Clerk of the Privy Council (Canada)

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Clerk of the Privy Council
Secretary to the Cabinet
Greffier du Conseil privé
secrétaire du Cabinet
John Hannaford
since June 24, 2023
Privy Council Office
TypeDeputy minister
Member ofPublic Service of Canada
Reports toPrime Minister of Canada
AppointerGovernor in Council
On the advice of the prime minister
Inaugural holderWilliam Henry Lee
FormationJuly 1, 1867; 156 years ago (1867-07-01)
WebsitePrivy Council webpage

The clerk of the Privy Council (French: greffier du Conseil privé) is the professional head of the Public Service of Canada. As the deputy minister for the Privy Council Office (the prime minister's department), the clerk is the senior civil servant in the Government of Canada and serves as the secretary to the Cabinet (French: secrétaire du Cabinet).

The role of the clerk is nonpartisan; clerks may serve multiple prime ministers and do not belong to any political party. As the secretary to the Cabinet, the role provides impartial advice to the ministry and oversees the advice and policy support given to Cabinet and its committees. As head of the public service,[1] the clerk is responsible for other deputy ministers and the provision of non-partisan, expert advice to the government as a whole.

The clerk is a Governor-in-Council appointment made on the advice of the prime minister. On May 30, 2023, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that Janice Charette would retire on June 24, 2023, and that he would appoint John Hannaford to fill the position.[2]

In the provinces and territories, the equivalent position of senior public servant is called the cabinet secretary or clerk of the executive council (in French, secrétaire du conseil exécutif or greffier du conseil exécutif, respectively).


The Privy Council for Canada was created and authorized by the Constitution Act, 1867, and there has been a clerk of the Privy Council since then.

The staff of the Privy Council increased from 142 to 352 between 1971 and 1975.[3]

In 1989, reforms initiated by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney gave the clerk position its present day responsibilities. Expert Donald Savoie describes these as a combination of three roles: "the secretary of cabinet, the head of the non-partisan public service, and the deputy minister — or top bureaucrat — to the prime minister." One critique of this arrangement is that it could put senior nonpartisan officials in the position of taking partisan positions.[4] Clerks generally have extensive previous experience in the Public Service of Canada before being appointed.

List of clerks of the Privy Council[5]
No. Clerk Term Notes
1 William Henry Lee 1867–1872
2 William Alfred Himsworth 1872–1880
3 Joseph Olivier Côté 1880–1882
4 John Joseph McGee 1882–1907
5 Rodolphe Boudreau 1907–1923
6 Ernest Joseph Lemaire 1923–1940
7 Arnold Danford Patrick Heeney 1940–1949
8 Norman Alexander Robertson 1949–1952
9 John Whitney Pickersgill 1952–1953
10 Robert Bryce 1954–1963
11 Robert Gordon Robertson 1963–1975
12 Peter Michael Pitfield 1975–1979
13 Marcel Massé 1979–1980
(12) Peter Michael Pitfield 1980–1982 Previously held office from 1975 to 1979.
14 Gordon Osbaldeston 1982–1985
15 Paul M. Tellier 1985–1992
16 Glen Shortliffe 1992–1994
17 Jocelyne Bourgon 1994–1999
18 Mel Cappe 1999–2002
19 Alexander Himelfarb 2002–2006
20 Kevin G. Lynch 2006–2009
21 Wayne Wouters 2009–2014
22 Janice Charette 2014–2016
23 Michael Wernick 2016–2019
24 Ian Shugart 2019–2021
(22) Janice Charette 2021–2022 – Interim Clerk from March 9, 2021, to May 28, 2022

2022–Jun 23, 2023

Previously held office from 2014 to 2016.
25 John Hannaford June 24, 2023–present

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Clerk of the Privy Council
  2. ^ "Trudeau appoints John Hannaford as next Clerk of the Privy Council". The Globe and Mail. 2023-05-30. Retrieved 2023-05-30.
  3. ^ "Archives Search" at collectionscanada, 2018-05-20
  4. ^ Alex Boutiliero (March 1, 2019). Caught in the SNC-Lavalin scandal, Canada’s top civil servant should help us understand his job, expert says. Toronto Star.
  5. ^ "Clerk and Deputy Clerk". Privy Council Office. 2017-05-29. Retrieved 2021-07-05.


External links[edit]