SFTs – Role and Importance

1 minute read

By Karl Salgo, Executive Director, Public Governance

The tradition of opening a new session of Parliament, whether following prorogation or an election, with a speech by the sovereign, or in Canada’s case her representative the Governor General (GG), has roots stretching back to the earliest days of the English Parliament, when the monarch would explain to the members of Parliament why they had been summoned. The Queen or GG deliver the speech from the House of Lords or Senate respectively; as regal or vice-regal persons they do not enter “the other place”, whose members are ceremoniously summoned to the Upper Chamber for the occasion.

While the ceremony surrounding a Speech from the Throne (SFT) lends parliamentary proceedings a certain gravitas, the SFT and documents like it also have a significant functional role in good governance. “Statements of government direction” are critical both for lending coherence and transparency to government policy, and as a mechanism of accountability. A government that doesn’t follow through on its stated agenda will soon be called to account for that failure, noisily if not always effectively.

You can see this grand theory in practice in Canada’s Parliament. In the SFT the government sets out its agenda for the new session of Parliament, and parliamentarians debate their support for this agenda. The vote on the SFT is a confidence vote: a government that lost this vote would be expected to offer its resignation. In the UK, the Queen’s Speech tends to be a shorter, more functional document than our SFT, more closely focused on the legislation that the Government proposes to introduce that session. A Canadian SFT tends to speak to the government’s agenda more broadly, and to serve as a rather promotional communications document.

However promotional it may be, the SFT is genuinely integrated into the internal development of government policy. For example, items in the SFT will typically find their way into ministerial mandate letters, and the proposals that Ministers bring to Cabinet are generally expected to have explicit links to the SFT or comparable policy statements such as the federal budget. Savvy public servants pay close attention to the SFT and particularly the sections that impact on their own departments.

About the author

Karl Salgo

Karl Salgo

Executive Director - Public Governance

As Executive Director of Public Governance, Karl provides advisory services to multiple levels of government (provincial, federal and international) on all aspects of public sector governance, including institutional capacity, the center of government, organizational design and effectiveness, accountability, oversight, and risk management. He also plays a lead role in the IOG's research initiatives, including the work of the Public Governance Exchange, a syndicated, multi-jurisdictional forum for developing and exchanging ideas on public sector governance. Additionally, Karl provides educational services to public servants and appointees on a broad range of subjects, ranging from policy development and MC preparation to political savvy and the operations of government, to the responsibilities of directors in a wide range of public institutions.

A career public servant, Karl has degrees in political science, history and law from the University of Toronto and in public administration from the Queen’s University School of Policy Studies. He worked for many years in the federal Department of Finance, in areas as diverse as tax policy, communications and financial markets. In the latter capacity, Karl helped to establish the governance framework for the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and later served as Chief of Capital Markets Policy.

From 2004 to 2012, Karl worked in the Privy Council Office’s Machinery of Government Secretariat, where he provided advice to the Clerk of the Privy Council and the Prime Minister on the organization and structure of the Government of Canada – the Cabinet, portfolios, and the creation, winding-up and governance of individual organizations.

As Director of Strategic Policy from 2007 to 2012, Karl was the secretariat’s lead authority on Crown corporation governance, the conventions of the Westminster system, and the conduct standards applicable to ministers and other senior public office holders. Karl was the author/editor of numerous PCO publications, including Accountable Government: A Guide for Ministers and Ministers of State and Guidance for Deputy Ministers. Actively involved in realizing the myriad governance and accountability changes that flowed from the Federal Accountability Act, Karl played a lead role in the design and implementation of the accounting officer mechanism of deputy minister accountability.

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