Raison d’être, mandate and role: who we are and what we do

Raison d’être

On behalf of the people of Canada, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and the Department of National Defence (DND) stand ready to perform three key roles:

  • Protecting Canada and defending our sovereignty;
  • Defending North America in cooperation with the United States, Canada's closest ally; and
  • Contributing to international peace and security through operations around the world, most often in partnership with allies from other countries.

The National Defence Act establishes DND and the CAF as separate entities, operating within an integrated National Defence Headquarters, as they pursue their primary responsibility of providing defence for Canada and Canadians.

Mandate and role

This mandate is the responsibility of the Minister of National Defence (MND). The MND presides over the Department and over all matters relating to DND and the CAF, as established by the National Defence Act (NDA).

DND has a close relationship with Veterans Affairs Canada, as demonstrated by the Minister of Veterans Affairs’ dual role as Associate Minister of National Defence. The position is provided for in the NDA. The Associate Minister is responsible for defence files, as mandated by the Prime Minister, with the specific priority of ensuring a seamless transition for CAF members leaving the military. 

The MND is assisted by the Deputy Minister (DM), who is appointed by the Governor-in-Council, on the advice of Cabinet. The DM is the MND’s most senior civilian advisor, and is authorized under the law to carry out, on the Minister’s behalf, many aspects of the management and direction of the Department. He is responsible for policy advice, departmental management, interdepartmental coordination, international defence relations, public service renewal, federal-provincial relations, and portfolio management. He is also an Accounting Officer under the Financial Administration Act and is accountable before Parliamentary Committees to provide explanations on matters for which he is responsible.

The Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) is the primary provider of military advice to the Government, has direct responsibility for the command, control and administration of the CAF, morale and welfare and personnel support programs of members and their families, and is appointed by the Governor-in-Council, on the advice of Cabinet. The CDS advises the MND on issues such as current and future military requirements, force capabilities, possible courses of action and the consequences of undertaking (or failing to undertake) various military activities. The CDS is also responsible for maintaining international military relations with Canada’s allies and partners. The CDS is accountable to the MND for the conduct of all CAF activities, as well as for the readiness and the ability to fulfill military commitments and obligations undertaken by the Government. The CDS is also the advisor to the Prime Minister and Cabinet on major military developments and issues.

For more general information about the department, see the Supplementary information section of this report. For more information on the department’s organizational mandate letter commitments, see the Minister’s mandate letter on the Prime Minister of Canada’s website 3.