Better know a Canadian functionary: the Clerk of the Privy Council

The Clerk of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada is the head of the Canadian civil service, and is the civil servant responsible for the Privy Council Office, which organizes the work of the Prime Minster, the Cabinet, and the bureaucratic heads of departments.

Originally, the Clerk of the Privy Council was only charged with preparing and publishing Orders-in-Council, which are executive orders given by the government to appoint people to positions or to enact regulations. The Clerk took on the extra role of Secretary to the Cabinet in 1940, then became Deputy Minister of the Privy Council Office in 1952 when the Privy Council Office was deemed to be a government department under the Financial Administration Act of 1951. The Clerk became Deputy Minister to the Prime Minister of Canada in 1962, when the Privy Council Office was placed under the direct authority of the Prime Minister, and became Head of the Public Service of Canada under the terms of the Public Service Employment Act of 1992.

The Clerks of the Privy Council of Canada have been:

William Henry Lee (1799-1878), 1867-72. Lee was born in Trois-Rivières and was educated in Montreal. He became a clerk of the Executive Council of Upper Canada in 1829 and continued on as Clerk of the Executive Council of the Province of Canada after 1841.

William Alfred Himsworth (1820-80), 1872-80. Himsworth was born in Trois-Rivières and studied law in Montreal. He practised law in Gatineau, Que., before he became a clerk of the legislature of the Province of Canada in 1842 and was Assistant Clerk of the Privy Council under Lee.

Joseph-Olivier Côté (1820-82), 1880-82. Côté was born in Quebec City and studied law there. He was registered as a notary public in 1841, then became a clerk of the legislature of the Province of Canada in 1845 and was Assistant Clerk of the Privy Council under Himsworth.

John Joseph McGee (1845-1927), 1882-1907. The half-brother of the statesman Thomas D’Arcy McGee, J.J. McGee was born in Ireland and immigrated to Canada in 1863. He graduated from McGill and became a clerk in the Department of the Interior in 1879, then was Assistant Clerk of the Privy Council under Côté. McGee is the longest-serving Clerk of the Privy Council, serving for 25 years.

Rodolphe Boudreau CMG (1865-1923), 1907-23. Boudreau was born in St.-Gregoire, Que., and studied at Laval University. He was private secretary to Sir Wilfrid Laurier from 1889 to 1907.

Ernest Joseph Lemaire CMG (1874-1945), 1923-40. Lemaire was born and educated in Sherbrooke and was hired as a clerk at the Privy Council Office in 1894. He was private secretary to Sir Wilfrid Laurier from 1902 to 1912, then went on to serve in the Post Office from 1912 to 1923.

The Hon. Arnold Danford Patrick Heeney PC CC (1902-70), 1940-49. Born in Montreal, Arnold Heeney went to the University of Manitoba, McGill and Oxford (on a Rhodes scholarship) before practicing law in Montreal. After serving as Clerk of the Privy Council , he was Undersecretary of State for External Affairs from 1949 to 1953, Ambassador to the United States from 1953 to 1957 and from 1959 to 1962, and Chair of the Civil Service Commission from 1957 to 1959. Heeney was the first Clerk of the Privy Council to be appointed as Secretary to the Cabinet.

Norman Alexander Robertson CC (1904-68), 1949-52. Born in Vancouver, Robertson went to Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship. He joined the Department of External Affairs in 1929 and became friends with Lester Pearson and Hume Wrong. During World War II, he served as deputy minister of External Affairs, then was High Commissioner to the UK for three years starting in 1946. He returned to Ottawa to be Clerk of the Privy Council, and then was High Commissioner to London again from 1952 to 1957, where he was a standard-bearer at the coronation of Elizabeth II. He served as Ambassador to the United States from 1957 to 1958, then returned again as deputy minister of External Affairs from 1958 to 1964.

The Rt. Hon. John Whitney Pickersgill PC CC (1905-97), 1952-54. Jack Pickersgill was born in Wyecombe, Ont., and grew up in Manitoba. He went to the University of Manitoba and to Oxford, and taught history before joining the civil service, eventually serving as chief of staff to prime ministers Mackenzie King and Louis St.-Laurent. He resigned as Clerk of the Privy Council upon being elected as Liberal MP for Bonavista-Twillingate, Nfld., serving from 1953 to 1967. In Parliament, he served as Secretary of State for Canada from 1953 to 1954, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration from 1954 to 1957, as Secretary of State for Canada again from 1963 to 1964, and as Minister of Transport from 1964 to 1967. After leaving the House, Pickersgill served as Chairman of the Canadian Transportation Commission from 1967 to 1972.

The Hon. Robert Broughton Bryce PC CC (1910-97), 1954-63. Bryce was born in Toronto and studied engineering at the University of Toronto before studying economics at Cambridge and Harvard, where he was an early proponent of Keynesian economics. He joined the Department of Finance in 1938 and served as Secretary to the Treasury Board before becoming Clerk of the Privy Council. He became Deputy Minister of Finance in 1963, serving until his retirement in 1968.

The Hon. Robert Gordon Robertson PC CC (1917-2013), 1963-75. Born in Davidson, Sask., Gordon Robertson studied at the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Toronto, and Oxford. He worked in the Department of External Affairs, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office before being appointed Deputy Minister of the Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources and Commissioner of the Northwest Territories in 1953 at the age of 36, serving for 10 years. In 1975 Pierre Trudeau appointed Robertson Secretary to the Cabinet for Federal-Provincial Relations, serving until 1979, after which Robertson was Chancellor of Carleton University from 1980 to 1990.

The Hon. Peter Michael Pitfield PC OC (1937-now), 1975-79 (first time). The son of financier Ward C. Pitfield, Michael Pitfield was born in Montreal and went to St Lawrence College in Canton, N.Y., before earning a law degree from McGill. Pitfield joined the civil service in 1959 as an assistant to Justice Minister Davie Fulton, then served in the Privy Council Office until being appointed Clerk. Pitfield’s close ties to Pierre Trudeau led to his being removed as Clerk by Joe Clark, but was reappointed when Trudeau returned to office. Pitfield went on to sit as a Senator from 1982 to 2010.

The Hon. Marcel Massé PC OC (1940-now), 1979-80. Massé was born in Montreal and went to McGill and Oxford. He worked for the World Bank and the Government of New Brunswick before joining the Privy Council Office in the 1970s. He later served as Undersecretary of External Affairs from 1982 to 1985 and was the Liberal MP for Hull-Aylmer from 1993 to 1999, during which time he was Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs from 1993 to 1996 and President of the Treasury Board from 1996 to 1999.

The Hon. Peter Michael Pitfield PC OC (1937-now), 1980-82 (second time).

The Hon. Gordon Francis Joseph Osbaldeston PC CC (1930-now), 1982-85. Gordon Osbaldeston was born in Hamilton and studied commerce at the University of Toronto and the University of Western Ontario. He joined the civil service in 1953 and served in Brazil and the US as a trade commissioner before returning to Ottawa to serve in high economic positions in the civil service, serving as Secretary to the Treasury Board from 1973 to 1976. He later taught business at UWO.

The Hon. Paul Matthias Tellier PC CC (1939-now), 1985-92. Born in Joliette, Que., Tellier went to Laval and Oxford.  He joined the civil service in the 1970s and served as Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Deputy Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources before being appointed Clerk. Tellier was later President and CEO of CN Rail from 1992 to 2002, then President and CEO of Bombardier Inc. from 2003 to 2004.

Glen Scott Shortliffe (1937-2010), 1992-94. Shortliffe was born in Edmonton and graduated from the University of Alberta. He joined the foreign service in 1962 and was the Ambassador to Indonesia from 1977 to 1979. He joined the Privy Council Office in 1982 and was Deputy Clerk from 1990 to 1992.

The Hon. Jocelyne Bourgon PC OC (1950-now), 1994-99. The first female Clerk of the Privy Council, Bourgon was born in Papineauville, Que., and studied biology at the University of Montreal and management at the University of Ottawa. She joined the Department of Transport in 1974 and rose to become Deputy Minister of Transport, then served as deputy minister in several other departments. She is now President Emeritus of the Canada School of Public Service.

Melvin Samuel Cappe OC (1948-now), 1999-2002. Mel Cappe was born in Toronto and studied economics at the University of Toronto and the University of Western Ontario. He joined the civil service in 1975 and served as Deputy Minister of the Environment and Deputy Minister of Labour before becoming Clerk. Cappe was later High Commissioner to the United Kingdom from 2002 to 2006 and President and CEO of the Institute for Research on Public Policy from 2006 to 2011. He is now a professor at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance.

Alexander Himelfarb (1947-now), 2002-06. Alex Himelfarb was born in Germany and raised in Toronto, where he earned a doctorate in sociology from the University of Toronto. He taught sociology at the University of New Brunswick and joined the civil service in 1981 in the Department of the Solicitor-General. He became Deputy Minister of Canadian Heritage from 1999 to 2002, and later was Ambassador to Italy from 2002 to 2006. He is now Director of the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs at York University.

The Hon. Kevin Gordon Lynch PC OC (1951-now), 2006-09. Born in Sydney, N.S., Lynch studied economics at Mount Allison University, the University of Manchester, and McMaster University, and was hired by the Bank of Canada in 1976. He joined the Department of Finance in 1981, switched to the Department of Industry in 1992, became Deputy Minister of Industry in 1995, and was Deputy Minister of Finance from 2000 to 2004, then became an executive director of the IMF from 2004 to 2006. He is now Chancellor of the University of King’s College in Halifax.

The Hon. Wayne G. Wouters PC (1951-now), 2009-2014. Born in Edam, Sask., Wouters studied economics at the University of Saskatchewan and Queen’s. He worked for the Saskatchewan government before joining the federal civil service in 1982, serving as Deputy Minister of Fisheries and Oceans from 1997 to2002, Deputy Minister of Department of Human Resources Development and Deputy Minister of Labour from 2002 to 2004, and Secretary of the Treasury Board from 2004 to 2009.

Janice Charette (1962-now), 2014-now. A graduate of Carleton University, Charette joined the civil service in 1984 and co-ordinated the mass closure of Canadian Forces bases in the mid-1990s at the Privy Council Office. She worked in the private sector from 1996 to 1999, during which time she spent a year as chief of staff to Progressive Conservative leader Jean Charest. She returned to the civil service in 1999 and served in the Justice and Health departments, then as Deputy Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Deputy Minister of Human Resources and Deputy Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs before becoming Deputy Clerk in 2013.

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