Deputy Minister of National Defence



The Deputy Minister of National Defence is appointed under the National Defence Act by the Governor-in-Council (the Cabinet), on the advice of the Prime Minister. It is the role of the Deputy Minister to articulate a corporate vision for the Department. Deputy Ministers ensure they have the right people, work environment and capacity to ensure the Department's success and are uniquely responsible to exemplify, in their actions and behaviours, the best values of the public service, and to infuse those values into all aspects of the work of their department.

They are also required to manage a complex set of multiple accountabilities which arise out of various powers, authorities and responsibilities attached to the position. The Deputy serves as the senior civilian advisor to the Minister of National Defence and provides him or her with the broadest possible expert support in all of the Minister’s responsibilities, except for partisan political activities. This includes supporting the Minister in consulting and informing Parliament and the Canadian public on defence issues. As a result of their role in the collective management of the government, Deputy Ministers are also accountable to the Prime Minister for responding to the policies of the Ministry as a whole and to the requirements of the Treasury Board and the Public Service Commission.

Specifically, the DM is responsible for:

Policy Advice

The Deputy plays the central role in formulating advice for the Minister on policy matters. Within the priorities, objectives and standards established by the Government, the Deputy Minister must provide advice on the possible impact of initiatives on the public, the Department, and the government. Advice must be timely and candid, presented fearlessly, and provide the best possible policy options based on impartial review of the public good and the declared objectives of the Minister and the Government. It must also demonstrate policy coherence from the perspective of departmental and portfolio management.

Departmental Management

The Deputy is responsible for the day-to-day management of the Department on behalf of the Minister. By law, Deputy Ministers act under the management and direction of their Minister. In order to fulfill their duties, Deputy Ministers require certain authorities, including the authority to exercise the Minister's powers, which flows from the Interpretation Act. In addition, certain provisions in the Financial Administration Act, the Public Service Employment Act, and the Official Languages Act assign some powers directly to the deputy head.

Deputy Ministers also carry a general obligation of accountability to the Treasury Board for the overall management capacity and performance of the department. In order to assist in managing this accountability and to ensure performance is subject to regular review, deputy ministers are required to implement the Treasury Board Secretariat’s Management Accountability Framework.

The Financial Administration Act itself assigns to the Deputy Minister specific responsibilities for the prudent management of allocated resources, which are subject to compliance with certain policies, regulations, standards, and periodic audit.

Another major element of the Deputy Minister's job as departmental manager involves the management of human resources. Responsibilities relating to personnel management in the public service, including appointment, employer/employee relations, and the organization of departments, are assigned to the deputy head directly rather than through the Minister.

Accounting Officer

Under amendments made by the Federal Accountability Act, the Financial Administration Act designates Deputy Ministers as accounting officers for their organizations. Under the legislation, the Deputy is accountable before Parliamentary committees and required by law to provide information and explanations to committees, and in so doing to assist Parliament in holding the government to account. This legislative change makes the Deputy responsible for establishing an independent departmental audit committee and for ensuring that an adequate financial oversight regime is in place.

Interdepartmental Coordination

The Deputy is an important link for the Minister to the wider government machinery for policy development and decision-making. A Deputy Minister’s policy advice must also be mindful of the Minister's collective responsibility and ensure that advice is drawn from an appreciation of the government-wide agenda and the impacts of a particular initiative.

In preparing proposals for Cabinet consideration, other departments must be consulted so that the views of the Prime Minister and other Ministers are taken into account, and disagreements identified and resolved. The support and collaboration of other Ministers may also be necessary for the success of a proposal, and the need to coordinate the responsibilities of several Ministers in order to take certain initiatives is now the rule rather than the exception. This is done through inter-departmental working groups and consultation or negotiation with other Ministers or their officials. The Deputy Minister of National Defence sits on a number of interdepartmental committees including the Deputy Minister Coordination Committee on Afghanistan, the Deputy Minister Committee on Economic Trends and Policy and the Deputy Minister's Committee on Global Trends, Foreign Affairs and Defence.

International Defence Relations

The Deputy oversees issues affecting Canada’s international defence relations, including: bi-lateral defence relations with countries around the world and engagement with organization such as the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NORAD, the European Union, the African Union, and the Organization of American States, among others.

Public Service Renewal

Deputies are collectively responsible for the development of the public service of today and tomorrow and as such each Deputy holds the responsibility for advancing the four priorities identified by the Clerk in his Annual Report to the Prime Minister: planning, recruitment, employee development and enabling infrastructure.

Federal-Provincial Relations

The Deputy supports the Minister’s responsibility for federal-provincial relations through ensuring proper consultation on federal-provincial-territorial aspects of policies and programs under the defence mandate, and ensuring coordination with other intergovernmental initiatives

Portfolio Management

The Deputy assists the Minister in the management of the other organizations of Defence Portfolio, including through responsibility for Defence Research and Development Canada and by overseeing financial and administrative matters of Communications Security Establishment Canada.


For more information on the role of Deputy Ministers please see:


John Forster

Deputy Minister John Forster

Deputy Minister of the Department of National Defence

Professional Experience

Mr. Forster was appointed Deputy Minister of the Department of National Defence (DND) effective February 2, 2015.

Mr. Forster served as Deputy Head and Chief of the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) from 2012-2015.

Prior to his appointment as Chief, CSEC, Mr. Forster served as the Associate Deputy Minister of Infrastructure from 2009 to 2012, where he oversaw the design and delivery of many of the Government’s infrastructure stimulus programs under its Economic Action Plan. He joined Infrastructure Canada in 2006 as the Assistant Deputy Minister of Policy and Communications, and was responsible for policy development, communications and research and oversaw the launch of the Building Canada Plan.

Previous to his tenure with Infrastructure Canada, Mr. Forster was the Associate Assistant Deputy Minister for Safety and Security at Transport Canada where he developed a transportation security strategy and focused on transportation security issues in aviation, rail, transit and marine modes. Previously he worked in various departments where he held a number of responsibilities in transportation, environmental policy and natural resource development.


Mr. Forster has a Bachelor of Science from the University of Toronto and a Master of Business Administration from York University. He has completed studies in environmental economics at Harvard.

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