Ministerial Responsibilities and Authorizations

The Minister of Transport oversees a diverse portfolio that undertakes activities and implements programs in support of key objectives related to the transportation system:

  1. World Class Safety and Security;
  2. Enabling Economic Growth and Improving the Travel Experience for Canadians; and
  3. Environmental Sustainability.

In pursuing his/her objectives, the Minister of Transport, has extensive legal powers and responsibilities in 50 Acts and 236 sets of regulations.

More detail on the Acts under the Minister’s responsibility are included on the List of Acts page.

The Deputy Minister of Transport provides non-partisan support to the Minister of Transport in fulfilling the Minister's collective and individual responsibilities and accountability to Parliament. This support includes:

  • providing sound public service advice on policy development and implementation, both in terms of the Transport portfolio and with respect to the government’s overall policy and legislative agenda;
  • managing the day to day operations of Transport Canada, ensuring effective implementation of the Minister’s decisions;
  • providing advice and support on the overall management of the transport portfolio; and fulfilling authorities that have been assigned to the Deputy Minister directly by legislation.

Given these responsibilities, the Deputy Minister understands and welcomes the fact that the Minister may also assign him or her certain specific responsibilities from time to time.

Under the principles of accountable government, all activities carried out in the department, including the actions of all officials under the Minister’s management and direction, are done under the Minister’s authority. Within the 50 Acts and 236 regulations to administer under the Minister’s responsibility, there are a vast number of powers, duties and functions to exercise.

It is not feasible or practical for the Minister to directly carry out all of the powers, duties and functions that fall under his or her authority. For that reason, a number of authorities are delegated to various officials who act on behalf of the Minister. This is particularly the case for the exercise of various front line regulatory authorities that require expert technical knowledge. A well-developed system of Ministerial Authorizations is therefore in place to manage the many different authorities that need to be exercised under these Acts and regulations.

There are certain authorities which the Minister must personally approve. These include:

  • Proposals to Cabinet
  • Proposals to the Governor in Council
  • Requests for resources or authorities to the Treasury Board to manage the Minister’s overall financial authorities.

There are also a few that are directly assigned to the Deputy Minister, including authorities associated with:

  • managing the department (e.g. human resources management, and official languages);
  • supporting ministerial accountability in Parliament (e.g. Accounting Officer responsibilities); and
  • providing information on the administration of programs to bodies that make reports to Parliament (e.g., the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Auditor General, the Commissioner of Official Languages, and the Information and Privacy Commissioners).

The Deputy Minister is responsible for maintaining an effective control framework for the department, including provision of mandatory training to individuals exercising delegated authorities. In order to deliver a strong and reliable organizational control framework, the Deputy Minister is supported by the Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services and Chief Financial Officer, the Chief Audit Executive, and the Departmental Audit Committee.

At Transport Canada, a system is in place to ensure that officials can appropriately exercise certain powers on the Minister’s behalf pursuant to express delegations of authority from the Minister or through common-law principles (i.e. the Carltona doctrine) that have been codified in legislation. The routine nature and volume of such actions make the delegation of such authorities a more practical way of operating. The act of delegation allows officials to carry out transactions such as awarding grants and contributions under established criteria; entering into certain contracts; and responding to access to information requests, thereby being more directly responsive to Canadians.

Strict attention is paid to ensure authorities are calibrated at the right level and are supported by rigorous training, while considering the dynamics of financial risk management, operational realities, and effective safety oversight.

Currently, there are approximately 80 delegated authorizations to departmental officials in effect. These authorizations remain in effect until rescinded, replaced or amended by a Minister. In the early stages of a new mandate, it is considered good practice for a Minister to review these delegations to ensure that he or she is comfortable with the manner in which his or her authorities are exercised, and confident in the management framework governing the exercise of these authorities.

A number of authorities under statute or regulations are exercised by officials designated by the Minister. A delegation allows the Minister to delegate an authority to an official and still personally retain the ability to exercise that authority as well. The power to designate works differently: A designation directly confers to specific officials certain Ministerial powers, duties and functions, with those powers no longer available for the Minister to exercise personally.

The most common designations are those involving a statutory power conferred on the Minister to designate a person having certain occupational requirements and expertise such as a transportation safety inspector. Once the Minister has designated someone as an inspector, only that person may exercise the powers granted in the statute, typically a power to enter premises and a power to inspect, ask questions, seize and detain, etc.

The following are the key areas where important delegations or designations are in effect at Transport Canada:

Regulatory powers related to transportation safety and security

Managers and inspectors are assigned significant authorities and make legally binding orders to ensure they can take action necessary to ensure safety and security.

For example:

  • Under the Railway Safety Act, the Director General of Rail Safety has the delegated authority to issue a Ministerial Order to address a threat to safety pertaining to railway operations.Footnote 1
  • Under the Marine Transportation Security Act, Marine Safety Inspectors have the delegated authority to issue Administrative Monetary Penalties to any individual or vessel that does not comply with mandatory measures outlined in legislation, such as the recent cases of speed limits related to measures to protect the North Atlantic Right Whale.
  • Under the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, Automotive Defect Inspectors have the delegated authority to conduct motor vehicle compliance investigations and senior officials may compel a company to issue a recall.
  • Under the Aeronautics Act, in the Civil Aviation program, selected inspectors and executives (e.g., Regional Directors and the Director General) have the authority to issue a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) to either close or restrict airspace in a particular area (e.g., over an accident scene) or nationally (e.g., Boeing 737 MAX 8 airspace restriction).
  • Under the Aeronautics Act, within the Aviation Security Program, the Director General, and the Executive Director of Aviation Security Operations have the authority to issue emergency directions that compel operators to conduct certain security activities (e.g., enhanced screening by the air carrier at the boarding gate to mitigate a specific threat).

The individual Transport Canada officials exercising these regulatory authorities, under delegation or designation, do so in accordance with a multi-layered management system that ensures these authorities are exercised in a manner consistent with a world-class safety regulator.

This management system ensures that authorities are exercised objectively by delegated officials with the required expertise, consistently with safety and security legislation and regulations, on the basis of proper evidence, and without undue interference. In doing so, this management system is a key element of what makes Transport Canada a world class regulator -- maintaining public confidence in the transportation system and ensuring that regulatory decisions withstand public and legal scrutiny. Some key elements of this management system include:

  • A comprehensive system of required training and professional development for all delegated officials;
  • The Center for Expertise in Enforcement (CEE) which has been recently established to support front-line transportation safety inspectors across the country with a consistent and rigorous approach to enforcement of safety regulations, including formal investigations and the progressive application of all penalties available under the legislation;
  • Consistent use of Legal Counsel and Oversight Advisory Boards which convene technical experts, legal counsel and CEE officials to provide advice to officials exercising delegated authorities in order to ensure consistent and rigorous oversight actions across the country; and
  • Clear internal communication protocols where senior departmental officials and the Minister are informed on the use of the delegated authorities while maintaining the integrity of the safety oversight and enforcement decision-making process.

Financial, contracting and human resources

Responsibility for the control and spending of public money allocated to the department is conferred on the Minister and Deputy Minister by Parliament through Appropriation Acts, the Financial Administration Act (FAA), and related regulations. While the FAA provides the framework for the delegation of financial and contracting authorities, the departmental delegation charts for Financial Signing Authorities and Materiel and Contracting Authorities serve as tools for the Minister and the Deputy Minister to delegate financial and contracting authority to departmental officials, for action such as the initiation of expenditures, certification of work performed, and the payment for goods and services received.

The responsibility under the Financial Administration Act, the Public Service Employment Act and Employment Equity Act concerning the high-performing workforce are directly delegated and/or assigned to the Deputy Minister to ensure good governance and service to Canadians that embodies public service values. Under these legislative frameworks, the departmental delegation of human resources authorities serve as tools for the Deputy Minister to delegate human resources authority to departmental officials.

The Deputy Minister is responsible for maintaining rigorous financial controls and an effective and healthy workforce; this includes ensuring the provision of mandatory training to individuals exercising delegated authorities related to financial resources, contracting, and human resources.

Access to Information Act and Privacy Act and related Regulations

As Head of the Department of Transport, the Minister may exercise the powers, duties and functions under the provisions of the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and related Regulations. Officials occupying specific positions in the department have been designated to exercise these authorities. Both the Deputy Minister and the Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, have full authority while certain officials occupying specific positions in the department’s Access to Information and Privacy Office may exercise only specific powers, duties and functions as specified in the designation instrument.

Designated departmental officials also make decisions regarding privacy when departmental programs involve the collection of personal information. They also manage any privacy breaches in accordance with legislated requirements. Only the Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, or the Deputy Minister, have decision-making authority when a release of personal information without the individual’s consent is deemed to be in the public interest (e.g., following a plane crash when fingerprints may be requested by the provincial Coroner’s Office to confirm the identity of a body believed to be the pilot).

Bill C-58, an Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act, received Royal Assent in June 2019. Among other amendments, it added a new Part to the Act, which sets out requirements for the proactive disclosure of specific information within specified timelines for departments, Crown corporations and Ministers’ offices. These new requirements for Ministers’ offices include mandate letters, transition briefing material, briefing note titles, question period notes, Parliamentary Committee binders, travel and hospitality expenses, Ministers’ offices expenses, and certain contracts.