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Privy Council

The Privy Council was established by the British North America Act, 1867 (later renamed the Constitution Act, 1867), which provides in Section 11:
    "There shall be a Council to aid and advise in the Government of Canada, to be styled the Queen's Privy Council for Canada; and the Persons who are to be Members of that Council shall be from Time to Time chosen and summoned by the Governor General and sworn in as Privy Councillors, and Members thereof may be from Time to Time removed by the Governor General."



On the advice of the Prime Minister, the Governor General appoints new ministers to the Privy Council before they are sworn in as ministers. The Prime Minister of the day may choose to recommend the appointment of other persons of distinction as a special form of honour.

The Privy Council thus includes not only members of the present ministry but also former ministers and other distinguished persons.

As Professor Robert MacGregor Dawson said, "The Privy Council would...if active, be a large and politically cumbersome body...with members continually at cross-purposes with one another. It has saved itself from this embarrassment by the very simple and effective device of holding almost no meetings of the whole council."

Privy Council Office (PCO)

The Privy Council Office came into being under the Constitution Act of 1867. From 1940 on, it has also provided the secretarial functions for the Cabinet. The Federal-Provincial Relations Office (FPRO), formerly established as a federal department on January 1, 1975, has been re-integrated with the Privy Council Office effective June 25, 1993.

The Privy Council Office provides secretariat support for Cabinet and the committees of Cabinet to facilitate the collective decision-making of Cabinet, and assists the exercise of the prerogatives of the Prime Minister, including the organization and processes of government and the appointment of senior officials to government positions.

The overall responsibilities of the Office include: the coordination and provision of material related to the meetings of Cabinet and Committees of Cabinet for the use of the Prime Minister and the chairpersons of committees; liaison with departments and agencies of government on Cabinet matters; undertaking special studies on matters of current public policy concern as required (this includes participation in interdepartmental committees of officials through the provision of chairpersons, members or secretaries and the preparation of papers for, and on behalf of, such committees).

In addition, the Office provides support and advice to the Prime Minister on prime ministerial prerogatives, assumes responsibilities for the organization of the Government of Canada, provides advice to the Prime Minister on national security and intelligence matters, undertakes the examination of submissions to the Governor in Council to ensure conformity with policy and legal requirements, prepares draft orders, and assumes duties related to regulations made under the Statutory Instruments Act including the examination, revision, registration and preparation for publication of federal statutory regulations in Part II of the Canada Gazette.

Also, in addition to the other responsibilities outlined above, the Privy Council Office now provides advice, assistance and information to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs concerning federal-provincial relations. The Office also coordinates the policy framework for federal-provincial-Indigenous relations and supports the Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians.

The President of the Privy Council is currently The Honourable Lucienne Robillard. Current Advisors to the Prime Minister within the Privy Council Office include National Security Advisor Rob Wright, National Science Advisor Arthur Carty, and Senior Foreign Policy Advisor Jonathan Fried.

Interesting Facts

  • In 1891 for the first time Privy Councillors were named who were not members of the ministry: two former Speakers of the House of Commons and three former Speakers of the Senate were sworn to the Privy Council.
  • The first meeting of Council before the Sovereign took place in Ottawa on October 14, 1957.
  • The first swearing-in before the Sovereign took place at the October 14, 1957 meeting when Prince Philip was summoned.
  • The first woman summoned to the Privy Council was The Right Honourable Ellen Fairclough who was named Minister of Citizenship and Immigration on June 21, 1957.
  • The Sovereign has met with the Privy Council only on 2 occasions: in Ottawa in 1957 and in Halifax in 1959.
  • The largest informal gathering in history of the Privy Council (not a formal meeting) took place at a luncheon on Parliament Hill in Room 200, West Block on April 17, 1982 after the Queen’s signing of the Proclamation of the Constitution Act, 1982.
  • If the Prime Minister were to propose that the Sovereign hold a meeting of the Privy Council while in Canada, the Privy Council Office would clear the agenda with Buckingham Palace and the meeting would be arranged in co-operation with Government House.
SOURCE: Privy Council Office.

See also
Federal Government
Clerk of the Privy Council
List of Members of the Privy Council

External Links
Privy Council Office Official Website

Copyright Craig I.W. Marlatt