Values and Ethics Codes

… a core concept in Ethics, Rights, and Accountability and Atlas111M

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Concept description

Leslie Pal (reference below) describes how public service values and ethics codes evolved in the Government of Canada.

The current code is referenced below and on right.

Pal writes (pp. 405-408):

“We mentioned earlier that the dominant tradition in policy studies has been instrumentalist, a focus on means and ends. Interestingly, discussions have turned increasingly to considerations of values and ethics in the public sector as a means to support good governance. This direction is not entirely new, of course, with codes of ethics having been promoted by various professional associations of public servants for some years. But as we have argued throughout this book, some new pressures have concentrated attention on this field, pressures that began building as early as the early 1980s (Kernaghan, 1996) and blossomed in the last decade. One is the decreasing trust and faith in government among Canadian citizens. Only 61 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in the 2011 federal election, and that was up from 58 percent in 2008. A way of addressing that is to ensure that public servants – either making or implementing policy – conduct themselves to the highest standards. Another pressure has been the effects of downsizing on morale. Encouraging public servants to cleave to strong values has been a way to forestall public sector workers’ cynicism and bitterness. The emphasis on entrepreneurship, innovation, and flexibility in public sector organizations has meant less detailed oversight of the work done by public servants, fewer rules and minute procedures, and a greater focus on outcomes and performance. The sense that corners were being cut – to the point of inducing corruption – led directly to the Federal Accountability Act, the Harper government’s first signature piece of legislation in 2006 that dramatically raised the bar on ethics and probity in government. In fact, the combination of instruments used in the Accountability Act, from whistle-blowers’ legislation, audit committees, accounting officers, new parliamentary watchdogs and commissioners, and a strong emphasis on codes of ethics has severely dampened enthusiasm for flexibility and innovation within the federal public service. Finally, the financial crisis cast an unflattering light on business practices, particularly on Wall Street, and fanned public resentment at the “1%” who seem beyond accountability and untroubled by ethics. The public is, of course, intolerant of corruption in any instance, but now seems inflamed by anything that smacks of lavishness, perks, or privileges in the public sector.”

“The modern focus on ethics, accountability, and good governance began in 1995, when the Clerk of the Privy Council appointed nine Deputy Minister Task Forces to deal with issues that would arise through the Program Review exercise. One of those task forces was dedicated to public sector values and ethics, reflecting the concern about ethics expressed in the Auditor General’s 1995 annual report (Auditor General of Canada, 1995, Chapter 1). The task force’s report, A Strong Foundation (Task Force on Public Service Values and Ethics, 2000), otherwise known as the Tait Report, highlighted some of the new pressures on the public service that were creating the need to refocus on values and ethics:

Many public servants were shocked, and their faith in public service values was shaken, both by the fact of downsizing – that it was done at all – and by the way it was done. Many public servants believe that an implicit employment contract and the commitment to security of tenure were breached by personnel reductions, and by the way they were carried out. Explicit union contracts were overridden by legislation. Disrespect for public servants was read into many announcements or statements that seemed to make them scapegoats, implying they were unproductive, bureaucratic and a major reason for the problems of the debt and public distrust of government. (Task Force on Public Service Values and Ethics, 2000, p. 32)

“The task force concluded that public service values can be clustered in four families or categories: democratic values, professional values, ethical values, and people values. The Tait Report laid the foundation for the federal government’s June 2003 Values and Ethics Code; it relied on the same categorization of values and also dealt with conflict of interest issues (Office of Public Service Values and Ethics, 2003). A new federal government Values and Ethics Code came into effect on April 2, 2012 (Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, 2012). It tried to go beyond a list of principles and included “expected behaviours.” The values that are to guide public servants “in everything they do” are respect for democracy, respect for people, integrity, stewardship, and excellence. The value of excellence is particularly relevant from a policy perspective: “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.” Each of the values has behaviours associated with it. The behaviours associated with the value of integrity aim squarely at core ethical concerns:


Public servants shall serve the public interest by:

3.1 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.

3.2 Never using their official roles to inappropriately obtain an advantage for themselves or to advantage or disadvantage others.

3.3 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.

3.4 Acting in such a way as to maintain their employer’s trust.”


Leslie Pal (2014), Beyond Policy Analysis – Public Issue Management in Turbulent Times, Fifth Edition, Nelson Education, Toronto. See Beyond Policy Analysis – Book Highlights.

Government of Canada (2011), Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector, at, accessed 11 April 2017.

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Responsibility and Accountability (core topic) in Ethics, Rights, and Accountability and Atlas111M Ethics.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 11 April 2017. May 2016.

Image: Government of Canada (2011), Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector, at, accessed 11 April 2017.