Continuity of Government Principles


1.         The following is a description and explanation of each of the five principles of the Continuity of Government Program with notes concerning preparations for their implementation.  These principles were first enunciated by Mr Diefenbaker in the House of Commons in August1958.  In considering each principle, actions and decisions taken through the years which have affected their evolution and adaptation to the changing needs over the intervening years are briefly discussed.

PRINCIPLE #1– Protection of Key Government Elements

“Measures must be taken to protect key government elements in order to ensure government leadership and the provision of essential services in the event of a nuclear attach on North America.”


2.         The measures referred to in this principle consist, basically, of the identification, accommodation and protection of people, equipment and records necessary for the continuation of legitimate government, the survival of the population and the recovery of the Nation from the effects of war.  Protection would have been primarily against radioactive fallout and for the most part was in sites removed from the normal seats of government.

3.         Since Parliament would have been suspended while government was carried out from emergency government headquarters, “key government elements” would have included those functions necessary to ensure the re-appearance of Parliament when the crisis period had passed.  Similarly, arrangements were to be in place to ensure the legality and constitutionality of actions taken by the emergency government.

4.         The actual state of preparedness with regard to each of these factors may be concluded from the following discussions of the remaining principles.

PRINCIPLE #2 – Necessity to be Able to Operate on a Decentralized Basis

“Preparations must make it possible for government to operate on a decentralized basis with cen al, regional and zonal elements.”


5.         Decentralization would have been achieved by providing for Central and Regional government, supplemented by Zonal and Municipal organizations. It was intended that the Central and Regional governments would continue to govern during and after an attack but if the Central government was destroyed or lost communication, the Regional elements would have assumed the powers and responsibilities of the Central government until the Central government was reconstituted or communications were restored.  Note that while the federal parliament did not have the power to delegate its powers it seems that the required cooperation between governments could have been affected, however though “administrative inter-delegations”.  If both Central and Regional governments were to have been destroyed or have lost communication, Zonal and Municipal authorities would have governed to the extent that they could by providing direction to survival and recovery activities until the Regional and/or Central governments were reconstituted or communications restored.

6.         Planning to provide for continuity of government proceeded on the basis that the Federal or Central level of government would have consisted of the Governor-in-Council (i.e., the Governor General and at least four federal Cabinet ministers, one of whom could have been the Prime Minister).  There would have been two backup replications of the Governor-in-Council.  The original plus a replication would have been located at separate sites at all times during a crisis with the second replication located at yet another separate protected site.  Protection would also have been provided for those members of the Cabinet, military staff, key officials and professional, technical and support staff of departments and National Emergency Agencies (NEAs) required to perform functions essential to survival and recovery.  The total numbers of the elected and selected officials would have been quite small, being limited by the relatively few spaces available in the various protected facilities across the nation.

7.         The Regional level of government would have consisted of the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council (the Lieutenant-Governor of each province and at least four provincial Cabinet ministers) and a Commissioner who would probably have been the provincial Premier (but could have been a federal cabinet minister if so appointed by the Prime Minister).  Provision was also made in the REGHQ for key federal and provincial officials, military staff and scientific and technical advisers.

8.         Within each region, provision was made for aggregations of basic peacetime administrative areas, such as municipalities or counties, which were identified as Zones.  Each Zone would have had a Commissioner, probably a provincial Cabinet minister, and representatives from provincial, municipal and perhaps, some federal government departments and agencies.

9.         Although municipal governments were not directly mentioned in the overall concept of the decentralized system of government announced by the Prime Minister in 1958, provision was been made by some (admittedly very few) municipalities for the protection of their governments, particularly in areas where it was impractical to form Zones (e.g., remote communities, large cities). 

10.      At the Central level, it was anticipated that the Governor-in-Council (nominally designated as Team A), would have govern from Ottawa for as long as possible.  This would have necessitated one of the backup Governors-in-Council and key officials (Team B) being in place in the Central Emergency Government Headquarters (CEGHQ) at Carp for a period of, perhaps, several days or weeks working in tandem with the actual government in Ottawa.  Similarly, the other replication of the Governor-in-Council (Team C) would likely have be located in one of the Central Relocation Units (CRUs) at Carleton Place, Kemptville or Smiths Falls, working, again in tandem, with the actual government in Ottawa.  When an attack was considered to be imminent, the Governor-in-Council (Team A), possibly accompanied by selected key officials, would have be transported to the Carp facility (probably by a waiting helicopter).  If that group did not make to the facility, then Team B would have taken over responsibility for governing the country.  Team C would have assumed responsibility for governing if both Teams A and B were destroyed or were unable to communicate with the rest of the country.

11.      Under the concept of the Continuity of Government program, only those people who would have carried out functions which were essential to government leadership and the provision of services necessary for survival would have been accommodated at the emergency government headquarters.  It followed that the Parliamentary context would disappear during the time government was conducted from protected facilities.   This made it necessary that arrangements were in place to ensure that activities were legal and constitutional when carried out during this period by the various orders of government.  It was suggested that additional functions (and thus people) must be protected in order to ensure the re-appearance of Parliament when the crisis period had passed


12.      These arrangements made it necessary that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (Team B) and one other Justice of the Supreme Court (Team C) who would have replaced the Governor General, were briefed on their responsibilities.  At least four Cabinet Ministers for each of Teams B and C were also to have been identified and briefed in advance.  Other officials, technicians and support staff including their back ups were also to have been identified and briefed to the extent possible.

13.      At the Regional level, it was understood, but not stated unequivocally, that the Commissioner would have been the provincial Premier) with the caveat mentioned above).  The most recent planning called for Regional Commissioners to be appointed by the Prime Minister when a War Emergency was declared.  If, for any reason, a Premier could not be appointed, the Prime Minister would have selected another appropriate person, possibly a federal minister.  It was intended that the period of accelerated preparation immediately prior to the outbreak of hostilities would have been used to brief the people appointed.

14.      The Regional Commissioner was a key official in the Continuity of Government program.  At times when the program was discussed with provincial officials, there were indications that provinces would not participate in program preparations if their Premiers were not to be Commissioners.  The program required provincial participation in order to function properly.  Leaving the appointment of the Commissioners until a War Emergency was declared left insufficient time for the Commissioners to be appointed and briefed and for them to select people they want with them which could have contributed to the confusion that would have been rampant at the time.

15.      In most cases, nothing was done to identify Zone Commissioners or any of the other people who would have functioned at that level.

PRINCIPLE #3 – Shelter or Relocation to Protect from Radioactive Fallout

“Governments located in areas where there is a risk of direct attack must be relocated to safer areas where accommodation with protection from radiation is provided.  Governments located in areas where there is a risk of fallout must either be protected from fallout or relocated to accommodation where protection is provided.”


16.      All governments in Canada were potentially at risk from radioactive fallout and various measures were taken to protect some of them from its effects.  It was decided that, no attempt was to be made to protect against weapons blast, except for that minor element of protection integral to fallout protected facilities.  Additionally by locating facilities at some distance from the normal seats of government, the effect of blast would have been minimal. Only a few capitals were actually considered to be potential targets, especially in the early years of the program when the manned bomber threat was considered paramount.

17.      In addition to Central, Regional and Zone Emergency Government Headquarters, there were also Central Relocation Units (CRUs) and Regional Relocation Units (RRUs) which were intended to accommodate the backup Governor-in-Council and ministers and officials not accommodated in the Central and Regional main facilities.

18.      The Central Emergency Government Headquarters (CEGHQ) would have accommodated 535 people.  It provided fallout protection and a significant degree of blast protection, and was in a good state of readiness.  One problem associated with this facility was that its location is public knowledge and if an enemy chose to destroy it, he could have easily have done so.  There were six Central Relocation Units (CRUs), all within a one hundred mile radius of the CEGHQ, which would have housed approximately six hundred additional people who could not have been accommodated in the CEGHQ.  


19.      The CRUs in Carleton Place, Kemptville and Smiths Falls which, combined, would have accommodated 300 people were in a reasonable state of readiness.  The others required either building repairs/modifications or modernization of their telecommunications equipment.

20.      At the Regional level, the situation was less satisfactory.  Of the ten regions, only six had an emergency government facility built to specifications under the Continuity of Government Program – British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.  Prince Edward Island had an interim facility (the basement of an existing federal building).  It was equipped with emergency supplies, but it was only marginally ready for occupancy.  No interim protected facilities existed in Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and New Brunswick.  A modern, multipurpose facility had been designed for New Brunswick but its construction was cancelled at the last minute for political reasons.  Both Saskatchewan and New Brunswick were actually high-risk areas for radioactive fallout from nuclear detonations against the United States retaliatory strategic missile fields and SAC bomber airfields.  Protected facilities were not be provided in the Northwest Territories or Yukon.  A Regional Relocation Unit (RRU) was planned to support each REGHQ.  There were three RRUs which had space designated and were equipped with inventory, but which could not have been effectively used without major renovations.

21.      Zone Emergency Government Headquarters (ZEGHQ) existed only in those provinces that had Regional Emergency Government Headquarters (REGHQ), but not all were operational.  For example, of the six zones in British Columbia three were “designated” only, meaning that space had been identified but not actually developed.  Two of the three Zone Emergency Government Headquarters (ZEGHQ) in Alberta were functional as were the two in Manitoba.  However, of the seven Zones in Ontario, three had designated space only and were equipped with inventory and obsolescent communications.  None were functional.  Of the nine ZEGHQs planned for Quebec, one was developed and five had designated space with inventory.  The three ZEGHQs in Nova Scotia were functional because the Nova Scotian Government had integrated the in to their peacetime emergency planning.

22.      With exception of the CEGHQ and the REGHQs, furniture and office equipment were antiquated, of 1960s vintage and in many cases of doubtful use because of corrosion, excess shelf life and lack of servicing. 

23.      With regard to telecommunications, an essential element in this decentralized system, it was the responsibility of the federal government, specifically the Department of National Defence, to provide for telecommunications between the various emergency government headquarters sites, down to and including the level of Zone Emergency Government Headquarters (communications for ZEGHQ to Municipal Emergency Government Headquarters was the responsibility of the provinces).  The Samson Communication system installed by DND in the late seventies was so structured that ZEGHQs would not have been able to communicate with one another within the same region nor, in some instances, with their own REGHQ without going outside the region.  For example, the ZEGHQ at Portage La Prairie, Manitoba could only communicate with the REGHQ at Shilo by passing through REGHQ Borden.  While RECHQ Borden had to route via REGHQ Debert to communicate with the REGHQ in Valcartier.  Implicit to the concept of Continuity of Government was the autonomy of a Region in the event of a communication break with the Central government.  With the adoption of the Samson system, this autonomy was destroyed.  Further, communications between Central Relocation Units that was automatic by virtue of switching devices in the CEGHQ, now required manual intervention.

24.      There were additional problems with communications.  Telephone lines to CBC studios were not connected, no telephones had been installed in some of the Central Relocation Units and, perhaps of most importance, little had been done to protect the communications facilities against electro-magnetic pulse – a phenomenon of nuclear explosions which could make communications, and other equipment with electronic components, unusable.

25.      An effective communications capability was essential to the Continuity of Government program.  This was best exemplified by a consideration of the period during which Teams A, B, and C were working in tandem.  High quality secure data and document transmission and voice communication between Otawa (Team A), the CEHGQ (Team B) and the CRU in which Team C was located would have been essential.  The same requirement existed between Regional facilities and the Central facility and between Regional headquarters and Zones.

PRINCIPLE #4 – Clear Lines Of Succession Needed

“Lines of succession for senior elected officials and government officials must be established.”


26.      As described earlier, the Continuity of Government concept called for backups to the Governor-in-Council, and provided for decentralization with the elements of government being able to act autonomously, if need be.  It was intended that Regions be prepared to assume responsibilities of the Central Government if the Central Government was destroyed or was unable to communicate.  Similarly, Zones were to have been prepared to manage survival operations, on their own, if the Central and Regional levels were eliminated or communications cut off.

27.      The circumstances under which the backup governments at the Region and Zone levels assumed control, had to be specified, as had the functions of each element when all were operational and when each was operating autonomously.  There had to be assurance, too, that authority existed for the various levels of the decentralized government to assume control, if necessary, so that there could be no question as to who was in charge at any given time nor of his/her legal authority to act.


28.      While the Governor-in-Council was backed up federally, no such authority existed for backup to the Lieutenant Governor-in-Council provincially.

29.      There was another factor concerning lines of succession that should be noted.  For each of the elected and appointed officials designated to go to a protected facility, it would have been necessary to provide at least one alternate in case the individual identified in the first instance was unable or unwilling to assume their emergency government duties when the time came for activating the emergency government facilities.

PRINCIPLE #5– Essential Government Records to be Available to Officials

“Essential government records necessary to the conduct of survival and recovery functions must be identified and made accessible to wartime government.”


30.      Records related to activities necessary for fighting the war and conducting wartime survival operations would have been needed in all emergency government headquarters.  Each of the government departments, and agencies with a role to perform in emergency government facilities during the shelter period, was required to identify the records it would have needed to carry out its function.  It was a responsibility of National Archives of Canada to ensure that such records were safeguarded and available in the emergency government facility to which the department was assigned.  This would have required the pre-positioning of records before and during the activation of the facilities.

31.      There was a growing practice in federal departments and agencies of maintaining records on electronic equipment of various types.  No similar equipment existed in any of the emergency government facilities and so provision was to be made for records needed during the shelter period to be transferred to “hard copy” unless the necessary EMP protected electronic equipment is installed.

32.      It was anticipated that the federal government would want to conduct business from the Ottawa for as long a period as possible.  This would have meant that the backup Governors-in-Council should have been in location in the Central facility and one Central Relocation Unit, monitoring the activities of the actual government, from the time that the international situation becomes critical.  Thus, duplicate records would have been needed for the backup Teams.  A similar situation would have prevailed at the Regional level.


33.      With regard to the period of recovery from attack, National Archives had taken measures to protect records of those few federal departments did provide material to them.  However, these were the only measures taken to protect records from the possible effects of attack.  Records maintained on computers would have been susceptible to damage from electro-magnetic pulse and, obviously, having these damaged or destroyed would have seriously impeded recovery. 

               ã  Dave Peters – The Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War Museum, (last revised Jan 2003)