Federal government


“Parliamentary Government in Canada: Basic Organization and Practices” 

Although, at the federal, provincial and territorial levels, Parliaments contains both the legislative and executive branches of government, their ability to perform their traditional functions has been somewhat compromised by the consolidation of authority in the executive branch, particularly the Prime Minister's Office.  In addition, the complexity of most files means that Members of Parliament do not have the skills, knowledge and resources to fully comprehend the issues (see Savoie, 1999).  The bodies with government oversight capacity (e.g., the Auditor General and Budget Officer) understandably approach their function through an audit, financial and value for money frame which is limited.

The implications for food system change are significant.  The PMO only pays significant attention to a limited number of files and rarely sees food system issues as a priority.  Legislation on food issues is infrequent, which CSOs have failed to understand, given that many persist in proposing legislative solutions to existing problems.  What legislation that is adopted usually focuses on the criminal law power of government, usually food safety related.  Such legislation is usually  compromised by competing institutional and political interests, and a limited view of what the food system should actually be.

Parliament does have standing committees that could be part of food policy discussions down the road.  Relevant House of Commons Committees include:

Agriculture and Agri-food
Environment and Sustainable Development
Fisheries and Oceans
Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities
Indigenous and Northern Affairs
Transport, Infrastructure and Communities

The Senate also conducts studies on important themes and its pertinent committees include:

Aboriginal Peoples
Agriculture and Forestry
Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources
Fisheries and Oceans
Human Rights
Social Affairs, Science and Technology

 Prime Minister (and Office)

“The Primer Minister and Cabinet”

The Prime Minister's office has become more presidential in style over the years, resulting from the efforts of numerous prime ministers to exert more control over the governments agenda.  With this has come a significant expansion of the office,  from 2 people under R.B. Bennett in the 1930s to hundreds of staffers today.  Consequently, when the PMO gets behind an issue, there's a chance for changes.  Such an opportunity has emerged in the current federal government.

In recent years, Canadian Prime Ministers and their offices have not taken much interest in food and agriculture files. During the 2011 election, all parties had indicated commitments to food policy, and subsequently a small group of officials in AAFC continued to work on the file, but the Harper government had no interest in what was produced (Bancerz, 2019).

“In particular, I will expect you to work with your colleagues and through established legislative, regulatory, and Cabinet processes to deliver on your top priorities:...Develop a food policy that promotes healthy living and safe food by putting more healthy, high-quality food, produced by Canadian ranchers and farmers, on the tables of families across the country.”

  • Prime Minister's 2015 mandate letter to Minister of Agriculture and Agrifood Canada (AAFC)

But after the 2015 election, Mr. Trudeau  instructed many of his ministers to work on aspects of food policy creation and now 16 government units are participating in cross-department discussions, public consultations and policy development.  AAFC is the lead on the food policy file Key aspects of many of the 2015 mandate letters have been summarized by Food Secure Canada.

Consultations were scheduled through the summer and early fall of 2017 with announcements expected in early 2018, but they were delayed. The 2019 Budget Plan announced $134.4 million in funding for programs, signally that  an announcement of a national food policy was imminent.

The 2019 Budget Plan stated (p. 161ff), “All Canadians should have access to safe, healthy, affordable, culturally appropriate and locally produced food.…. the Government [is]committed to developing A Food Policy for Canada—the first of its kind. The Food Policy for Canada will set out a coordinated and collaborative approach to addressing food-related issues while ensuring that Canada’s agriculture and agri-food sector continues to succeed and help grow the economy as a trusted global source of healthy food. The Food Policy for Canada will establish four areas for near-term action, including:

1) Help Canadian Communities Access Healthy Food;

2) Make Canadian Food the Top Choice at Home and Abroad;

3) Support Food Security in Northern and Indigenous Communities; and

4) Reduce Food Waste. “

The proposed funding is discussed under the relevant sections of this site.  There are, however, major weaknesses to what has been announced, as summarised in this blog post.

In June 2019, two additional pieces of a national food policy were announced.  For details, see this blog post.  Following the 2019 federal election, the PM issued another set of mandate letters that essentially confirmed the previous trajectory on food policy implementation (see blog posts).  There were also new letters circulated in 2021 that focused more on the pandemic and climate crises (see Wilkes and Perttula 2022 for an analysis of how the mandate letters shifted over the Trudeau governing period).

Cabinet and committees

Cabinet is the executive branch, but it's authority has also been weakened as power has been consolidated in the PMO.  It means that ministers have less latitude to run their departments and portfolios.  Governments play with the composition of their Cabinet committees, but in the current government, the following could have roles to play in constructing and implementation a national food policy.

Cabinet Committee on Agenda, Results and Communications
Cabinet Committee on Growing the Middle Class
Cabinet Committee on Diversity and Inclusion
Cabinet Committee on Climate Change, Environment and Energy
Cabinet Committee on Canada - US Relations

Privy Council Office

Basic functions of the Privy Council Office

The Privy Council Office (PCO) is a central coordinating agency and its head is the chief civil servant.  The current government has integrated a "deliverology" approach to generating success (Barber, 2008).  Officials have stated informally that the development of a national food policy would be informed by this approach, though not likely a central focus of a deliverology unit within the PCO. Presumably the delivery unit is working closely with the Cabinet Committee on Agenda, Results and Communications.

Coordinating Committees

Deputy Ministers Committee and Task Forces

Interagency program on food safety and nutrition

Interdepartmental Committee on food policy - the following departments / units are involved in national food policy development:

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (Chair)
Canadian Food Inspection Agency
Canadian Institutes of Health Research
Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency
Employment and Social Development Canada

Environment and Climate Change Canada
Finance Canada
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Global Affairs Canada
Health Canada
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada

Innovation, Science and Economic Development
Public Health Agency of Canada
Privy Council Office
Statistics Canada
Transport Canada


Agriculture and Agrifood Canada (AAFC)

What they do

Key initiatives related to national food policy development

  • co-ordinate the file
  • agricultural policy framework lead (now Canadian Agricultural Partnerships)
  • administer many key pieces of legislation and regulations that govern the food system
Health Canada (HC)

Key initiatives related to national food policy development

Transport Canada (TC)

Key initiatives related to national food policy development:

Employment and Social Development Canada

Key initiatives related to national food policy development:

Indigenous and Northern Affairs

Key initiatives related to national food policy development:

Fisheries and Oceans

"Fisheries and Oceans Canada is the federal lead for safeguarding our waters and managing Canada's fisheries, oceans and freshwater resources. We support economic growth in the marine and fisheries sectors, and innovation in areas such as aquaculture and biotechnology. We help ensure healthy and sustainable aquatic ecosystems through habitat protection and sound science"

The Department’s work is guided by six key pieces of legislation:

  • the Oceans Act;
  • the Fisheries Act;
  • the Species at Risk Act;
  • the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act;
  • the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 (Transport Canada-led);
  • the Fishing and Recreational Harbours Act
Global Affairs

Key initiatives related to national food policy development:

  • International food aid
  • Other development processes
Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC)

Key initiatives related to national food policy development:


Bureaus and agencies

Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Reports to the Minister of Health

What they do

Key initiatives related to national food policy development:

Public Health Agency of Canada
Competition Bureau

The Competition Bureau is a law enforcement agency led by the Commissioner of Competition. Ir is responsible for administering  the Competition Act, 1985.  It collaborates with provincial consumer protection departments and agencies and international partners.