Prime Minister’s Office

… a core concept in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100


Gerald Butts, Principal Secretary Katie Telford, Chief of Staff

Concept description

Click for @gmbutts (9am-2pm 26 Aug 2016)

Click for @gmbutts

J.E. Hodgetts (reference below) describes the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in Canada a central agency that came into its own in the late 1960s.

Hodgetts notes that:

“It differs from its counterparts in that it is staffed with temporary political appointees rather than full-time, career civil servants and has no statutory base, its budget being a component of the estimates for the Privy Council Office. The Prime Minister determines the PMO’s organization and role; its functions derive from the prime minister’s political responsibilities as party leader rather than as head of government, though in practice the division between these responsibilities is not clear, thereby providing opportunities for the PMO to trespass on the more purely administrative preserves of other central agencies.

“The PMO is responsible for press and public relations, the PM’s large correspondence, speaking engagements, etc.; it advises on candidates for appointment to the numerous order-in-council appointees, e.g., directorships on crown corporations, members of regulatory commissions, on which the PM’s recommendation is essential and decisive; it maintains contact with the party’s officials outside the legislature and with the party caucus in the legislature; it generally serves as a listening post and a “gate-keeper” determining which matters will be brought to the PM’s attention and ensuring that the political dimensions of public policies are not overlooked by the permanent bureaucracy.”

Organization of the Canadian Prime Minister’s Office

The current PMO has a substantial social media presence. The image to the left depicts the tweets from Principal Secretary, Gerald Butts, over a 5 hour period on 26 August 2016. As of that day, Butts had about 30,000 Twitter followers and had issued about 41,000 tweets.

Perhaps surprisingly, there is no PMO web page either stand alone, or as part of the websites of the Prime Minister or of the Privy Council Office, that describe its functions, structure, or staffing.

The PMO structure can, to a certain degree, be discerned from the Government Electronic Directory Services (GEDS) site at: The image on 24 August 2016 is shown below:


When aides become the story

The unique nature and presumed power of the Prime Minister’s Office can put the actions of senior aides under close scrutiny by opposition parties and the media. In the latter years of Primer Minister Steven Harper’s government, the role of the PMO and Chief of Staff, Nigel Wright, in the relation to the controversy over Senate expenses attracted such attention (see for example, “Duffy trial – Wright testifies he often covered PMO expenses personally, Globe and Mail, 12 August 2015, reference below). In late September 2016, the moving expenses of the two most senior aides in the PMO, Gerald Butts and Katie Telford, became the object of opposition and media attention – see PMO Moving Expenses Story.

Current and former leadership of the Canadian Prime Minister’s Office

The Parliament of Canada’s ParlInfo entry (reference below) states that:

“The organizational structure of the Prime Minister’s office (PMO) has traditionally been hierarchical in its design. At the upper echelons of this hierarchy resides the small circle of individuals entrusted with running the PMO. Depending on the personal approach of the Prime Minister, the duties of managing, administrating and co-ordinating the activities of the PMO might belong to the Principal Secretary, the Chief of Staff, or another key advisor.

“The head of the PMO is granted virtually uninhibited access to the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers. He or she oversees the activities of the Prime Minister’s staff, and can also serve as an important political adviser. In addition, the head of the PMO has the duty of liaising with the Privy Council Office (PCO), and attends the weekly meetings of the PCO’s senior staff as the representative of the PMO.

“The functions served by the PMO, itself, have greatly evolved over time. In the ministries which followed Confederation, the Prime Minister’s secretaries mainly fulfilled basic service roles, such as responding to routine correspondence. In more recent times, with the institutionalization of the PMO, the raison d’être of the PMO and its staff has expanded to include a wider variety of tasks, including the provision of policy advice, information gathering, communications, planning, and strategizing.”

It lists the senior officials of recent PMOs as follows:


Additional resources

Adam Radwanski (2016), Gerald Butts: The BFF in the PMO, Globe and Mail, 3 September 2016, at, accessed 3 September 2016. Radwanski opens his article with a reference to the 2005 commencement address by the late writer, David Foster Wallace, that “went viral.” The address is available in audio at, and in text at, accessed 4 September 2016.

Steven Chase (2015), Duffy trial: Wright testifies he often covered PMO expenses personally, Globe and Mail, 12 August 2015, at, accessed 28 September 2016.

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Machinery of Government (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.


J.E. Hodgetts (2006), The Prime Minister’s Office, The Canadian Encylopedia, first published 7 February 2006 last edited 27 January 2015, at, accessed 24 August 2016.

ParlInfo, Parliament of Canada, Leadership of the Prime Minister’s Office, at, accessed 24 August 2017

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 28 September 2016.

Image: National Post, Trusted Trudeau advisors, 29 October 2015, at, accessed 24 August 2016.