When the Council made recommendations on policy, it did so on the basis of an internal consensus of its membership that the analysis underpinning the policy advice was valid and that the policy prescription followed from this analysis. To this, its role was to conduct a wide range of economic and policy research for the federal government.
The first chairman was John James Deutsch. Sylvia Ostry, Arthur J. R. Smith, and David W. Slater were also former chairmen. The Council was disbanded in 1992 by Brian Mulroney, Prime Minister of Canada after it published a report suggesting that the separation of Quebec from Canada might not have the dire consequences that Mulroney's government maintained it would have.