What is a public agency?
Generally, a public agency is a board, commission, tribunal or other organization:
- established by government but not part of a government department;
- that has been given responsibility to perform a public function;
- that is accountable to government;
- that has some degree of autonomy from government; and
- for which the government holds the primary power of appointment.
The Government of Alberta uses the terms “public agency” and “agencies, boards and commissions” (ABCs) interchangeably.
There are 2 types of public agencies in Alberta:
- those that meet the criteria of the Alberta Public Agencies Governance Act (APAGA) (PDF, 529 KB)
- those that fall outside the scope of APAGA (non-APAGA public agencies)
For further information on which public agencies meet this criteria, please see sections 1(1)(i), 1(4) and 1(5) of APAGA.
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Non-APAGA public agencies are governed by establishing legislation and are encouraged to follow good governance and appointment practices as outlined in the Public Agencies Governance Framework (PDF, 285 KB). The criteria outlined above applies to many non-APAGA public agencies, with the exception that government often does not hold the primary power of appointment.
Accountability to government
Public agencies operate arm's length from government. However, public agencies are linked to particular ministries based on their mandate and enabling legislation and are accountable to the responsible minister.
Some of Alberta's public agencies are governed by representative boards where a certain number of director positions are allocated to specific stakeholder groups. Often, the selection of these individuals is assigned by the government to the stakeholder group. Once the stakeholder has nominated a candidate, the individual is generally appointed to the role by Cabinet or the responsible minister.
In other cases, both the selection and appointment of these individuals is assigned by the government to the stakeholder group. These representative boards are unique, as government doesn't play a role in the approval of these appointments.
The Alberta Public Agencies Governance Act (APAGA) and the Public Agencies Governance Framework provide mechanisms to ensure that public agencies are governed appropriately and in the public interest.
Categories of public agencies
Alberta's public agencies can be divided into 5 categories:
- regulatory agencies license, make rules and/or oversee a sector (e.g. the Agricultural Products Marketing Council). Adjudicative agencies make independent, quasi-judicial decisions (e.g. the Metis Settlements Appeals Tribunal). Some public agencies may perform both regulatory and adjudicative functions (e.g. the Natural Resources Conservation Board).
- Public Trust
- agencies administer provincial financial and/or other assets in the public interest. Examples include the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (financial assets) or the Alberta Foundation for the Arts (other assets).
- Corporate Enterprise
- agencies provide or sell goods or services to the public in a commercial manner (e.g. Alberta Treasury Branches).
- Service Delivery
- agencies provide and/or direct government services (e.g. Alberta Health Services Board and the boards of post-secondary institutions such as the Board of Governors of the University of Alberta).
- agencies provide advice to government (e.g. Northern Alberta Development Council).