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Public Sector Universe, 2018

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Released: 2019-11-20

The contribution of public institutions is vital to the social and economic well-being of Canadians. Together, these institutions support the generation and redistribution of income and wealth, offering a wide array of essential services such as health, education, public order and safety, or economic affairs.

The public sector universe is a comprehensive list of institutional units that define the coverage of the Canadian macroeconomic statistics, including the Canadian Government Finance Statistics (CGFS), also released today. The list of reporting entities is an essential input into the production of detailed and meaningful CGFS and the Canadian Classification of Functions of Government. It is a key element in understanding and reconciling these to fiscal data published by governments.

The public sector consists of all resident institutional units controlled by resident government units, which includes all units of the general government sector and resident government business enterprises (GBEs), commonly referred to as public corporations. It is comprised of over 6,000 entities.

In 2018, 195 active health entities were added to the list, including health boards, social service organizations and community boards, and other health and social service organizations. The nature and range of industries in which the public sector is involved underlines its economic breadth and influence in Canada.

The distribution of public sector entities can be viewed from sectoral, provincial–territorial and industrial dimensions.

In 2018, 77% of publicly-owned entities were related to local governments (municipalities) and school boards, followed by provincial–territorial governments (10%). Federal, provincial–territorial and local GBEs represent 5% of the public sector, while universities, colleges, health, and Canada and Quebec pension plans make up the remaining portion.

The consolidated general government revenues and expenses represented about 40% of GDP, while all assets represented 122% of GDP and total liabilities represented 106% of GDP. Although it does not have the largest number of units, the provincial–territorial government sectors represented the largest subsector in 2018 for all CGFS main financial aggregates (revenue, expense, assets and liabilities). This subsector is characterized by extended responsibilities in the areas of health, education, social services, economic affairs and the management of natural resources.

The most notable contribution of GBEs in Canada is in the management of government assets and liabilities, adding on a consolidated basis around 20% of GDP for both aggregates.

Besides public administration, public sector entities in Canada were active in various industries such as utilities (e.g., hydro), retail trade (e.g., liquor authorities), transportation (e.g., ports), finance (e.g., deposit insurance) and education (e.g., school boards).

With the recent legalization of cannabis, a new wholesale, retail and distribution of cannabis industry has been added to the government portfolio. Across Canada, each jurisdiction has the power to make the wholesale and retail aspects of cannabis private or public. Online sales are publicly controlled, except in Nunavut, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. For the retail outlets there is a blend across Canada, with retail sales publicly controlled in five jurisdictions, while they are private or a mix of public and private in the others. At this time, Nunavut does not do any retail sales, only private online sales.

Linking the public sector universe with government finance statistics allows some interesting analysis. For example, in 2018, nearly two-thirds of all revenues ($159 billion) reported by GBEs in Canada were accounted for by the 93 provincially and territorially controlled GBEs ($98 billion), with utility industries alone recording more than $42 billion in revenues.

GBEs controlled by local (municipal) governments were by far the most numerous (200, or 61% of all GBEs), while they generated 19% ($31 billion) of total GBE revenues. Local GBEs are primarily active in utility and public transit industries.

Federal GBEs generated the same level of revenues as local GBEs despite the fact that there are only 33 enterprises. Federal GBEs generated over half ($18 billion) of their revenues from finance and insurance activities (e.g., Bank of Canada or the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation), with another $11 billion generated by the transportation industry. This was related to operating VIA Rail and port authorities throughout Canada.

  Note to readers

The 2018 list of entities in the public sector universe is now available. This year's product introduces entities from the health sector that were part of the public sector from 2008 to 2018.

Canada's public sector—governments and business enterprises they control—provides details of the thousands of institutional units present throughout Canada, including operating name, date of entry or exit from the public sector and geographical perspectives. This list of institutional entities constitutes the universe from which the measurement of Canadian government statistics is presented by Statistics Canada.

An institutional unit is defined as an economic entity that is capable, in its own right, of owning assets, incurring liabilities, and engaging in economic activities and in transactions with other entities.

Ministries, departments, agencies, boards, commissions, judicial authorities, legislative bodies, and other entities that make up a government are not institutional units if they do not have the authority to own assets, incur liabilities, or engage in transactions in their own right. In general, all entities funded by appropriations made in accordance with a budget controlled by the legislature are not separate institutional units and are treated as constituting a single institutional unit. Government business enterprises are government controlled, public financial and non-financial corporations engaged in commercial operations involving the sale of goods and services to the public in the market place at economically significant prices.

The last component of Canada's public sector universe (Indigenous governments) will be introduced in future releases of the public sector universe list.

Calculations as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) are based on GDP at current market prices, expenditure-based, estimates for Canada, the provinces and the territories, available in table 36-10-0222-01.


The publication Public Sector Universe (Catalogue number68-516-X) is now available in HTML format.

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