The work of political staffers in Canadian politics is often maligned. This article argues that aides, or ‘exempt staff’, do essential work in Ottawa and other capitals. Far from being shadowy forces operating outside the law, political aides are in fact closely regulated and contribute to the democratic accountability of governments. Improving the quality of political staff will require better attention to their training and more stable career paths over longer periods of time.
Ministers in the Government of Canada have political aides or political staffers. They are employees whose salaries and benefits are paid from government revenues, but who, are not part of the regular public service. They are hired and fired by the minister, or the prime minister, and are permitted to be explicitly political. In the federal government they are called “exempt staff” in recognition that they are exempt from the provisions of the Public Service Employment Act. They are not recruited by competitive processes. They have none of the guarantees given to public servants and they are free from the strictures of strict non-partisanship.