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

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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 expected behaviours that guide decision making and behaviour. They are of benefit, however, only when they do not remain words on a page but become living principles, practiced every day both among colleagues in the workplace and in the work we do for Canadians.

The purpose of this discussion guide is to

  • demystify the code
  • stimulate thinking and dialogue about how best to apply the values
  • provide examples of how the expected behaviours are demonstrated
  • define key terms
  • answer some common questions about the code

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 Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector: Questions and Answers

Why do we have a Public Sector Code?

The Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service was revised and reissued in 2012 to meet the requirements of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act (PSDPA), which came into force on April 15, 2007. The act is a significant part of the government’s actions to maintain and enhance public confidence 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.”

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. The term is broader than “employee,” as that term is used in the Public Service Employment Act and the Federal Public Sector 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. 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 organize their own codes. The sole requirement, under subsection 6(2) of the PSDPA is that the organizational codes be consistent with the Public Sector Code.

Each organization has 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.

Compliance with both the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector and with their organization’s code of conduct is 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 Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector contain expected behaviours?

The Public Sector Code contains expected behaviours so that public servants at all levels have a common understanding of expected behaviours to demonstrate the values expressed in the code. The expected behaviours are 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.

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 and at any time – in person and online, during and outside of work hours.

The following are some examples of situations where the values might be particularly useful in guiding behaviour:

  • a manager hears a racist or sexist joke in the lunchroom
  • a public servant sees an unlabeled box of government documents sitting in a corner
  • a new supervisor learns that one of their employees is not meeting expectations
  • a public servant considers becoming active in an election
  • a public servant is concerned about whether a policy is being applied ethically
  • a public servant sees an opportunity to perform a task in a new way
  • a senior executive is invited for lunch by a former colleague who is now a friend and who now works for a supplier
  • a public servant wants to get involved in an online discussion about a political matter important to them personally.

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 uphold these values in their day-to-day decisions, 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 Frequently asked questions on the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector.

Section 3: Our Values

In this section

According to the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector:

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

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 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.

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

Public servants develop expertise in a wide range of areas. Ministers depend on that expertise, and on the honesty and transparency of the public servants who have it. Public servants must give information freely, and they must be candid. They must not hide risks, and they must make every effort to ensure that the advice they provide is impartial.

For further information about the rights and obligations of public servants in relation to political activity 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 to include obligations not to share your employer’s confidential information or publicly criticize your employer or, in the private sector, endorse their competitor. Within the federal public service, where the employer is the Government of Canada, the duty of loyalty may be somewhat more complex.

A non-partisan public service 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 obligations to be impartial, politically neutral, and loyal to their employer in performing their official duties. Public servants may speak out about issues of the day as long as any criticisms they express do not impact their ability to impartially perform their duties as public servants or affect the public’s perception of that ability.

For more information on leading jurisprudence and the duty of loyalty in general, please visit Duty of loyalty.

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


A supervisor is responsible for a unit whose activities have an impact on the local community. The community is small, and the supervisor knows most of the people who live there. A friend persuades the supervisor to attend on their own time, a meeting of a community group that is opposed to one of the department’s projects. The group believes the project will negatively affect the community and the general employment prospects of its residents.

The supervisor is moved by the group’s arguments and makes comments on the group’s Facebook page to encourage the members to protest the project. The press monitor the group’s page and refer to the comments on the evening news. The next day, the supervisor’s manager, tells them to stop making public comments about the project. The supervisor maintains that as a citizen they have the right to freedom of expression. How can the manager and the supervisor resolve their differences?

Possible steps for resolution

The manager can explain to the supervisor that their public criticism of their employer on the group’s Facebook page jeopardizes their impartiality and effectiveness as unit supervisor. The manager can also add that the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector and the jurisprudence are clear. A public servant’s right to free expression must be balanced against their obligation to be, and to appear to be, impartial, and against their duty of loyalty to their employer. The supervisor needs to respect the manager’s direction.

Things to think about

The supervisor’s actions were clearly in conflict with their responsibility to ensure that they perform their duties in a non-partisan and impartial manner and loyally carry out the lawful decisions of their management in support of the government of the day.

Respect for People

According to the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector:

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.

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 expected behaviours relating to respect for people create an expectation that all public servants will treat one another and members of the public in a way that acknowledges the value and importance of each individual’s contribution to the work, the workplace and the country.

These expected behaviours do not impede the delivery of honest and direct feedback, differences of opinion, or the provision of discipline or other corrective measures, as long as they are respectful and fair.

Every person in the workplace, whatever their level and whatever their experience, contributes to keeping the work environment free from discrimination, harassment, and racism. They can do this by addressing behaviours as soon as they observe them; they can lead by example by demonstrating open and inclusive behaviours; and they can ensure that decisions and policies respect and encourage a diversity of opinions. When public servants feel uncomfortable or unable to address harassing, discriminatory or racist behaviours on their own, organizations often provide separate supports to assist them in filing complaints and navigating the recourse process.

By treating colleagues, subordinates, contractors, 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. While they can expect their colleagues to perform to the best of their ability, public servants should remember to be patient and compassionate when interpreting others’ behaviour and when reacting to their choices.

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


An employee has just started with the team and is fresh out of university. Whenever they have a question or need guidance or help, they put their question in a message to their boss. They like this informal method of communication and find it efficient because they don’t even have to leave their desk. When they are in the office together, their boss answers their questions by going to their desk. They feel like their boss is checking up on them and that their boss doesn’t trust that they are doing their work. They don’t understand where this lack of trust comes from, because they think their relationship is good otherwise. They are starting to feel targeted and to think that their boss doesn’t respect them or their work ethic. What should they do?

Possible steps for resolution

First, they should speak with their boss. They might find out that their boss likes to speak with employees face‑to‑face as much as possible to reinforce that they are available to address their questions and concerns, especially when they are in the office together. They might also find out that their boss is puzzled by their insistence on using messages and wonders why they don’t just talk to them like most of their other employees do. Their boss thinks they are avoiding them. By discussing the situation, they would both find out that they had misinterpreted the motives of the other because they had imagined why they themselves would behave in a certain way and assumed that it would be the same for the other.

A situation like this can usually be resolved informally through dialogue. But when other, more contentious situations arise where an employee is uncomfortable speaking with their supervisor, the employee can speak to a senior colleague or supervisor or can approach other resources such as their organization’s Informal Conflict Management Services, Human Resources, or a union representative to discuss options for addressing the situation.

Things to think about

Both the employee and their boss could think about the expected behaviours set out in the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector (as above) to remind themselves that it is their differences that help make the workplace diverse, but that these differences must be understood and accepted in order for everyone to benefit.


According to the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector:

Integrity is the cornerstone of good governance and democracy. By upholding the highest ethical standards, 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.

What does it mean?

The integrity value seeks to encourage behaviours that strengthen the ethical compass that guides all work in the public sector.

In the public sector, integrity is the ability to put the common good ahead of any personal or private interest or advantage. Common characteristics associated with integrity are honesty, accountability, and authenticity.Footnote 1

The use of power, even the most basic power such as that exercised in responding to letters from citizens, requires vigilance on the part of those to whom it is entrusted. Trust in government can be damaged at the slightest sign of abuse of power, 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” means always behaving in a way that will meet or exceed expected ethical standards when our actions are viewed by reasonably informed members of the public. One way to determine whether actions will hold up to public scrutiny is to apply the “front‑page test.” Ask yourself how your actions would appear to others if they were reported on the front page of a newspaper. Would the actions reinforce the public’s trust, or would they cause distrust and give rise to disrespect or disrepute?

Public servants are obligated to respect the law, however compliance with the letter of the law is not enough. The Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector sets a higher standard of ethical behaviour, and public servants are expected to behave in a manner that meets that standard. Examples include avoiding the appearance of a conflict of interest, ensuring that the public is protected, and always providing their best advice.

The avoidance, prevention, and resolution of conflicts of interest are among the key ethical responsibilities of public servants and are essential to maintaining the public trust. Because of the authority, influence, or power that public servants may exercise in their official responsibilities, they must resist any offers to exchange advantages for the exercise of that authority, influence, or power. Examples could be as simple as an offer of free hockey tickets in exchange for some information that is not yet in the public domain, or as complicated as a criminal act. Such exchanges would compromise the integrity of the public sector.

Public servants must also be careful to be as impartial as possible in their dealings with others. They must not show favouritism or bias. They must not give preferential treatment to friends, relatives, or community or peer groups. They must 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, not valuing one client over others, and not being biased against them and thereby placing them at a disadvantage.

The bond of trust between employer and employee is one of the keys to upholding the value of integrity in the public sector. This bond is based on both parties accepting their responsibilities and carrying out their official duties to the best of their ability, with integrity and honesty, in favour of the public interest. Public servants are human beings, however, and they sometimes make mistakes even when they are acting in good faith. They may also commit misconduct. When they make mistakes or fail to demonstrate the expected behaviours, public servants are expected to tell the truth about what happened, accept responsibility for their conduct, and take every possible step to ensure that there is no recurrence.

What is a conflict of interest?

A conflict of interest is a situation, whether real, apparent or potential, in which the person has private interests that could influence the performance of their official duties and responsibilities or in which the person employed uses their office for personal gain

real conflict of interest is “a conflict-of-interest situation that exists at the present time.”

An apparent conflict of interest is “a situation that could be perceived as a conflict of interest by a reasonable observer, whether or not it is the case.”

potential conflict of interest is “a conflict-of-interest situation that could reasonably be foreseen to happen in the future.”

In carrying out their official duties, public servants need to arrange their personal affairs in a manner that will prevent real, apparent or potential conflicts of interest from arising. If a conflict does arise, it must 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 in their organizations; and take the measures recommended by their chief executive or delegated authority to resolve the situation. Examples of the recommended measures include disposing of assets that are in conflict with the public servant’s official duties, not serving on the selection board for a competition in which a 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


A public servant in a federal agency that provides counselling and financial assistance to senior citizens has had a position there for many years. They have a wealth of expertise and love their job. They take pride in providing their clients with the best service possible and take care to be impartial. As a result, they have developed a solid professional reputation and excellent relationships with their clients.

They were saddened to hear of the death of one of their clients and were astonished several months later when they were informed that the client had left them a retired racehorse in their will. They had often discussed their mutual love of horses, but they had no idea that the client was going to do this, and they would never have asked for anything. Not knowing what else to do, they immediately contacted their agency’s conflict of interest office for advice on whether they could accept this gift.

Possible steps for resolution

Seeking help from their agency on this decision was the right first step. The subsequent analysis would include questions about the nature and the value of the gift as well as whether, if they accepted the gift, it would compromise or appear to compromise their integrity or the integrity of their agency. Their decision should be based on the answers to these questions.

They would most likely be instructed not to accept the gift. Although they did not commit any misconduct, if they had accepted the gift, they would have put themself in an apparent conflict of interest, which could have eroded public confidence and trust in public servants. Public servants’ decisions in such sensitive areas must be based on the highest standards of impartiality and integrity.

Things to think about

This is an example of how sometimes, simply by excelling at their jobs, public servants can find themselves in a conflict of interest. A conflict of interest does not mean that there was any wrongdoing; it simply means that a situation presents competing interests or, as in this case, appears to present competing interests. Under the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector, it is just as important to avoid apparent conflicts of interest as it is to avoid real or potential conflicts of interest.

In a similar case, in which an employee challenged their department’s instruction to return a bequest from a client, the Federal Court of AppealFootnote 2 upheld the department’s instruction.


According to the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector:

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.

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).

Stewardship is (also) the responsible use of natural resources in a way that takes full and balanced account of the interests of society, future generations, and other species, as well as of private needs, and accepts significant answerability to societyFootnote 3.

Effective use of resources (e.g. people, time, supplies, money, energy, etc.) 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 the goals are met.

Efficient use of resources means that the level of resources used to achieve the desired results is appropriate.

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

What does it mean for me?

Canadian public servants must continually innovate and find ways to manage, care for and administer resources effectively on behalf of Canadians and in the public interest. In doing this, they are responsible for making professional decisions that consider the impact of those decisions beyond the short term.

Public resources are not limited to financial, natural, and human resources. They also include corporate knowledge and information.

Financial, natural, and human resources are finite and so must be used in a manner that produces the best results and is 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 each of the values in the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector, as well as with the values in organizational codes of conduct.

Striking a balance between short- and long-term goals can be a complex task. It can be difficult to see beyond immediate goals to understand trends and to anticipate the needs of future generations of Canadians. Good stewardship ensures the longevity or future availability of public resources, which often requires frugality, but sometimes requires investment.

Canadians entrust public sector organizations with the management of the information they gather and the knowledge they acquire in a professional manner that supports effective and efficient program delivery. Information and knowledge must be treated like any other public resource and be collected, used, handled, stored and disposed of in accordance with the relevant legislation (such as the Library and Archives of Canada Act, the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act) and relevant policies.

Using the information the government holds, the skills and knowledge of public servants, and the research it brings to bear in policy development and implementation to the maximum benefit of the country and its residents is at the heart of the stewardship value, and innovation is a key to its success.

Stewardship in action: An example of an ethical dilemma


A public servant joined their work unit 6 months ago and is still on probation. They provide services directly to the public from a busy office that struggles because of a lack of resources. Team members work closely and depend on one another to get the work done. During their initial training, they learned that legislation requires that after each interaction with a member of the public, they must document and file certain information.

They have noticed that many of their team members don’t take the time to document every interaction. They have heard them say that the record‑keeping sometimes takes as long as providing the service. Their colleagues have started to make comments about how many people they serve in a day compared with how many the new employee serves. The new employee wants to do their share of the work on the team but is worried about not meeting their job requirements and about breaking the law.

Possible steps for resolution

They should speak to their supervisor immediately to clarify their priorities. Their supervisor should consider how to balance legislative requirements relating to 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

In this example, two values are competing: excellence and stewardship. Public servants are expected to provide good service, but they are also expected to practice good stewardship of information. By looking at how client service and information management work together to create a product that is truly in the public interest, public servants incorporate ethical decision‑making in their day-to-day choices.


According to the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector:

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.

What does it mean?

To uphold the excellence value, public servants must provide fair, timely, efficient, and effective services that respect Canada’s official languages.

Efficiency and effectiveness are explained in the section on the stewardship value. The remaining elements are:


Services that are fair are those that are delivered without favour or bias and in a manner that fulfills professional responsibilities. Fairness is not limited to the services we provide but is also how we apply policies and legislation to provide a workplace that demonstrates equity in opportunity and the elimination of disadvantages.


Some timelines are defined in service standards; some are required by law; and some are common courtesy. Timely service applies not just to services provided to the public, but also to services that public servants provide to one another. Sometimes the timeliness of a service has an important impact on its effectiveness.

Respect for Canada’s official languages

Public servants must comply with the Official Languages Act, its regulations, and all relevant policies. This applies not only to external services but also to internal services (for example, documentation, record‑keeping).

What does it mean for me?

Excellence means continually striving for improvement and a culture where innovation is encouraged and appreciated.

To uphold the excellence value, public servants must consider fairness, timeliness, efficiency, effectiveness, and respect for official languages in their day-to-day actions and decisions. They must uphold the standards established by their organization and in relevant legislation, regulations, and policies.

Public servants must also remain alert to opportunities for improvement and consider ways to improve policies, programs, and services, when appropriate. To foster a work environment that promotes teamwork, learning and innovation, public servants should listen to feedback from stakeholders, clients, colleagues, and others, and should leverage technology. Allowing for a learning mindset, inventive ideas and intelligent risk management are essential parts of continuous improvement and successful innovation.

Excellence in action: An example of an ethical dilemma


Two teams in two different sections must work together on a product for an internal client that will result in a change in the way the client does business. Team A is proposing a consultative approach. It has created a framework that calls for consultations with various groups so that the final product will address as many needs from the client community as possible. Team B, however, is reluctant to consult widely. It has a framework from a similar project for a different client, including the feedback it had received from that project. Team B has already sent the framework up the managerial chain of command to obtain the required approvals. It wants to make sure that the work that has already been done for the similar project is not lost. It would prefer not to redo work that has already been done, which would happen if more consultations took place. 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 could review the expected behaviours that relate to the excellence value, particularly that public servants are expected to strive for continual improvement and to foster a work environment that promotes teamwork, learning and innovation. They can then discuss whether they want to review and revamp the process that was used before, whether there was sufficient consultation done before, or whether there could be a compromise approach.

Things to think about

The excellence value, which is upheld by fostering learning and innovation and by seeking continuous improvement, must be balanced against any identified risks. However, when weighing the risks, it is important that new ideas, processes, and possibilities be considered and that the old way of doing something is not adopted automatically.

Section 4: Avenues for Resolution

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

  • Talk to your manager or supervisor about the issue to find a solution or get clarification.

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

  • Approach a more senior manager
  • Consult a trusted colleague
  • Talk to the senior official for values and ethics or to the senior official for conflict of interest and conflict of duties in your department or organization
  • Consult your department’s Informal Conflict Management Services
  • Consult your department’s Ombuds
  • Consult your union representative

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

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

Sections 12 and 13 of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act 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 for disclosure of wrongdoing, or the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner. The Office of 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 small 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 believe 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. You may also designate someone (for example, a bargaining agent) to file the complaint on your behalf. Under the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, your complaint must be filed by 60 days after you know, or ought to have known, that a reprisal has taken place. You should, therefore, consult the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner as early as possible if you believe a reprisal has been taken against you.

More information on the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act is available on the following web pages:

Section 5: Duties and Obligations—Responsibilities and Opportunities

Public servants

Public servants have an obligation to comply with the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector and to demonstrate the values of the public sector in their actions and behaviour. Public servants must also comply with the behavioural expectations set out in their respective organizational codes of conduct. Acceptance of the values and adherence to the expected behaviours set out in both codes is a condition of employment for all public servants, regardless of their level or position.

When they encounter situations where they are unsure about how best to uphold the values, public servants are responsible for asking questions and seeking guidance using whatever means is most comfortable for them, so that their decisions and choices are in line with the code. They can consult their colleagues, supervisors and expert advisors; and they can use this guide or the resources listed in section 7.


Managers and supervisors have a special role to play in demonstrating public sector values. Their behaviour sets an example for other public servants, and they advise other public servants on the meaning of the values and expected behaviours. In addition, they must apply consequences to those who refuse or fail to meet them. Managers and supervisors must know what resources are available to them and the specific person to contact when they have questions. When managers and supervisors give other public servants guidance, they need to follow up to ensure that there are no issues outstanding and that the dilemmas have been resolved.

Chief executives

The position titles of chief executives vary, depending on the institution they lead. A chief executive might be, for example, an agency president, a deputy minister, or a commissioner.

The Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act outlines a number of responsibilities for chief executives. They must create, in consultation with bargaining agents, their own organizational codes of conduct that are consistent with the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector. In relation to disclosures, chief executives must appropriately protect the confidentiality of persons involved in the disclosure process including when making founded incidents of wrongdoing public and when taking corrective action.

The code provides additional responsibilities for chief executives. They are expected to model the values set out in the code in their daily decision‑making, leadership, and management style. Their special status gives them the opportunity to create and maintain a strong ethical culture, where issues of values and ethics are discussed openly. A lack of leadership on values and ethics can create a culture where the values and expected behaviours are ignored and where decision makers do not respect the code.

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

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 annual report on the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act. The chief executives of today’s public service will create the future public service by implementing and promoting both the public sector code and their organizational codes of conduct.

Senior officers for disclosure

Chief executives are required by the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act to designate a senior officer for disclosure in most organizations, where practicable. The act provides that every public servant, regardless of their level in the organization, will have access to someone 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 and can oversee any undertaking that may be required as a result of the disclosure.

Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer

The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, through the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer (OCHRO), works with chief executives and their officials to identify:

  • where there is a need for guidance on administering or applying the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector or in resolving conflict of interest
  • the best ways to provide such guidance
  • in partnership with the Canada School of Public Service, where course material is needed to support training on the code

Through the Management Accountability Framework, OCHRO also monitors organizations and provides them with feedback on their values and ethics programming.

Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada

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 investigates complaints of reprisal from public servants who have disclosed wrongdoing or who have cooperated in investigations.

Public Service Commission of Canada

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 in Part 7 of the Public Service Employment Act.

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 the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector and your organizational code of conduct, and identify the key 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 relevant policies and legal authorities.
  4. Determine who will be affected by your decision: Seeing a situation from other people’s perspectives. Identify the people or groups that could be affected by your decision (for example, citizens, businesses, clients, colleagues, management, branch, department, minister, media) and try to see their point of view. Ask yourself, “Will everyone affected by this decision be treated with fairness and equity? Consider the situation from the perspective of diverse groups (Indigenous, racialized, persons with disabilities, 2SLGBTQIA+, etc.). Is this decision 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 in the public interest? You may want to leave the issue for a little time (sleep on it) and consider it again from a fresh perspective.
  7. Confirm your decision: Talk to your manager or supervisor, a departmental advisor (for example, an advisor from labour relations, finance, information technology) or discuss with your colleagues or your organization’s values and ethics office.
  8. Commit to action: Take action and be ready to stand by your decision. Once the situation is resolved, consider lessons learned for next time. Share your experience with colleagues; this is always a good way to begin a dialogue on values and ethics.

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 activities could be a starting point to help you find or develop other activities that will make the values and expected behaviours relevant to your work.

An important element of the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector is the emphasis placed on managers and supervisors. Not only do managers carry the responsibility of modelling the expected behaviours that are described in the code, but they are also identified as a point of contact for public servants who have questions or concerns. Therefore, managers and supervisors must understand the contents of the code and the expected behaviours related to each of the values, 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, and subject-matter experts to make sure that they understand how to answer questions about responsibilities and obligations under the code, how to facilitate safe discussions about the application of the values, as well as where to go for further information or guidance.

News of the day

Bring an article about an interesting ethical issue or perspective relating to public service values to a staff meeting for discussion. Try not to get caught up on the specifics of the actual situation. Guide the discussion to the principles of the decisions or actions taken and the varying perspectives of the involved individuals and the values touched on by the issues raised.

Formal debate

Select two teams of at least two colleagues to debate an issue relevant to values and ethics. Follow formalized debate procedures; many examples 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

Divide your work team into at least 2 groups. Have each group develop a scenario involving one or more public sector values, and separately, the possible resolutions, and things to think about. Have the groups exchange the scenarios only, analyze the scenario and discuss the possible resolution. The groups will present the results in plenary to the other groups, and the original authors of the scenario can provide their comments. This activity lends itself to use at a longer meeting or a staff retreat.

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

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