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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; there are currently five members of the latter who are not also members of the former. The terms cabinet and ministry are sometimes used interchangeably, though this is a subtle inaccuracy that can cause confusion.

For practical reasons, the Cabinet is informally referred to either in relation to the prime minister in charge of it or, more formally, the number of ministries since Confederation. The current cabinet is the Harper Cabinet, which is part of the 28th Ministry.


  • Composition 1
    • Queen-in-Council 1.1
    • Selection and structure 1.2
    • Ministers, secretaries, and deputies 1.3
  • Responsibilities 2
  • Shadow cabinets 3
  • Current Cabinet 4
  • Former portfolios 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9



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, chief justices of the Supreme Court, 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 minority 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 must be followed. For instance, there is typically a minister from each province in Canada, ministers from visible minority groups, female ministers whenever possible, and, while the majority of those chosen to serve as ministers of the Crown are Members of Parliament, a Cabinet will typically also include at least one 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 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] which is itself filled by political and administrative staff selected at the prime minister's discretion and unaccountable to parliament. 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] Indeed, the position has been described as undergoing a "presidentialisation",[28][30] Savoie quoted an anonymous minister from the Liberal Party as saying Cabinet had become "a kind of focus group for the Prime Minister,"[31][32] 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] It has been theorised that such is the case in Canada as its parliament is less influential on the executive than in other countries with Westminster parliamentary systems; particularly, Canada has fewer MPs, a higher turnover rate of MPs after each election, and an Americanised system for selecting political party leaders, leaving them accountable to the party membership rather than caucus, as is the case in the United Kingdom.[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 Shadow Cabinet comprises members of the largest party not in government appointed by the Leader of the Opposition, and is regarded as a "government in waiting". Its members are often, but not always, appointed to a Cabinet post should their party be called to form a government.

With the election of a new Parliament in 2015 and it not having taken office yet. The membership of the two Shadow Cabinets (one for the Conservatives and one for the NDP) are in a state of flux and are yet to be announced.

Current Cabinet

The Conservative Party of Canada won the federal election of 23 January 2006, though the number of seats held in the 39th parliament granted the 28th ministry only a minority government, which was sworn-in on 6 February, with Stephen Harper appointed as prime minister. The composition of the Cabinet was subsequently altered on four occasions—27 November 2006, 4 January 2007, 14 August 2007, and 25 June 2008—between then and the next federal election on 14 October 2008 and thereafter on 19 January 2010,[36] 6 August 2010,[37] 4 January 2011,[38] 18 May 2011, 4 July 2012 and 15 July 2013. An entirely new cabinet will be appointed by Prime Minister designate Justin Trudeau when he takes office in November 2015.

Ministers are listed according to the Canadian order of precedence:[39]

Ministry Date of Creation Incumbent Province Minister Since Precedence Date[1]
Prime Minister of Canada 1 July 1867 Stephen Harper AB 6 February 2006 04 May 2004[2]
Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development 18 May 2011 Bernard Valcourt NB 22 February 2013 130 June 1986
Minister of Foreign Affairs 4 November 1993 Rob Nicholson ON 9 February 2015 125 June 1993
Minister of Justice and Attorney General for Canada 1 July 1867 Peter MacKay NS 15 July 2013 16 February 2006
Minister of Health 12 July 1996 Rona Ambrose AB 15 July 2013 16 February 2006
Minister of Public Works and Government Services 12 July 1996 Diane Finley ON 15 July 2013 16 February 2006
President of the Treasury Board 1 October 1966 Tony Clement ON 18 May 2011 16 February 2006
Leader of the Government in the House of Commons 14 October 1944 Peter Van Loan ON 18 May 2011 127 November 2006
Minister of National Defence
(and Minister for Multiculturalism)
1 January 1923 Jason Kenney AB 9 February 2015 14 January 2007
Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food 12 January 1995 Gerry Ritz SK 14 August 2007 14 January 2007
Minister of International Development
(and Minister for La Francophonie)
25 January 1996 Christian Paradis QC 15 July 2013 14 January 2007
Minister of Industry 29 March 1995 James Moore BC 15 July 2013 125 June 2008
President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada
Minister of Infrastructure, Communities and Intergovernmental Affairs
(and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec)
1 July 1867 Denis Lebel QC 15 July 2013 130 October 2008
Minister of the Environment
(and Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency and the Arctic Council)
11 June 1971 Leona Aglukkaq NU 15 July 2013 130 October 2008
Minister of Transport 2 November 1936 Lisa Raitt ON 15 July 2013 130 October 2008
Minister of Fisheries and Oceans 2 April 1979 Gail Shea PE 15 July 2013 130 October 2008
Associate Minister of National Defence 12 July 1940 Julian Fantino ON 5 January 2015 14 January 2011
Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness 12 December 2003 Steven Blaney QC 15 July 2013 118 May 2011
Minister of International Trade 8 December 1983 Ed Fast BC 18 May 2011 118 May 2011
Minister of Finance 1 July 1867 Joe Oliver ON 19 March 2014 118 May 2011
Minister of National Revenue 21 March 1927 Kerry-Lynne Findlay BC 15 July 2013 122 February 2013
Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages 12 July 1996 Shelly Glover MB 15 July 2013 115 July 2013
Minister of Natural Resources 12 January 1995 Greg Rickford ON 19 March 2014 115 July 2013
Minister of Citizenship and Immigration 20 June 1994 Chris Alexander ON 15 July 2013 115 July 2013
Minister of Labour
(and Minister for the Status of Women)
2 June 1909 Kellie Leitch ON 15 July 2013 115 July 2013
Minister of Employment and Social Development
(and Minister responsible for the National Capital Commission and Minister for Democratic Reform)
15 July 2013 Pierre Poilievre ON 9 February 2015 315 July 2013
Minister of Veterans Affairs 18 October 1944 Erin O'Toole ON 5 January 2015 15 January 2015
Minister of State (Small Business and Tourism, and Agriculture) Maxime Bernier QC 18 May 2011 36 February 2006
Minister of State (Foreign Affairs and Consular Services) Lynne Yelich SK 30 October 2008 330 October 2008
Minister of State (Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario) Gary Goodyear ON 30 October 2008 330 October 2008
Minister of State (Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency) Rob Moore NB 15 July 2013 319 January 2010
Minister of State and Chief Government Whip John Duncan BC 15 July 2013 36 August 2010
Minister of State (Multiculturalism) Tim Uppal AB 18 May 2011 318 May 2011
Minister of State (Seniors) Alice Wong BC 18 May 2011 318 May 2011
Minister of State (Sport) Bal Gosal ON 18 May 2011 318 May 2011
Minister of State (Finance) Kevin Sorenson AB 15 July 2013 315 July 2013
Minister of State (Social Development) Candice Bergen MB 15 July 2013 315 July 2013
Minister of State (Western Economic Diversification) Michelle Rempel AB 15 July 2013 315 July 2013
Minister of State (Science and Technology) Ed Holder ON 19 March 2014 319 March 2014
  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. Harper was sworn into the Privy Council as Opposition leader on 4 May 2004 gaining the designation "The Honourable", he was designated "The Right Honourable" on 6 February 2006 upon becoming Prime Minister.

Former portfolios

See also


  1. ^ [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. ^ See Note 3 at Prime Minister of Canada.


  1. ^  
  2. ^  
  3. ^  
  4. ^ a b Marleau, Robert; Montpetit, Camille (2000). House of Commons Procedure and Practice. Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada.  
  5. ^ MacLeod 2008, p. 17
  6. ^  
  7. ^ a b Office of the Governor General of Canada. "Media > Fact Sheets > The Swearing-In of a New Ministry". Queen's Printer for Canada. Archived from the original on November 15, 2008. Retrieved 18 May 2009. 
  8. ^ The Royal Household. "The Queen and the Commonwealth > Queen and Canada". Queen's Printer. Retrieved 14 May 2009. 
  9. ^  
  10. ^  
  11. ^  
  12. ^  
  13. ^ a b 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. Retrieved 22 May 2009. 
  15. ^ Forsey 2005, p. 26
  16. ^  
  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. ^  
  21. ^  
  22. ^ Dawson, R. MacGregor; Dawson, W.F. (1989). Democratic Government in Canada (5 ed.). Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press. pp. 68–69.  
  23. ^ Office of the Governor General of Canada. "Governor General of Canada: Role and Responsibilities of the Governor General". Queen's Printer for Canada. Archived from the original on February 5, 2009. Retrieved May 18, 2009. 
  24. ^ Tidridge, Nathan (2011). Canada's Constitutional Monarchy: An Introduction to Our Form of Government. Toronto: Dundurn Press. p. 57.  
  25. ^ Dawson, R. MacGregor; Dawson, W.F. (1989). Democratic Government in Canada (5 ed.). Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press. pp. 68–69.  
  26. ^  
  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. ^ a b Geddes, John (January 25, 2009). "Will the prorogation of Parliament set off a populist revolt?". Maclean's (Toronto: Kenneth Whyte).  
  29. ^ Brooks 2007, p. 258
  30. ^ "Time to address democratic deficit", Toronto Star, January 27, 2010, retrieved January 27, 2010 
  31. ^ Savoie, Donald (1999). Governing from the Centre: The Concentration of Power in Canadian Politics. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 260.  
  32. ^ Savoie, Donald (May 12, 2010), "Who has the power?", The Globe and Mail, retrieved May 12, 2010 
  33. ^  
  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. 
  35. ^ Foot, Richard (January 15, 2010), "Only in Canada: Harper’s prorogation is a Canadian thing", National Post, retrieved January 16, 2010 
  36. ^ "Who went where in Harper's cabinet shuffle", The Globe and Mail, 19 January 2010, retrieved 19 January 2010 
  37. ^ "Who moves where after Jay Hill's departure", Globe and Mail, 6 August 2010
  38. ^ PM announces changes to the Ministry
  39. ^

External links

  • Reference to current cabinet ministers
  • Cabinet Minister responsibilities
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