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Public Sector Universe, 2021

Released: 2022-11-22

Statistics Canada is publishing today the 2021 list of entities in the Public Sector Universe (PSU). This year's product presents public sector units from 2008 to 2021.

The nature and range of industries in which the public sector is involved underlines its economic breadth and influence in Canada.

The public sector comprises all resident institutional units controlled by resident government units, which include all units of the general government sector and resident government business enterprises (GBEs), commonly known as public corporations. This sector consists of 6,135 active units as of this release.

The PSU is a comprehensive list of institutional units that are included in the coverage of Canadian macroeconomic statistics, including the Canadian Government Finance Statistics (CGFS), which were also released today. The list of reporting entities is an essential input into the compilation and dissemination of detailed and meaningful data from the CGFS and the Canadian Classification of Functions of Government. It is also a key element in understanding the data and reconciling them with the fiscal data published by governments.

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

Sector classification decisions of public sector entities available on the Public Sector Universe Tool

This is the second year that Statistics Canada has progressively released detailed information on the methodology used for the sector classification of Canadian public sector entities using a standardized template.

The classification criteria are based on internationally recognized standards of macroeconomic statistics and include the concepts of residence, institutional unit, control and market or non-market production. The methodology is thus harmonized with the prescriptions of the Government Finance Statistics Manual 2014, developed by the International Monetary Fund, and the 2008 System of National Accounts.

The classification decisions will serve to enhance transparency of the sector classification process of entities and to enrich the content of the Canadian Government Finance Statistics program's metadata.

No significant changes in the composition of the Public Sector Universe in 2021

In 2021, there were very few changes in the counts of the PSU. While the number of units in the public sector saw a small decline from last year (down 21 units), the distribution for the various dimensions didn't change when compared with the prior year.

At the end of 2021, units related to local governments (municipalities) and school boards represented the largest proportion in the PSU (4,682 units or 76%), followed by provincial and territorial governments (1,070 units or 17%), including the universities, colleges and health institutions they control. Federal, provincial and territorial, and local GBEs represented 5% (320 units) of the public sector, while the federal government and the Canada Pension Plan and the Quebec Pension Plan made up the remaining portion (63 units).

Linking the PSU information to the Government Finance Statistics (GFS) data allows for an overview of financial performance of the public sector in Canada.

Public sector expenses decline in 2021, while its net worth increases in the year

Government activities account for a significant share of the Canadian economy and the CGFS aggregates reflect this reality.

In 2021, the expenses of the 6,135 public sector units amounted to 48.6% of the total gross domestic product (GDP), with consolidated general government expenses alone representing 44.9% of GDP. The large size of the general government in Canada is primarily because of extensive social protection programs combined with the universal health care and public education systems.

Public sector expenses (48.6% of GDP) saw a significant reduction from their unprecedented high levels reported in 2020 (58.8% of GDP). This decrease was largely driven by a sharp decline in federal government expenses, now down to 18.9% of GDP in 2021 compared with 27.4% last year. With this reduction, provincial and territorial governments represented the largest proportion of consolidated general government expenses in 2021 (24.1% of GDP), repeating an expense pattern from before the COVID-19 pandemic. The smaller expenses also contributed to lowering the public sector deficit (or negative net operating balance) to 3.0% of GDP in 2021 (down from 12.9% in 2020).

Public sector net worth, a comprehensive indicator of wealth, increased significantly in 2021. This indicator, which is the difference between the total value of assets (non-financial and financial) and the total value of liabilities, reached 24.8% of GDP in 2021, up from 9.2% in 2020. Two factors explain this improvement in net worth. On the asset side, public sector units have seen increases in the market value of their fixed assets, natural resources, and financial assets. On the liabilities side, market anticipation of sharp increases in interest rates to counter inflation made the yield on outstanding public sector debt securities less attractive to investors, driving down their market value.

As extensions of government fiscal policy, GBEs also play an important role in the Canadian economy by providing key goods and services to the community and managing some of the government's strategic assets and liabilities. Following last year's reported record-breaking levels of assets and liabilities, Canada's 320 GBE units presented a reduction in their balance sheets. Nevertheless, these public sector units continue to hold elevated stocks of assets (60.8% of GDP) and liabilities (59.8% of GDP) in 2021.

Besides public administration, public sector entities in Canada in the form of GBEs, were active in various industries such as utilities (e.g., hydroelectricity), retail trade (e.g., liquor boards and cannabis stores), transportation (e.g., ports), finance (e.g., deposit insurance), leasing (e.g., convention centres) and recreation (e.g., nature parks).

According to GFS data for GBEs in 2021, 60% of all revenues reported by GBEs in Canada ($173 billion) were accounted for by the 91 provincially and territorially controlled GBEs ($104 billion), with utility enterprises alone recording almost $48 billion in revenue.

GBEs controlled by local (municipal) governments were by far the most numerous (198 or 62% of all GBEs) generating 20% ($35 billion) of total GBE revenue. Local GBEs are active primarily in the utilities and public transit industries.

Federal GBEs generated around the same amount of revenue ($34 billion) as local GBEs despite the fact that there are only 31 federal enterprises. Federal GBEs generated slightly over half ($18 billion) of their revenue from finance and insurance activities (e.g., the Bank of Canada or the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation), with another $12 billion generated by the transportation industry. This was related to operating VIA Rail and port authorities throughout Canada.

  Note to readers

The 2021 list of entities in the Public Sector Universe (PSU) is now available. This year's product presents public sector units from 2008 to 2021.

For more in-depth information about the institutional coverage of the Canadian public sector and the methodology pertaining to the sector classification of public entities please refer to the paper "Best practices for Defining the Canadian public sector".

Canada's public sector—governments and business enterprises they control—provides detailed information on the thousands of institutional units present throughout Canada, including the legal name of the unit, the date of entry into or exit from the public sector and geographical information. This list of institutional units is the universe from which Statistics Canada presents the measurement of Canadian government finance statistics.

An institutional unit is an economic entity that is capable—in its own right—of owning assets, incurring liabilities, and engaging in economic activities and 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 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 marketplace at economically significant prices.

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

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


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

Contact information

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; or Media Relations (

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