Federal government Section
White Papers Introduction

Compiling a list of white papers put out by the Canadian federal government is no easy task; one of the difficulties being the formulation of an acceptable definition of what constitutes a white paper.  The term originated in Britain where it is applied to government documents, reports, statements of policy of insufficient thickness to require the strong blue covers normally used.(1)  In Canada, the white covers were not used consistently, so the colour of the cover cannot be used as a guide and the term itself becomes rather meaningless.

It is in 1939 that the term "white paper" was first applied to a government document in Canada.  The Minister of Finance, Charles A. Dunning, announced in the House the government's intention to "follow this year and possibly in future years, as the house may determine, the practice which is followed in Great Britain and also in Australia of putting together what might be called the statistical and accounting information and explanations into one document which is filed as a white paper and published as an appendix to the budget."(2)  To this day, the budget papers are often referred to as economic white papers.

However, the term white paper is now more commonly applied to official documents presented by Ministers of the Crown which state and explain the government's policy on a certain issue.  This is the definition that we have decided to retain for the purposes of this compilation, thus separating them clearly from the so-called "green-papers" which are issued by government to invite public comment and discussion on an issue prior to policy formulation (3).

In short, you will find here all documents identified by the government as "white papers" plus all those we could find that conform to the above stated definition.  This listing is offered as a working tool rather than a definitive inventory.

  1. WILDING, NORMAN and PHILIP LAUNDY. An Encyclopedia of Parliament. 4th ed. London, Cassell, 1971. p. 787.
  2. CANADA. PARLIAMENT. HOUSE OF COMMONS. Debates 1939. p. 2840.
  3. See Appendix for other definitions of "white paper".

Updated on: 2009.12.16

Revised on: 2009.12.16

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