The beginning of the Conclusions: documenting the exercise of power

By Michael Dufresne

The recent addition of records to the Cabinet Conclusions database offers access to the attendance records, agenda and the minutes of Cabinet from 1977 to 1979. The minutes are not verbatim accounts of Cabinet meetings but provide excellent summaries of the discussions and various positions taken by Cabinet members. These newest records straddle both governments of Pierre Elliott Trudeau and the short-lived government of Joe Clark. They cap off the long preamble to the repatriation of the constitution and the advent of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They are an important part of the corporate memory of the federal government and reveal a range of subjects, preoccupations, concerns and opportunities confronting the most powerful institutions in our parliamentary system.

A pen-and-brush drawing depicting a man standing in a circus ring holding a whip and reading a book while a lion sitting on a raised platform looks over his shoulder.

Editorial cartoon by John Collins depicts Joe Clark as a lion tamer reading the book “How to Control Gov’t Spending,” published in The Gazette, Montreal, 1979. Copyright held by Library and Archives Canada (MIKAN 2863264)

We might take it for granted that a democratic state provides some measure of transparency for those wishing to know why and how a decision is made. Our democratic sensibilities might be offended to know that, while we could probably trace our democratic heritage to well before the 1940s, it was not until then that Cabinet kept an agenda and minutes of its deliberations. The lack of records documenting Cabinet deliberations can encourage an exaggerated sense of the power of the Prime Minister. “The story went around,” writes historian Michael Bliss in his book, Right Honourable Men: The Descent of Canadian Politics from Macdonald to Mulroney, “that when Bennett was seen mumbling to himself, he was holding a Cabinet meeting.” When there are no official records to document Cabinet’s discussions, who is going to contradict the memory of the Prime Minister?

From 1867 to 1940, a succession of six men served as Clerk of the Privy Council; their duties reflected the comparatively modest role of the state in Canadian society before the Second World War. But with the appointment in 1940 of Arnold Danforth Patrick Heeney, things were clearly changing. Heeney became the seventh Clerk of the Privy Council since Confederation and the country’s first Secretary to the Cabinet.

Upon his arrival in Ottawa, he was surprised by the informal ways in which important business was conducted. “I found it shattering to discover,” Heeney writes in his autobiography, The Things that are Caesar’s, “that the highest committee in the land conducted its business in such a disorderly fashion that it employed no agenda and no minutes were taken. The more I learned about Cabinet practices, the more difficult it was for me to understand how such a regime could function at all.”

Changes to the Privy Council Office (PCO) were inspired by reforms to the United Kingdom’s Privy Council in 1916 by Sir Maurice Hankey. The changes were, in part, an acknowledgment of the growing demands on modern government. Possible changes had been discussed for several years, but nothing had been done. Why then did they occur in 1940? The challenges of governing while prosecuting the Second World War demanded changes to how government organized and documented its deliberations and actions. Order-in-Council PC 1121 of March 25, 1940 heralded the beginning of the modern PCO. It read, in part:

“The great increase in the work of the Cabinet … has rendered it necessary to make provision for the performance of additional duties of a secretarial nature relating principally to the collecting and putting into shape of agenda of Cabinet meetings, providing of information and material necessary for the deliberations of the Cabinet and the drawing up of records of the results, for communication to the departments concerned … ”

Order-in-Council PC 1940-1121 ushered in a significant change in the universe of government information, but it was not until 1944 that the formal Cabinet Conclusions were created and preserved. In the absence of these official records, researchers have to look to Prime Ministers’ personal papers to perhaps discover some form of documentation of Cabinet meetings.

The Cabinet Conclusions have practical value for the administration of the state and democratic significance for the insight and transparency they make possible. More than mere instruments of modern bureaucracy, they offer an inside look at the deliberations, discussions, debates and decision making of the federal government’s most powerful politicians and, to a degree, the high-ranking bureaucrats who serve them. Library and Archives Canada’s acquisition and preservation of these records along with the access it helps facilitate, provide a revealing window into the workings of our democratic state.

The latest additions to the database close out the 1970s, and will inspire new insights into the history of Canada, and about the federal government, particularly those entrusted with its leadership. Researchers can search the Cabinet Conclusions by keyword (one of their own choosing or one from a list of keywords capturing a handful of major issues confronting the government in each year), dates, agenda and records of attendance. The Conclusions offer more than documentary evidence of government deliberations and decision making; they are a means of discovering other Cabinet documents. In other words, the Conclusions can offer you the answers to complete your search, but they can also act as the beginning of your search for more and better answers. In addition, the Conclusions are a means of discovering related Cabinet documents, which may include backgrounders and Cabinet memoranda that informed discussions around the Cabinet table. Those records are not digitized and are not available in the database. However, researchers will find references to those Cabinet documents in the Conclusions—and once the number of a document is known, it can be searched using the year it was created and the finding aid 2-15 to locate it.

See the Cabinet Conclusions database for more detailed instructions on search options.

Related resources


Michael Dufresne is an archivist in the Government Archives Division of the Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Open government 101

The first time many of us heard of Open Government may have been in 1980, in the pilot episode of the BBC series “Yes Minister.” The first policy idea of newly-appointed minister Jim Hacker was being “open”; giving citizens the chance to connect with the people they had just elected.

Long-serving civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby was dismayed at this idea, explaining that open government was an absurd concept—one must choose between being open or governing.

Today, citizens and governments across the globe disagree with Sir Humphrey’s outdated ideas. Indeed more than 68 countries have joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a multilateral initiative that advocates openness within government to promote transparency and empower citizens.

Canada joined the OGP in 2011 and the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat released our first Action Plan in 2012. This plan was founded on three pillars: Open Information; Open Data, and Open Dialogue. Our second Action Plan, which builds on the original commitments and adds new commitments in areas such as government spending and contracting data, will be completed this summer.

At Library and Archives Canada (LAC), our main commitment to Open Government centres on open information. We are committed to increasing access to archived federal documents among LAC’s holdings by removing restrictions on this information wherever possible. In February of 2015, we wrote a blog post about Block Review. We’re happy to report that this work continues and that we have now opened almost 18 million pages of records in our holdings! We’re also working to ensure that, wherever possible, government records will be open when transferred to us in the future.

This past summer, we told you about the work we’ve been doing with historical datasets—migrating datasets from our holdings to Canada’s Open Data Portal. To date, we have migrated over 40 datasets. Keep checking our blog to keep up to date with our new additions to the Portal.

Enough about us! How can you get involved? Open Government is about facilitating a two-way conversation. Add your voice to the conversation—the best place to start is the Open Government portal. It’s a one-stop shop for everything the federal government is doing in the Open Government arena (including current consultation opportunities).

Keep checking back for more Open Government updates!

Remembering Canada’s 4th Prime Minister, Sir John Thompson

Today marks the birth date of Sir John Thompson, Canada’s fourth prime minister. Thompson, the youngest son born to John Sparrow Thompson and Charlotte Pottinger in 1845, grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He was Canada’s first prime minister from Nova Scotia, as well as the first Roman Catholic to serve in the role.

After being called to the Nova Scotia bar in 1865, Thompson’s career was marked by participation in municipal and provincial politics. First elected as a Halifax alderman in 1871, Thompson then served as Nova Scotia’s Attorney General in 1878, and became the province’s premier in 1882. After the defeat of the Conservative government later in 1882, Thompson was appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.

In 1885, Thompson was courted by Sir John A. Macdonald to serve as his Minister of Justice. While reluctant, Thompson was persuaded and was elected to the riding of Antigonish. Thompson’s reputation garnered him the support of the Liberal-Conservative Party, and after Macdonald’s death in 1891 and Sir John Abbott’s resignation in November 1892, Thompson was designated as prime minister on December 5, 1892. Continue reading

Métis Scrip

We are pleased to inform you that more than 24,000 references about money scrip (certificates) given to Métis family members were recently added online. These cancelled land scrip certificates were once issued to the Métis by the Department of the Interior in exchange for the relinquishment of certain land claims. A scrip would be issued “to the bearer” and could be applied to the purchase of, or as a down payment on, any Dominion lands open for entry in Manitoba and the Northwest Territories. These scrip were awarded to Métis heads of families and their children in the amounts of $240, $160 and $80.

How to find references

  1. Go to the search screen for Archives Search—Advanced.
  2. In the drop-down menu, select “Finding aid number” and then in the box, enter 15-24.

Screen capture of an advanced Archives Search with the first drop-down menu showing "Finding aid number" and the value of "15-24" and the second drop-down menu showing "Any Keyword and the value "Riel." Continue reading

Underwater Canada: A Researcher’s Brief Guide to Shipwrecks

Shipwrecks, both as historical events and artifacts, have sparked the imagination and an interest in the maritime heritage of Canada. The discovery of the War of 1812 wrecks Hamilton and Scourge, found in Lake Ontario in the 1970s, and the discovery of the Titanic in the 1980s, served to heighten public awareness of underwater archaeology and history.

Whether you are a wreck hunter on the trail of a lost vessel, or a new shipwreck enthusiast eager to explore images and documents that preserve the epic tales of Canadian waters, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has something for you.

Starting your research

First, gather as much information as possible about the shipwreck(s) you are researching. Specifically, you will ideally want to obtain the following information (in order of importance):

  • Name of Vessel
  • Location of accident
  • Date of accident
  • Ship’s port of registry
  • Ship’s official number
  • Year of vessel’s construction

The Ship Registration Index is a helpful resource. The database includes basic information about more than 78,000 ships registered in ports of Canada between 1787 and 1966.

Can’t locate all of the information listed? There’s no cause for concern! Not all of the information is necessary, but it is essential that you know the name of the vessel. All Government records relating to shipwrecks are organized according to the ship’s name.

What is Available?

Using Archives Search, you can locate the following types of material:

Photographs

Maps

  • In Archives Search, under “Type of material”, select “Maps and cartographic material” to narrow your results.
    Government Records

All records listed are found in the documents of the Marine Branch (Record Group 42) and/or Transport Canada (Record Group 24).
Official Wreck Registers, 1870‒1975

  • Wreck Reports, 1907‒1974
  • Register of Investigations into Wrecks, 1911‒1960
  • Marine Casualty Investigation Records, 1887‒1980

Important: Government records contain information about shipwrecks that occurred in Canadian waters, and include all accidents involving foreign vessels in Canadian waters.

Please note: this is not an exhaustive list of resources, but rather a compilation of some of the major sources of documentation available on shipwrecks held at LAC.

Helpful Hints

You can find a number of digitized photographs, maps and documents on the Shipwreck Investigations virtual exhibition. More specifically, check out the collection of digitized Official Wreck Registers in the Shipwreck Investigations Database. Simply check if the name of the vessel you are researching is listed.

Another excellent source of information on shipwrecks is local public libraries. There are many maritime histories and bibliographies that offer reference points to begin your shipwreck research.

Access to Information and Privacy legislation or Donor restrictions and how they affect your access to our collections

Did you know that both government and non-government records held in the archival collections of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) are subject to access restrictions?

For federal government records, the Access to Information Act gives Canadian citizens the right to access information. It is also important to note that, in Canada, there is no “30-year rule” that applies to government documents, even if such rules exist in other countries.

For archival fonds or collections donated by private individuals, there will often be restrictions on research access. These are sometimes called “Donor restrictions.”

For access to both federal government records and documents donated by private individuals, legal mechanisms are involved and must be respected without exception.
So when you need to consult restricted material at LAC, you must factor into your project deadlines the time required to process your request. Processing time will vary based on the request and the materials involved.

For more information on restrictions and how to request access, please consult the Discover the Access Codes for Archival Records at Library and Archives Canada Part I and Part II pages on our blog.

The Canadian Coast Guard celebrates its 50th anniversary- Part I

Black and white photograph of ship cutting a path for icebound vessel.

The CGS Stanley cutting a path for icebound vessels out of Bridgewater, Nova Scotia Source

Did you know that the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG)—which celebrates its 50th anniversary this  year—is heir to a long tradition originating in Canada’s East Coast? It is there that the first Canadian lighthouses and lifeboats were built during the
18th century.

Created in 1962 by the Honourable Leon Balcer, the then Minister of Transport, the CCG’s mission is to ensure safe and accessible waterways for Canadians. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) owns many archival records that document the activities of the CCG since its creation. Today, we invite you to discover some of these holdings, including photographs as well as government and political records.

Browse a few examples of digitized documents in the Archives Search Results page .

PHOTOGRAPHS

GOVERNMENT RECORDS

The Government fonds include textual records, technical drawings and boat plans.

POLITICAL RECORDS

LAC holds the archival fonds of former ministers of Transport, which contain records of the CCG. Here are two examples:

Please remember that not all of our material is available online. To learn more, consult our article How to Consult Material that Is Not Yet Available Online.

To view images, please visit our Flickr set.

Stay tuned for our next blog to discover more Canadian Coast Guard history, including caricatures, audiovisual records and publications.

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – Government Records and Private Archives

As mentioned in previous articles, the collection at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) contains a vast amount of information regarding Queen Elizabeth II. In this last article on The Queen, we present a selection of textual materials held by LAC. While few of them have been digitized, the descriptions are all accessible online so you can discover the contents.

Black and white photograph of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister of Canada Lester B. Pearson in the minirail at Expo 67

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister of Canada Lester B. Pearson in the minirail at Expo 67 (MIKAN 3198474)

As mentioned in previous articles, the collection at LAC contains a vast amount of information regarding Queen Elizabeth II. In this last article on The Queen, we present a selection of textual materials held by LAC. While few of them have been digitized, the descriptions are all accessible online so you can discover the contents.

Government Records

Private Archives

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!

Discover the Access Codes for Archival Records at Library and Archives Canada – Part II

In our post “Discover the Access Codes for Archival Records“, we reviewed four of the most common access codes 90, 32, 10, and 18. However, there are other access codes that you may encounter while undertaking your research. They include access codes 96 and 99.

Restrictions vary (Code 96)

Access code 96 indicates that within a group of records there exists more than one type of access condition. For example, since the Department of Transportation fonds (RG12) contains records that are open (code 90) and others that are restricted (code 32), the fonds-level access condition are indicated by “restrictions vary” (code 96).

A sample record description in the Archives Search database displaying access code 96: RESTRICTIONS VARY.

Access code 96 can be applied to more than just fonds-level descriptions. It can also be linked to series, sub-series and accessions. However, it does not apply to individual volumes and files.

Remember

Access code 96 usually means that there are more specific descriptions available for the records you are researching. In some cases, these records can be accessed by simply clicking on the “lower level descriptions” link in the “Fonds consists of” section of a record description.

A sample record description in the Archives Search database displaying the FONDS CONSISTS OF ROW.

In other cases it will be necessary to consult a printed finding aid. To learn more, read our post Discover Finding Aids.

To be determined / closed pending processing (Code 99)

Access code 99 means that the access conditions for a group of records have yet to be determined. Usually this is because the records are being processed. In the following example, while the photographic material is open, the access conditions for the textual records have yet to be determined:

A sample record description in the Archives Search database displaying access code 99.

Open, no copying (Code 95)

Access code 95 indicates that the records are open and can be consulted, however, at the request of the donor, the records cannot be copied or reproduced.

A sample record description in the Archives Search database displaying access code 95.

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!

Remembering the Titanic at LAC – Part I: Archival Records

One hundred years later, the sinking of the Titanic continues to fascinate and captivate people as perhaps the most famous sea-faring disaster in modern history.  The Titanic was billed as the most grandiose and extravagant ship ever built; it was the pride of the White Star Line. “Not even God himself could sink this ship”, claimed one employee at its launch.  Nonetheless, on its maiden voyage, the Titanic hit an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland and sank on April 14, 1912.  More than 1500 lives were lost.

Did you know?

Within Library and Archives Canada’s collections you can find some interesting records about the Titanic . In fact, over the next few days, The Library and Archives Canada Blog will help you discover some of these records, which deal directly with the sinking of the Titanic and subsequent rescue activities.  These records can be found in our archival government records collection:

  • Records of the Governor General’s Office, RG 7, Series G.21, File 8018, Microfilm Reel T-2295 -Loss of S.S. Titanic , 1912.
  • Records of the Department of Justice, RG 13, Series A-2, Vol.172, File 1912-692, Department of External Affairs – Official letters sent by Titanic, April 1912. (MIKAN 1345549)
  • Records of the Department of Agriculture, RG 17, Vol. 1166, Docket 221220, Department Of External Affairs, Ottawa – Cable From High Commissioner Re: Official Letters on “Titanic”, Date of Docket: 1912/04/16 1992003 (MIKAN 1992003)
  • Records of the RCMP, RG 18, Series A-1, Vol. 425, File 244-12 – Official letters on wrecked steamship Titanic – Duplication of. (MIKAN 865780)
  • Records of the Department of External Affairs, RG 25, Vol. 241, File ME-4-62: Titanic – Lord Mersey’s Report, 1912 (MIKAN 1824285)
  • Records of the Department of External Affairs, RG 25, Vol. 252, File P-1-55: Titanic -Representation to the Court of Inquiry, 1912. (MIKAN 1824538)
  • Records of the Department of External Affairs, RG 25, Vol. 304, File S-7-37: Titanic -Survivors of, 1912 (MIKAN 1825232)
  • Records of the Department of External Affairs, RG 25, Series A-3-a , Vol. 1123, File 1912447: Official Correspondence Lost In Sinking Of “Titanic” To Be Replaced, 1912 (MIKAN 1826832)
  • Records of the Department of External Affairs, RG 25, Vol. 1123, File 1912-485: Facilities for Mr. Maurice Rothschild Re Identification of Bodies of Titanic Passengers, 1912.(MIKAN  1826840)
  • Records of the Department of External Affairs, RG 25, Vol. 1123, File 1912-560: Investigation into the Sinking of Titanic, 1912. (MIKAN 1826856)
  • Records of the Department of External Affairs, RG 25, Series B-1-b , Vol. 252, File : P-1-55 Privy Council Office (Canada) – Titanic – Representations – Court of Inquiry, 1912 (MIKAN 1824538)
  • Records of the Department of External Affairs, RG 25,Series B-1-b, Vol. 304, File S-7-3 7, Secretary of State (Canada) – Titanic – Survivors of – Committee for Relief of, 1912. (MIKAN 1825232)
  • Official Correspondence Lost in Sinking of “Titanic” to be Replaced, RG 25 A-3-a. (MIKAN 1826832)
  • Marine Branch RG 42, Vol. 200, File 32769, Report of a Formal Investigation into the circumstances attending the sinking of the Titanic, 1912-1925. (MIKAN 1640066)
  • Department of Immigration fonds, RG 76, Reel T-4706, Manifest of Passengers from the SS Titanic, arriving at New York on 18 April 1912 aboard the SS Carpathia.

Stay tuned for more information on the Titanic over the next week, as we help you discover Library and Archives Canada’s collection.

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!