Political Aide

… a core term in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100


Ian Brodie (reference below, p. 33) describes political aides, or political staffers, as employees who are hired and fired by the minister, or the prime minister, whose salaries and benefits are paid from government revenues, but who are not part of the regular public service and are permitted to be explicitly political.

Brodie writes (p. 33-34):

“In the federal government they are called “exempt staff” in recognition that they are exempt from the provisions of the Public Service Employment Act. They are not recruited by competitive processes. They have none of the guarantees given to public servants and they are free from the strictures of strict non-partisanship.”

“… What is the justification for ministers having political aides paid out of tax revenues? Why should not political staff be paid out of the funds of the political party in power? Quite simply, it is because the government has long recognized that ministers require something more than the expert, but non-partisan, advice of the public service to meet the demands on them. To make wise policy decisions, ministers need “a combination of sound technical and political advice.” The Privy Council Office and the prime minister provide the following guidance to ministers. A minister’s office is:

“[T]o provide ministers … with advisers and assistants who are not departmental public servants, who share their political commitment, and who can complement the professional, expert and non-partisan advance and support of the public service. Consequently, they contribute a particular expertise or point of view that the public service cannot provide.” (emphasis added)

“Thus, political staff are able to draft speeches, press releases and other documents that conform to the overall political direction of the government. They keep their ministers in touch with the government caucus, their opposition critics and outside groups or experts that help serve the government’s political agenda. They also provide advice to the minister about pending policy matters or cabinet or parliamentary business that must be managed in accordance with the government’s political environment. These are all functions that cannot and should not be assigned to non-partisan public servants. Political aides cannot do partisan work, and so must resign or take a leave of absence from the public payroll when they work on election campaigns or party events.”

Brodie says (p. 34) that “the scholarly literature is largely an indictment of the role of the political aide.” He criticizes the study by Paul Thomas for the Oliphant Commission and he agrees entirely with the response of the Prime Minister’s Office to that study (see Paul Thomas on Political Staff and Communications).

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Institutional Dynamics within Government (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.

Other resources

Howard Anglin (2016), Backrooms and Beyond: Partisan Advisers and the Politics of Policy Work in Canada, Book review, Policy Options, 15 August 2016, at http://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/august-2016/backrooms-and-beyond-partisan-advisers-and-the-politics-of-policy-work-in-canada-book-review/, accessed 30 August 2016.

Daniel Dickin (2016), Demystifying the role of parliamentary staffers, Policy Options, 15 July 2016, at http://policyoptions.irpp.org/2016/07/15/demystifying-the-role-of-parliamentary-staffers/, accessed 30 August 2016.


Ian Brodie (2012), In Defence of Political Staff, Canadian Parliamentary Review (Autumn): 33-39, at http://www.revparl.ca/35/3/35n3_12e_Brodie.pdf, accessed 28 August 2016. Brodie cites two references in his quotation: Mark Schacter, “Cabinet decision-making in Canada: Lessons and Practices”, Institute on Governance, 1999 p. 27 (which can be found on the Atlas at http://www.atlas101.ca/pm/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Schacter-1999-Cabinet-Decion-Making-in-Canada.pdf, and Canada, Privy Council Office, Accountable Government: A Guide for Ministers and Ministers of State, 2011, Annex E.3, which can be found at http://www.pco-bcp.gc.ca/docs/information/publications/ag-gr/2011/docs/ag-gr-eng.pdf, accessed 29 August 2016.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 30 August 2016.