Government transition

Government Transition

Author: Philip Cartwright
Co-Author: Nick Mulder

Voting day is still almost three months away (an eternity in politics), but the issue of government transition and its impacts on the flow of government business, both during the campaign and immediately after its conclusion, are worth looking at.

During the campaign itself, there are relatively strict rules governing what government business continues and what grinds to a halt.  The Privy Council Office, the department that provides non-partisan policy advice and support to the Prime Minister and Cabinet, plays an important role in ensuring the continued functioning of government during the election campaign.  It also carries important responsibilities in facilitating the transition of the new incoming government once the election is over – analyzing and reporting on issues including major international events and geo-political files and how to get the machinery of government moving post-election, for example.

Overall, most government decisions and announcements are put on hold until after the election.  However, these kinds of activities can continue during the campaign if they are deemed to be routine, non-controversial, urgent and in the public interest (for example, in the event of a natural disaster), reversible by a new government without unnecessary cost or disruption, or agreed to by opposition parties (for matters where consultation is required).  Ministers remain Ministers until the next Cabinet is installed and their offices are maintained by political skeleton staff during the campaign, who continue to liaise with departmental officials and monitor key issues, as expected.  Deputy Ministers assume even more of an oversight role for their department’s activities and remain in communication with their Minister and his/her staff during the campaign.  As the Privy Council Office’s guidelines dictate, the government apparatus “acts with restraint during an election, confining itself to necessary public business” only.

At the political level, transition planning is done by each of the main parties, particularly as Election Day approaches.  This preparatory work includes framing out the prospective make-up of a new Cabinet (taking into account demographic/regional considerations), how to deliver, as the government in power, on the various promises made during the campaign, what key priorities to focus on and in what sequence post-election, etc.

All of this to say that, while the political issues that emerge during a federal election campaign are important to keep a watch on, so too are the machinery of government considerations that will impact the inbound government.  Monitoring all these moving parts will assist stakeholders whose issues are in play during the campaign, as they seek to either encourage or delay movement on them once a new government is in place.  Likewise, stakeholders whose issues do not pick up much momentum or profile during the campaign are best to keep track of these developments, to assist them as they seek to build awareness of their sector and its issues once the ballot boxes are put away until the next election.