By Evert Lindquist and Robert P. Shepherd
First published: 19 June 2023, in IPAC’s Canadian Public Administration Journal


Following surges of spending and staff hiring to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trudeau government announced a strategic policy review in the 2022 Budget to secure savings of $6 billion. There has been little apparent progress by May 2023 and opaque communications. This is surprising because Canada was once considered an international exemplar for spending reviews, needs to learn from the pandemic experience, has a worrisome medium-to-long-term federal spending trajectory, and the governance and economic context has rapidly evolved. This article identifies different kinds of spending reviews and design considerations, reviews Canada’s experience with reviews since the early 1980s, considers recent OECD experience and exemplars, and argues that its spending reviews have become increasingly selective and closed. We suggest the Canadian government should institutionalize annual spending reviews, which can be scaled up or down, and that this points to more fundamental issues for reform and building a new governance culture.

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