sector Code, a relationship does exist with a minister and ultimately in being accountable to Canadians in how they conduct their business and run the organization.

Officers of Parliament

Officers of Parliament, often called Agents of Parliament, carry out work for Parliament as a whole, not ministers, and are responsible to Parliament.Footnote 14 This work is in an oversight role, and thus they act as critics of the way in which ministers and the public servants who serve in the agencies under their purview implement the business of government. Agents of Parliament are appointed by the Governor in Council and hold office during good behaviour for a set term but may be removed for cause by the Governor in Council at any time on address of the Senate and House of Commons.

The offices that are traditionally referred to as the Officers of Parliament are as follows:Footnote 15

  • The Auditor General (established 1868);
  • The Chief Electoral Officer (established 1920);
  • The Official Languages Commissioner (created in 1970);
  • The Privacy Commissioner (1983);
  • The Information Commissioner (1983);
  • The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner (2007);
  • The Public Sector Integrity Commissioner (2007); and
  • The Commissioner of Lobbying (2008).

These Officers of Parliament carry out duties assigned by statute and report to one or both of the Senate and House of Commons. The individuals appointed to these offices perform work on behalf of Parliament and report to the chambers, usually through the Speakers.

For the purposes of the Financial Administration Act, a minister is designated to be responsible administratively for these organizations (for example, the Minister of Finance for the Office of the Auditor General, or the President of the Treasury Board for the Information Commissioner).

Schedule I.1 of the Financial Administration Act lists the Agents of Parliament and their respective responsible minister.

Statutory and other agencies

Statutory and other agencies refer to organizations listed in Schedule I.1 of the Financial Administration Act. These agencies have more narrowly defined mandates than ministerial departments, generally specified in their constituent acts or other instruments. They can be formed with a statute or be created by Order-in-Council. Their specific functions vary widely but tend to be operational in nature. They usually operate at a distance from government, and the degree of their autonomy varies considerably by organization and their function, from those that operate more like ministerial departments to tribunals and other adjudicative bodies whose decisions must be, and be seen to be, free from ministerial influence.

For more information, please see the Policy on Reporting of Federal Institutions and Corporate Interests to Treasury Board Secretariat.

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