Mandate Letters

Well, hello there. It’s been a while. I’m sorry about that. I am hoping to be more active on the site. While I haven’t been posting too much, I have been tweeting and retweeting @FromEhtoZ and on the Facebook fan page of the same name.

At any rate, stay tuned for a tutorial on the senate coming soon. In the meantime, check out the below post:


Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced earlier this week that her government would release Ministers’ Mandate Letters for all 30 ministries. This is part of the government’s overall commitment to accountability and transparency and is part of the Open Government initiative. Thursday’s news release issued after a Cabinet meeting in Sudbury officially made those letters public.

These documents are typically held in confidence in the Cabinet convention and are not usually released, or at least not for a long period of time (by tradition, Cabinet records are released after thirty years, though some may be accessed through a Freedom of Information requests after twenty for a charge of $5.00 each).

But what is a mandate letter and what is its purpose? A mandate letter is, well, a letter, from the premier (or prime minister at the federal level) to his or her minister. The letter outlines what the premier wants to the minister to do or accomplish over a set period of time (over a four year term, for example), though the exact timing is not always made clear. It is the official authority to do something: create a policy, develop a program, form a strategy, consult stakeholders, make changes to legislation or regulation, establish a board, agency or commission and so on. Each minister (and associate ministers in the case of Ontario) will get one.

In some cases, ministers may ask their boss to include something that the minister is interested in pursuing, a pet project or a personal focus, to their mandate letter.

Ontario is not the first province to publicize and post Cabinet mandate letters. It follows British Columbia, Saskatchewan and most recently Alberta in releasing these usually confidential documents. At the moment, federal mandate letters remain unavailable.

These letters will flow from the priorities and agenda the premier sets for a province, from her concerns and even prescribes the ways in which she would like the minister to work (eg. Work with stakeholders, municipalities and the public).

These documents are important, because they are like instruction manuals for how the minister will work in the coming years, how he or she will give direction to public servants in his or her ministry and the tone and ways in which the ministry will fulfil the mandate.

The minister will work with his or her deputy minister (the senior pubic servant in the ministry) to ensure that policy direction, priorities and flow down throughout the ministry and that public servants can begin working on various projects, initiatives, programs and policies which will help to fulfil this mandate.

It is important to note that mandate letters do not, and cannot cover everything. For instance, they do not cover “business as usual”- the day-to-day minutia, tasks and duties public servants carry-out to fulfil the administrative mandate of ministries.

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