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Cabinet Conclusions

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The Records

This research tool provides direct access to descriptions and digitized copies of the Cabinet Conclusions from 1944 to 1976.

Cabinet Conclusions are the records that summarize discussions and decisions of federal Cabinet meetings. With very few exceptions, these documents are prepared for every meeting of Cabinet by the Secretary to the Cabinet, who is also the Clerk of the Privy Council. Although also known as Cabinet minutes, they are not verbatim transcripts of the discussion. They do, however, often reflect the nature of the debate and discussion held at the Cabinet table.

These documents touch on the entire range of subjects which come before the Cabinet, from local and regional development, health care, social policy, the economy, and international affairs. As such they are a window onto the decision making process of the federal government and forces that shape national politics.

The Privy Council Office, which acts as a Secretariat to the Cabinet, only began to record Cabinet Conclusions in 1944. Because the federal Cabinet functions in secret, the concept of documenting discussions and decisions was initially seen as a compromise to Cabinet security. However, with the outbreak of the Second World War, the Cabinet War Committee became the defacto Cabinet, and the need to document decisions took precedence over other concerns. In 1944 this practice was instituted for the full Cabinet. While there were no formal records of Cabinet before this time, a search of the papers of Prime Ministers and Ministers will often lead to information relating to Cabinet discussions.

Cabinet is formed and led by the Prime Minister and it is Canadian practice to include all current Ministers in the membership of Cabinet. Cabinet formulates government policy and priorities, is responsible for the administration of all government departments, for the creation and implementation of government legislation, and for government financial policy. Although Cabinet has no basis in law for its existence, it acts formally as the Privy Council, using various legal instruments, including Orders-in-Council, as its means of conducting business. The Privy Council was established by the British North America Act 1867 to aid and advise the Government of Canada, with the members of Cabinet being a sub-set of the Privy Council.

Cabinet meets most regularly while Parliament is in session, but it also meets during breaks and throughout the summer. It meets more frequently when an urgent situation has arisen which must be dealt with immediately and may meet specifically to address only this one issue. Regular meetings, however, can deal with a surprisingly broad range of topics, both domestic and international.

A set of Cabinet Conclusions is prepared for each meeting and is introduced by a list of those in Attendance and an Agenda. The list of those present identifies the Ministers who were at the meeting, and identifies their portfolio. It also identifies the Secretary of the Cabinet present at the time and other officials attending any particular meeting. The Agenda lists the items of discussion and indicates the point in the document upon which the discussion starts. Items of discussion can be very short or can cover numerous pages. Similarly, agendas may list just one item when a single urgent issue needed to be discussed, or they may be extensive and list many items for discussion in one meeting. Both agendas and lists of attendees can be queried using this research tool.

Cabinet Documents

The discussions in Cabinet are often centred on background reports or memorandum relating to a particular topic or issue. These supporting records are formally known as "Cabinet Documents," and you will often find references within the Cabinet Conclusions when they have been circulated. References will appear in the following format: Cab.Doc. 389-71. You should note that Cabinet Documents are not available online. However, they can be consulted onsite at Library and Archives Canada, or you may order photocopies by using the "Order Form for Photocopies and Reproductions".

The Cabinet Conclusions and Cabinet Documents are held by the Privy Council Office for thirty years and then are transferred to Library and Archives Canada. Each year Library and Archives Canada receives the Cabinet Conclusions and Cabinet Documents for the year thirty-one years previous. Currently we hold the Cabinet Conclusions for the years 1944-1975.

For more contextual information, please consult the series level description of the Cabinet Conclusions.

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The Database

Each unique record contains the following fields: Item; Meeting Date; and Archival Reference.

You can successfully retrieve records from this database by using one of two different strategies. The first approach is to query the database using a keyword against the Item field. The Item field contains the exact text used by the Secretary to the Cabinet to describe the agenda items. In some instances the terms will be self-evident and the terms will be consistent across different meetings. However, in other cases the terms will not be obvious or consistent. In these cases it is advisable to query the database for "Agenda" and look at the words or phrases used in the actual documents.

The second approach to querying the database is to use the Date field to search for a specific date. The Dates are stored in the database as yyyy/mm/dd. By querying 1970/10/15 you can retrieve the Cabinet Conclusions for the meetings on that day, or you can query by 1970/10/$, retrieving the meetings for that month, or 1970$, retrieving the meetings for that year..

Language of the Database

The language of the database reflects the adoption of official languages at the Cabinet table. In February 1970 the Cabinet agreed that they would record Conclusions based on the language of the discussion. Therefore, the database for the years 1970 and 1971 is bilingual, whereas the database for the years prior to 1970 is available only in English as are all the Conclusions.

How do I search by Keyword?

A search by Keyword allows you to find any term or set of terms. Note that a search in this field is not a full text search of the Cabinet Conclusions; it is a search only of the Cabinet Agenda items. To facilitate searching by Key words, researchers have access to the full Cabinet Agendas. By viewing the entire contents of the Agenda, researchers can browse through the items of discussion for any particular meeting, and direct their search terminology accordingly. [See Searching Agendas]

For example:
Type in China and you will retrieve all occurrences of this word as it relates to the Cabinet Conclusions.

How do I increase the number of results appearing per page?

The Number of references by page option allows you to change the number of references appearing on the results page for the duration of the search in progress. By default, the number is set to twenty.

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Search Tips

Searching Key words

Unless you are looking for a specific record, conduct your search using limited terms. Truncate if necessary, ? replaces a character, and * replaces a chain of characters, to allow for possible misspelling. If the search brings up too many references, you can reduce the number of hits by using the appropriate logical connectors.

For example:
If you type Sm?th, you will obtain Smith, Smyth.
If you type financ*, you will obtain finance, finances, financial, etc.

Searching Dates

A search by Date can be used to locate descriptions relating to specified date. This search will retrieve all Conclusions whose date matches the date you indicate; this search can be conducted by year, year and month, or by year, month and day.

For example:
If you type in 1971/01/$, you will get a list of descriptions relating to that month.
If you type in 1971/01/01, you will get a list of descriptions bearing this specific date, if there are any.
If you type in 1971$, you will get a list of descriptions relating to that year.

Searching Agendas

Researchers may benefit from consulting the full Cabinet Agendas to determine the appropriate terminology, and to explore the range of possible topics to be used in a key word search. The Cabinet Agendas have been digitized and are available for consultation through this database.

To retrieve an Agenda, type the year and/or month and/or day of the meeting and limit your search by selecting only Agendas.

If you type 1971/01/$ and limit your search to only Agendas, you will retrieve all of the Agendas relating to that month.

To retrieve all of the Agendas for every meeting currently available online, simply limit your search to only Agendas.

Searching Records of Attendance

It is also possible to retrieve the Attendance records for each Cabinet meeting. These records list which Ministers were present at a meeting and identifies the portfolio held at the time.

To retrieve a record of Attendance, type the year and month and/or day of the meeting and limit your search by selecting only Attendance Records.

If you type 1970/01/29 and limit your search by only Attendance Records, you will obtain the attendance record for any meeting(s) that took place that day.
If you type 1970/01/$ and limit your search by only Attendance Records, you will obtain the attendance record for any meeting(s) that took place that month.
If you type 1970$ and limit your search by only Attendance Records, you will obtain the attendance record for any meeting(s) that took place that year.

What language should I be searching in?

Cabinet Agendas prior to 1970 can only be searched in English. From 1970 on, descriptive entries have been translated before entry into the database, therefore, items can be searched in both French and English.

For example:
A search for financial assistance will retrieve all instances of these words as they appear in the entire database.
A search for "aide financière" will only retrieve items from 1970 and later.

Please note that the majority of the Cabinet Conclusions and surrounding documents are available only in English, as this was the primary working language of the government.

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How to Interpret the Results

A successful query will return a result set page with the number of results determined by the number of records matching the search string and the number of references of pages (defaults to 20 references per page).

Each result page will display a line above the first result which indicates the search term(s) used and the number of successful hits or references.

A successful reference will contain the following fields:

  • Item
  • Meeting Date
  • Reference
  • Associated images: If you click on the drop down box found below the label "The following images are associated with this entry:" you will find a list of page numbers associated with the Item you have requested. Highlighting one of these page numbers will activate a second browser on your desktop in which the requested page will be found.
    You should note that when you click on a second or third page, the new images will be retrieved to the second browser window. Please note that this second browser will not maximize automatically and you will have to maximize this browser from your Taskbar.

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How to use the Records

The images of the Cabinet Conclusions presented to you relate to a specific agenda item retrieved by your search. The images are generally identified by page number and less often by image number (image 1). The page number corresponds directly with the original page number referred to in the Agenda of a particular meeting. The length of discussion of each item can vary from a few sentences to many pages. It may be necessary to scroll down the page to view the item, as it may not be the first listed on the page.

At times, information has been severed from the Cabinet Conclusions. The reason for this severing is identified by the appropriate section of the Access to Information Act and/or the Privacy Act. The removal of material is indicated by annotations on the text or sections of the above Acts cited in place of the exempted items.

Cabinet Documents

Within the text of the discussion there may be references to background reports or Cabinet Memorandum related to the topic. These are known as Cabinet Documents and references will usually appear in the following format: (Cab.Doc. 389-71).

Cabinet Documents are also held by Library and Archives Canada but are not available online. If you wish to consult a Cabinet Document, you must first take note of the Cabinet Document number and the year. The Cabinet Documents are always filed under the same file, "C-20-5" and, therefore, reference to their location can be found by querying "Archives Search" and combining this file number with Finding Aid 2-15 and year of the Cabinet Document.

These volumes are arranged by Cabinet Document number and it is possible to view these records in person at Library and Archives Canada or to order photocopies by using the "Order Form for Photocopies and Reproductions".


We also gratefully acknowledge the financial assistance of the Department of Canadian Heritage, whose ARCHIVED - Canadian Cultural Online Program (CCOP) made this work possible.