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By observing the caretaker convention, the government as a whole and public servants collectively demonstrate “their respect for the democratic will of the people.”

The convention does not mean that government will be paralyzed for the duration of the campaign.

“To the contrary,” the federal guidelines continue, “the routine operation of government must continue and necessary business must be transacted. In the event of emergencies, such as natural disasters, the government must have a free hand to take appropriate action to ensure that the public interest, notably the safety and security of Canadians, is preserved.”

But otherwise: “Government activity in matters of policy, expenditure and appointments should be restricted to matters that are routine, non-controversial or urgent, and in the public interest.”

There is also the option of seeking the approval of the Opposition parties, where the decision simply cannot wait.

Some other cautionary points from the federal guidelines:

“Ministers must defer to the extent possible such matters as appointments, policy decisions, new spending or other initiatives, announcements, negotiations or consultations, non-routine contracts and grants and contributions.

“They must work with deputy ministers to ensure that routine departmental activities are carried out in a low-profile manner.”

Ministers and senior public servants “must be especially vigilant with respect to the distinction between official government business and partisan political activities, taking care to avoid even the appearance that departmental and portfolio resources are being used for campaign purposes.”

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