In the run-up to an election campaign the Cabinet Office routinely prepare transition materials for an incoming, or returning, government. This provides overviews of government finances and the pressures, issues and opportunities in major economic and social policy areas. Advice is also prepared on time-sensitive issues that will require immediate attention following an election.
Options are provided on the architecture of government, including various approaches to the number, mandates, and composition of ministries. And there are "to-do" lists which outline the key steps and decisions required of a new government along the road to the swearing-in of a new Cabinet and the development of a Throne Speech.
During the course of an election campaign it is common, if not a convention, that the Cabinet Office, through the chief public servant (Cabinet Secretary or Clerk of the Privy Council), reaches out to the main opposition parties, as well as the government of the day, to brief the parties' transition teams on public service transition plans - and to test if the public service's planning meets the expectations of the contenders. This has been done routinely in Ontario over the past several elections and has worked well. It is also done at the federal level, although some have speculated that the current federal government is uncomfortable with public servants reaching out to political opponents during the current election campaign. That's an open question but we can probably guess the answer.
As an Ontario Cabinet Secretary the most fascinating experience I had during elections campaigns was dealing with complaints from opposition parties about breaches in written election period conventions. A common concern is that government ministers are showing up at election events in their formal role as minister - as opposed to a candidate (ministers maintain their ministerial portfolios during an election, but must strictly separate any required ministerial duties from campaigning). We have seen examples of this in the current federal election campaign where ministers have made announcements about government policy - clearly in their role as ministers - but in front of cheering placard-waving supporters, thus mixing government activity with a campaign event. When I brought opposition party complaints about this sort of activity to the attention of the premier's office of a sitting government, these activities were quickly shut down and not repeated, This was a hugely sensitive and yet important task, but my role and responsibilities were recognized by all sides and, more importantly, so were the written rules of the game during election periods. Let's hope things are working this way in Ottawa right now.
In my next post - what happens when there is a change in government ...