Cabinet of Canada

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The Cabinet of Canada (French: Cabinet du Canada) is a body of ministers of the Crown that, along with the Canadian monarch, and within the tenets of the Westminster system, forms the government of Canada. Chaired by the prime minister, the Cabinet is a committee of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and the senior echelon of the Ministry, the membership of the Cabinet and ministry often being co-terminal; as of November 2015 there are no members of the latter who are not also members of the former.

For practical reasons, the Cabinet is informally referred to either in relation to the prime minister in charge of it or the number of ministries since Confederation. The current cabinet is the Trudeau Cabinet, which is part of the 29th Ministry. The interchangeable use of the terms cabinet and ministry is a subtle inaccuracy that can cause confusion.



The government of Canada, formally referred to as Her Majesty's Government,[1][2] is defined by the constitution as the Queen acting on the advice of her Privy Council;[3][4] what is technically known as the Queen-in-Council,[5] or sometimes the Governor-in-Council,[6] referring to the governor general as the Queen's stand-in. However, the Privy Council—composed mostly of former members of parliament, current and former chief justices of Canada, and other elder statesmen—rarely meets in full; as the stipulations of responsible government require that those who directly advise the monarch and governor general on how to exercise the Royal Prerogative be accountable to the elected House of Commons, the day-to-day operation of government is guided only by a sub-group of the Privy Council made up of individuals who hold seats in parliament.[4] This body of ministers of the Crown is the Cabinet, which has come to be the council in the phrase Queen-in-Council.

One of the main duties of the Crown is to appoint as prime minister the individual most likely to maintain the confidence of the House of Commons; this is usually the leader of the political party with a majority in that house, but when no party or coalition holds a majority (referred to as a hung parliament), or similar scenario, the governor general's judgement about the most suitable candidate for prime minister must be brought into play.[7] The prime minister thereafter heads the Cabinet. The Queen is informed by her viceroy of the acceptance of the resignation of a prime minister and the swearing-in of a new ministry,[7] and she remains fully briefed through regular communications from her Canadian ministers and holds audience with them whenever possible.[8]

Selection and structure

The governor general appoints to the Cabinet persons chosen by the prime minister—John A. Macdonald once half-jokingly listed his occupation as cabinet maker—through a complex selection process; in addition to necessary personal qualifications of the potential ministers, there are also a number of conventions that are expected be followed. For instance, there is typically a minister from each province in Canada, ministers from visible minority groups, female ministers and, while the majority of those chosen to serve as ministers of the Crown are Members of Parliament, a Cabinet may also include a senator, especially as a representative of a province or region where the governing party won few or no ridings. Efforts are further made to indulge interest groups that support the incumbent government and the party's internal politics must be appeased, with Cabinet positions sometimes being a reward for loyal party members.

A meeting of the Cabinet of William Lyon Mackenzie King in 1930

It is not legally necessary for Cabinet members to have a position in parliament; however, if such a person is appointed, he or she will rapidly seek election as a Member of Parliament or will be summoned to the Senate.[9]

As with other Westminster derived governments, but unlike the United States Cabinet, the size and structure of the Canadian Cabinet is relatively malleable, the slate of Cabinet positions tending to be substantially restructured periodically, the last major period of realignment occurring between 1993 and 1996. Throughout the 20th century, Cabinets had been expanding in size until the Cabinet chaired by Brian Mulroney, with a population of 40 ministers. Mulroney's successor, Kim Campbell, reduced this number, and Jean Chrétien eliminated approximately 10 members of the ministry from the Cabinet, so that by 1994 there were a total of 23 persons in Cabinet. Under the chairmanship of Paul Martin, the number increased again to 39, in the vicinity of which it has remained; the Cabinet proper currently comprises 31 ministers, with another 7 members of the ministry who are not of the cabinet.[10]

Cabinet itself—or full Cabinet—is further divided into committees. The Treasury Board, overseeing the expenditure of the sovereign's state funds within every department, is one of the most important of these, as is the Priorities and Planning Committee, often referred to as the inner Cabinet, which is the body that sets the strategic directions for the government, approves key appointments, and ratifies committee memberships. Other Cabinet committees include: Operations, Social Affairs, Economic Growth and Long-Term Prosperity, Foreign Affairs and Security, Environment and Energy Security.[11] Each committee is chaired by a senior minister whose own portfolio normally intersects with the mandate of the committee he or she is chairing.

Ministers, secretaries, and deputies

The 16th Canadian Ministry, headed by William Lyon Mackenzie King, on the grounds of Rideau Hall, 19 June 1945

Each minister of the Crown is responsible for the general administration of at least one government portfolio and heads a corresponding ministry or ministries, known in Canada as departments or agencies. The most important minister, following the premier, is the Minister of Finance, while other high-profile ministries include foreign affairs, industry, justice, and health. The official order of precedence does not follow the same pattern, however, with ministers being listed in the order of their appointment to the Privy Council or, if appointed to the Privy Council on the same day, in order of election or appointment to parliament.[12]

Unique positions in Cabinet are those such as Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and President of the Queen's Privy Council, who have no corresponding department, and some ministers (such as the Minister for International Cooperation) head agencies under the umbrella of a department run by another minister. Further, the prime minister may recommend the governor general appoint to Cabinet some ministers without portfolio, though this has not been done since 1978, and, unlike in many other Westminster model governments, ministers of state in Canada are considered full members of Cabinet, rather than of the ministry outside it, which has the effect of making the Canadian Cabinet much larger than its foreign counterparts. These individuals are assigned specific, but temporary, responsibilities on a more ad hoc basis, fulfilling tasks created and dissolved to suit short-term government priorities from within a department under a full minister of the Crown. Ministers of state may also be named but not specified any particular responsibilities, thus giving them the effective appearance of ministers without portfolio, or be delegated problems or initiatives that cut across departmental boundaries, a situation usually described as having the [situation] file.

Members of the Cabinet receive assistance from both parliamentary secretaries—who will usually answer, on behalf of a minister, questions in the House of Commons—and deputy ministers—senior civil servants assigned to each ministry in order to tender non-partisan advice.


In the context of constitutional monarchy and responsible government, the ministerial advice tendered is typically binding, though it is important to note that, despite appearances to the contrary, the Royal Prerogative belongs to the Crown, not to any of the ministers,[13][14] and the royal and viceroyal figures may unilaterally use these powers in exceptional constitutional crisis situations.[n 1][13][19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27] There are also a few duties which must be specifically performed by, or bills that require assent by, the Queen.

As advisors to the sovereign, the Cabinet has significant power in the Canadian system and, as the governing party usually holds a majority of seats in the legislature, almost all bills proposed by the Cabinet are enacted. Combined with a comparatively small proportion of bills originating with individual Members of Parliament, this leads to Cabinet having almost total control over the legislative agenda of the House of Commons. Further, members of various executive agencies, heads of Crown corporations, and other officials are appointed by the Crown-in-Council, though some of these may be made only by the Governor General-in-Council specifically. Public inquiries and Royal Commissions are also called through a Royal Warrant issued by the Queen or Governor-in-Council. All Cabinet meetings are held behind closed doors and the minutes are kept confidential for thirty years, Cabinet members being forbidden from discussing what transpires. Decisions made must be unanimous, though this often occurs at the prime minister's direction, and once a decision has been reached, all Cabinet members must publicly support it. If any of these rules are violated, the offending minister is usually removed by the prime minister and, if the disagreement within the Cabinet is strong, a minister may resign, as did John Turner in 1975, over the subject of wage and price controls, and Michael Chong in 2006, over a parliamentary motion recognising "the Québécois" as a nation within Canada.

However, the Cabinet's collective influence has been seen to be eclipsed by that of the prime minister alone. Former prime minister Pierre Trudeau is credited with consolidating power in the Office of the Prime Minister (PMO)[28] and, at the end of the 20th century and into the 21st, analysts—such as Jeffrey Simpson, Donald Savoie, and John Gomery—argued that both parliament and the Cabinet had become eclipsed by prime ministerial power.[29] Savoie quoted an anonymous minister from the Liberal Party as saying Cabinet had become "a kind of focus group for the Prime Minister,"[30][31] while Simpson called cabinet a "mini-sounding board".[n 2][33] Coyne wrote in 2015: "Cabinet does not matter... It does not govern: that is the job of the prime minister, and of the group of political staff he has around him, and of the bureaucracy beyond them."[34] John Robson criticised the use of the prime minister's name to identify the Cabinet, calling it a "bad habit" that "endorses while concealing the swollen pretension of the executive branch."[35]

Shadow cabinets

Each party in Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition creates a shadow cabinet, with each member thereof observing and critiquing one or more actual Cabinet portfolios and offering alternative policies. The Official Opposition's shadow cabinet comprises members of the party not in government holding the largest number of seats and is appointed by the Leader of the Opposition; it is generally regarded as a "government in waiting". Its members are often, but not always, appointed to a Cabinet post should the leader of their party be called to form a government.

Current Cabinet

The Liberal Party of Canada won the federal election of October 19, 2015 with a majority of seats in the House of Commons. The Cabinet was sworn-in on November 4, with Justin Trudeau appointed as prime minister.

Initially, five members of Cabinet were appointed by orders-in-council on November 4 as ministers of state, but styled without the traditional of state in their titles. These were the Ministers of Science,[36] Small Business and Tourism,[37] Sport and Persons with Disabilities,[38] Status of Women,[39] and La Francophonie.[40] (However, the new Minister of La Francophonie was, at the same time, appointed Minister of International Development.) Ministers of state had previously represented a second order within the Cabinet (determined by a lower salary as defined by the Salaries Act[41]), despite the Ministries and Ministers of State Act giving them full authority for any government function delegated to them.[42] However, after details of the aforementioned orders-in-council were published, the new cabinet stated its intent for there to "be no levels of cabinet members" and it would table in parliament amendments to the salary statutes, but also that the new ministers would continue to work with the existing departments rather than forming new ones.[43]

Ministers are listed according to the Canadian order of precedence:[44]

Ministry Date of Creation Incumbent Province Minister Since Precedence Date[lower-alpha 1]
Prime Minister of Canada
Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Youth
July 1, 1867
November 14, 1993
Justin Trudeau QC November 4, 2015 0November 4, 2015[lower-alpha 2]
Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness December 12, 2003 Ralph Goodale SK November 4, 2015 1November 4, 1993
Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food January 12, 1995 Lawrence MacAulay PE November 4, 2015 1November 4, 1993
Minister of Foreign Affairs November 4, 1993 Stéphane Dion QC November 4, 2015 1January 25, 1996
Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship June 20, 1994 John McCallum ON November 4, 2015 1January 15, 2002
Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs May 18, 2011 Carolyn Bennett ON November 4, 2015 1December 12, 2003
President of the Treasury Board October 1, 1966 Scott Brison NS November 4, 2015 1December 12, 2003
Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard April 2, 1979 Dominic LeBlanc NB May 31, 2016 1July 20, 2004
Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development March 29, 1995 Navdeep Bains ON November 4, 2015 1October 7, 2005
Minister of Finance July 1, 1867 Bill Morneau ON November 4, 2015 1November 4, 2015
Minister of Justice and Attorney General for Canada July 1, 1867 Jody Wilson-Raybould BC November 4, 2015 1November 4, 2015
Minister of Public Services and Procurement July 12, 1996 Judy Foote NL November 4, 2015 1November 4, 2015
Minister of International Trade December 8, 1983 Chrystia Freeland ON November 4, 2015 1November 4, 2015
Minister of Health July 12, 1996 Jane Philpott ON November 4, 2015 1November 4, 2015
Minister of Families, Children, and Social Development December 12, 2003 Jean-Yves Duclos QC November 4, 2015 1November 4, 2015
Minister of Transport November 2, 1936 Marc Garneau QC November 4, 2015 1November 4, 2015
Minister of International Development
Minister of La Francophonie
January 25, 1996 Marie-Claude Bibeau QC November 4, 2015 1November 4, 2015
Minister of Natural Resources January 12, 1995 Jim Carr MB November 4, 2015 1November 4, 2015
Minister of Canadian Heritage July 12, 1996 Mélanie Joly QC November 4, 2015 1November 4, 2015
Minister of National Revenue March 21, 1927 Diane Lebouthillier QC November 4, 2015 1November 4, 2015
Minister of Veterans Affairs
Associate Minister of National Defence
October 18, 1944 Kent Hehr AB November 4, 2015 1November 4, 2015
Minister of Environment and Climate Change June 11, 1971 Catherine McKenna ON November 4, 2015 1November 4, 2015
Minister of National Defence January 1, 1923 Harjit Sajjan BC November 4, 2015 1November 4, 2015
Minister of Employment, Workforce, and Labour June 2, 1909 MaryAnn Mihychuk MB November 4, 2015 1November 4, 2015
Minister of Infrastructure and Communities November 4, 2015 Amarjeet Sohi AB November 4, 2015 1November 4, 2015
Minister of Democratic Institutions
President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada
December 12, 2003
1 July 1867
Maryam Monsef ON November 4, 2015 1November 4, 2015
Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities September 29, 1961 Carla Qualtrough BC November 4, 2015 1November 4, 2015
Minister of Science February 23, 1990 Kirsty Duncan ON November 4, 2015 1November 4, 2015
Minister of Status of Women June 11, 1971 Patty Hajdu ON November 4, 2015 1November 4, 2015
Minister of Small Business and Tourism
Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
September 30, 1976
14 October 1944
Bardish Chagger ON November 4, 2015
19 August 2016
1November 4, 2015
  1. Ministers position in the order of precedence is determined as follows: those entitled to use The Right Honourable (generally only the prime minister), ministers, associate ministers, then ministers of state, with ties broken by date sworn-in to the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, date became a member of the Parliament of Canada (in either the Canadian Senate or Canadian House of Commons, and finally alphabetically by last name.
  2. The Prime Minister has precedence over all other ministers.

Former portfolios


  1. Eugene Forsey said of this: "in Canada, the head of state can, in exceptional circumstances, protect Parliament and the people against a Prime Minister and Ministers who may forget that 'minister' means 'servant', and may try to make themselves masters. For example, the head of state could refuse to let a Cabinet dissolve a newly elected House of Commons before it could even meet, or could refuse to let Ministers bludgeon the people into submission by a continuous series of general elections,"[15] and Larry Zolf commented: "The Governor General must take all steps necessary to thwart the will of a ruthless prime minister prematurely calling for the death of a Parliament."[16]
    Examples of such actions took place during the viceregal service of the Viscount Byng of Vimy, John C. Bowen,[17] and Frank Lindsay Bastedo.[18]
  2. Savoie offered the critique: "Cabinet has now joined Parliament as an institution being bypassed. Real political debate and decision-making are increasingly elsewhere—in federal-provincial meetings of first ministers, on Team Canada flights, where first ministers can hold informal meetings, in the Prime Minister's Office, in the Privy Council Office, in the Department of Finance, and in international organizations and international summits. There is no indication that the one person who holds all the cards, the prime minister, and the central agencies which enable him to bring effective political authority to the centre, are about to change things."[32]


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  4. 1 2 Marleau, Robert; Montpetit, Camille (2000). House of Commons Procedure and Practice. Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada. ISBN 2-89461-378-4. 1. Parliamentary Institutions > Institutional Framework > The Executive.
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  13. 1 2 Cox, Noel (September 2002). "Black v Chrétien: Suing a Minister of the Crown for Abuse of Power, Misfeasance in Public Office and Negligence". Murdoch University Electronic Journal of Law. Perth: Murdoch University. 9 (3): 12. Retrieved 17 May 2009.
  14. Neitsch, Alfred Thomas (2008). "A Tradition of Vigilance: The Role of Lieutenant Governor in Alberta" (PDF). Canadian Parliamentary Review. Ottawa: Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. 30 (4): 23. Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 January 1970. Retrieved 22 May 2009.
  15. Forsey 2005, p. 26
  16. Zolf, Larry (June 28, 2002). "Boxing in a Prime Minister". CBC. Archived from the original on January 20, 2011. Retrieved May 11, 2013.
  17. Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta. "The Citizen's Guide to the Alberta Legislature". Queen's Printer for Alberta. Archived from the original on March 16, 2007. Retrieved July 29, 2007.
  18. Jackson, Michael (2006). "Bastedo, Frank Lindsay (1886–1973)". The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan. University of Regina. Retrieved May 18, 2009.
  19. Russell, Peter H., "Discretion and the Reserve Powers of the Crown" (PDF), Canadian Parliamentary Review, Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (Summer 2011): 19, retrieved January 17, 2013
  20. McWhinney, Edward (2005). The Governor General and the Prime Ministers. Vancouver: Ronsdale Press. pp. 16–17. ISBN 1-55380-031-1.
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  24. Tidridge, Nathan (2011). Canada's Constitutional Monarchy: An Introduction to Our Form of Government. Toronto: Dundurn Press. p. 57. ISBN 9781459700840.
  25. Dawson, R. MacGregor; Dawson, W.F. (1989). Democratic Government in Canada (5 ed.). Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press. pp. 68–69. ISBN 9780802067036.
  26. Forsey, Eugene (2005). How Canadians Govern Themselves (PDF) (6 ed.). Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada. pp. 4, 34. ISBN 0-662-39689-8. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 31, 2012. Retrieved May 14, 2009.
  27. Forsey, Helen (October 1, 2010). "As David Johnson Enters Rideau Hall...". The Monitor. Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Retrieved January 23, 2011.
  28. Geddes, John (January 25, 2009). "Will the prorogation of Parliament set off a populist revolt?". Maclean's. Toronto: Kenneth Whyte. ISSN 0024-9262. Retrieved January 27, 2010.
  29. Brooks 2007, p. 258
  30. Savoie, Donald (1999). Governing from the Centre: The Concentration of Power in Canadian Politics. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 260. ISBN 978-0-8020-8252-7.
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  32. Savoie 1999, p. 362
  33. Simpson, Jeffrey (2001). The Friendly Dictatorship. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart. p. 248. ISBN 978-0-7710-8079-1.
  34. Coyne, Andrew (June 30, 2015). "Liberals' idea for gender quota in Cabinet leaves out the principle of merit". National Post. Post Media. Retrieved June 30, 2015.
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