Cabinet-making in Canada

The wake of the 42nd General Canadian election the House of Commons has returned a majority Liberal government under the leadership of Justin Trudeau. As we discussed earlier, one of his first priorities is the appointment of the 29th Canadian Ministry and what will become the Liberal government cabinet (set to happen on 4 Nov 15 with a Swearing-in Ceremony at Rideau Hall). These collective appointments will become the executive arm of government, one of the most important parliamentary institutions, so let’s take a look at what goes into building a modern Canadian cabinet, and the procedure and law that surrounds its creation.

House of Commons Procedures and Practice 2nd Ed explains executive authority as “vested in the Sovereign and exercised by the Governor in Council.” It goes on to further explain that this authority is exercised “by and with the advice and consent of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada; in practice, it is the Governor General acting with the advice and consent of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.” Privy Councillors are appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister and these appointees are styled “Honourable” for life (the Prime Minister being styled “Right Honourable” for life).

It is important to distinguish between the Ministry, the cabinet and the Privy Council. From the House of Commons Procedure and Practice 2nd Ed:

Although the terms “Ministry” and “Cabinet” are commonly used interchangeably, in fact a Ministry is composed of both Cabinet Ministers and Secretaries of State. Most Cabinet appointees are designated Ministers in charge of government departments (or ministries) although some may be given responsibility for an important policy portfolio.[156] Secretaries of State are assigned to assist Cabinet Ministers in specific areas within their portfolios.[157] They are members of the Ministry (sworn to the Privy Council) but not of Cabinet.[158] In addition, the Parliament of Canada Act provides for the appointment of Parliamentary Secretaries (Members who assist Cabinet Ministers but who are not members of the Ministry).[159] Finally, provision may be made for the appointment of an Acting Minister in the event a Minister is absent or incapacitated, or the office is vacant.

The appointments made in the formation of the Ministry and cabinet represent one of the most important decisions made by a governing Prime Minister. Justin Trudeau has an 184 member strong caucus from which to draw his Ministry and build a cabinet. He has already begun to inform Canadians on how he will approach the formation by the inclusion of 50/50 men and women and a reach out to aboriginal Canadians. Considering that the Liberal party swept through 4/5 Canadian regions, Trudeau will have a significant pool of people to draw experience and representation on his cabinet. House of Commons Procedure and Practice 2nd Ed explains the Prime Minister’s prerogative regarding the formation and composition of the cabinet:

A Prime Minister’s choice of Ministers is influenced by political considerations respecting, for example, geography, gender and ethnicity. However, the Prime Minister alone decides on the size of the Ministry and what constitutes an appropriate balance of representation.

Swearing-in ceremony of Canada's new Prime Minister, The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, and his cabinet at Rideau Hall. Photo by Julie Oliver, Ottawa Citizen. Canwest News Service.
Swearing-in ceremony of Canada’s new Prime Minister, The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, and his cabinet at Rideau Hall. Photo by Julie Oliver, Ottawa Citizen. Canwest News Service.

The exact size of Canadian Ministries and cabinets have fluctuated and for the most part have grown over the course of Canada’s history. Pierre Trudeau remarked in his Memoirs in a caption for a photo showing his cabinet that the photo was from a “time when cabinets could fit around a single table.” In the featured image for this post, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker is seen with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Governor General Vincent Massey and the entire 18th Canada Ministry (National Film Board of Canada, MG01/XVII/JGD438). The inline photo is from the swearing-in ceremony of the 28th Canadian Ministry chaired by Stephen Harper. You can see the significant difference in size and visible representation from 1957 to 2006.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s