Cabinet of Canada

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 spark 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.




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.

Governor General Michaëlle Jean with Her Majesty's Cabinet, 30 October 2008
Queen Elizabeth II with her Canadian Cabinet at Rideau Hall, 1 July 1967

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. 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 38 ministers.[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, and Environment and Energy Security.[11] Each committee is chaired by a senior minister whose own portfolio normally intersects with the mandate of the committee.

Ministers, secretaries, and deputies

A meeting of the Cabinet of William Lyon Mackenzie King in 1930
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 construct of constitutional monarchy and responsible government, the ministerial advice tendered is typically binding, though it is important to note that, despite appearances of 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][15][16][17][18][19] 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 nationhood for "the Québécois".

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 (currently the New Democratic Party) 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.

There is also a Liberal Party Shadow Cabinet and a Bloc Québécois Shadow Cabinet,[20] which perform similar roles for their respective parties.

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, 19 January 2010,[21] 6 August 2010,[22] January 4, 2011,[23] and May 18, 2011.

Ministers are listed according to the Canadian order of precedence:[24]

Ministry Date of creation Incumbent
Prime Minister of Canada (list) 1 July 1867 Stephen Harper[n 2]
Minister of Justice and Attorney General (list) 1 July 1867 Rob Nicholson
Leader of the Government in the Senate (list) 1 April 1969 Marjory LeBreton[n 2]
Minister of National Defence (list) 1 January 1923 Peter MacKay[n 2]
Minister of Public Safety (list) 12 December 2003 Vic Toews[n 2]
Minister of Public Works and Government Services (list)
Minister of State (Status of Women) (list)
12 July 1996
11 June 1971
28 June 1988
Rona Ambrose
Minister of Human Resources and Social Development (list) 12 December 2003 Diane Finley[n 2]
Minister for International Cooperation (list) 25 January 1996 Bev Oda
Minister of Foreign Affairs (list) 4 November 1993 John Baird[n 2]
President of the Treasury Board (list) and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway 1 October 1966 Tony Clement[n 2]
Minister of Finance (list) 1 July 1867 Jim Flaherty[n 2]
Leader of the Government in the House of Commons (list) 14 October 1944 Peter Van Loan
Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism (list) 30 June 1994 Jason Kenney[n 2]
Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (list)
and Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board
1 July 1867 Gerry Ritz
Minister of Industry (list) 29 March 1995 Christian Paradis[n 2]
Minister of Canadian Heritage (list)

and Minister of Official Languages

12 July 1996 James Moore[n 2]
Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities (list)
and Minister of State (Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec) (list)
2 November 1936 Denis Lebel[n 2]
Minister of Health (list) 12 July 1996 Leona Aglukkaq
Minister of Fisheries and Oceans (list)
Minister for the Atlantic Gateway
2 April 1979 Keith Ashfield
Minister of the Environment (list) 11 June 1971 Peter Kent
Minister of Labour (list) 2 June 1909 Lisa Raitt
Minister of National Revenue (list) 21 March 1927 Gail Shea
Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, (list)
Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians
and Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency.
18 May 2011 John Duncan[n 2]
Minister of Veterans Affairs (list) 18 October 1944 Steven Blaney
Minister of International Trade (list) 8 December 1983 Ed Fast
Minister of Natural Resources (list) 12 January 1995 Joe Oliver
President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada (list),

Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs (list)

1 July 1867
Peter Penashue
Associate Minister of National Defence (list) 12 July 1940 Julian Fantino
Minister of State (Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency) (list) (La Francophonie) Bernard Valcourt
Minister of State and Chief Government Whip Gordon O'Connor
Minister of State (Small Business and Tourism) Maxime Bernier
Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas and Consular Affairs) Diane Ablonczy
Minister of State (Western Economic Diversification) Lynne Yelich
Minister of State (Transport) Steven Fletcher
Minister of State (Science and Technology) (Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario) Gary Goodyear
Minister of State (Finance) Ted Menzies
Minister of State (Democratic Reform) Tim Uppal
Minister of State (Seniors) Alice Wong
Minister of State (Sport) Bal Gosal

Former portfolios

  • Secretary of State for the Provinces (1867–1873)
  • Minister of Public Works (1867–1996)
  • Postmaster General (1867–1981)
  • Minister of Customs (1867–1918)
  • Minister of Inland Revenue (1867–1918)
  • Secretary of State for Canada (1867–1996)
  • Minister of Marine and Fisheries (1867–1930)
  • Superintendent-General Indian Affairs (1868–1936)
  • Minister of the Interior (1873–1936)
  • Solicitor General (1892–2003)
  • Minister of Mines (1907–1936)
  • Secretary of State for External Affairs (1909–1993)
  • Minister of Immigration and Colonization (1917–1936)
  • Minister of Soldiers' Civil Re-establishment (1918–1928)
  • Minister of Customs and Inland Revenue (1918–1921)
  • Minister of Customs and Excise (1921–1927)
  • Minister of Pensions and National Health (1928–1944)
  • Minister of Fisheries (1930–1971)
  • Minister of Mines and Resources (1936–1950)
  • Minister of Mines and Technical Surveys (1950–1966)
  • Minister of Resources and Development (1950–1953)
  • Minister of Citizenship and Immigration (1950–1966)
  • Minister of Northern Affairs and National Resources (1953–1966)
  • Minister of Manpower and Immigration (1966–1977)
  • Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources (1966–1995)
  • Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs (1968–1995)
  • Minister of Regional Economic Expansion (1969–1982)
  • Minister of Economic Communications (1969–1996)
  • Minister of Supply and Services (1969–1996)
  • Minister of Industry, Trade and Commerce (1969–1983)
  • Minister of Employment and Immigration (1977–1996)
  • Minister of Regional Industrial Expansion (1984–1990)
  • Minister of Forestry (1990–1995)
  • Minister of Industry, Science and Technology (1990–1995)
  • Minister of Constitutional Affairs (1991–1993)
  • Minister of Multiculturalism and Citizenship (1991–1996)
  • Minister of Human Resources Development (1996–2003)
  • Deputy Prime Minister (1977–2006)


  1. ^ MacLeod, Kevin S. (2008) (PDF), A Crown of Maples (1 ed.), Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada, p. 18, ISBN 978-0-662-46012-1,, retrieved 21 June 2009 
  2. ^ Wrong, Humphrey Hume (10 November 1952), Telegram 219, in Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, "Relations With the United States", Documents on Canadian External Relations (Ottawa) 18-867,, retrieved 18 May 2009 
  3. ^ Victoria (29 March 1867), Constitution Act, 1867, III.9 & 11, Westminster: Queen's Printer,, retrieved 15 January 2009 
  4. ^ a b 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. 
  5. ^ MacLeod 2008, p. 17
  6. ^ Elizabeth II (1 April 2005), Interpretation Act, 35.1, Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada,, retrieved 7 August 2009 
  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. Retrieved 18 May 2009. 
  8. ^ The Royal Household. "The Queen and the Commonwealth > Queen and Canada". Queen's Printer. Retrieved 14 May 2009. 
  9. ^ Privy Council Office. "Information Resources > About Cabinet". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 18 October 2009. 
  10. ^ Privy Council Office (25 August 2009), The Canadian Ministry, Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada,, retrieved 17 October 2009 
  11. ^ a b Office of the Prime Minister of Canada (30 October 2008), Cabinet Committee Mandates and Membership, Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada,, retrieved 18 October 2009 
  12. ^ Library of Parliament. "Federal government > The ministry". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 18 October 2009. 
  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". Canadian Parliamentary Review (Ottawa: Commonwealth Parliamentary Association) 30 (4): 23. Retrieved 22 May 2009. 
  15. ^ McWhinney, Edward (2005). The Governor General and the Prime Ministers. Vancouver: Ronsdale Press. pp. 16–17. ISBN 1-55380-031-1. 
  16. ^ Dawson, R. MacGregor; Dawson, W.F. (1989). Democratic Government in Canada (5 ed.). Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press. pp. 68–69. ISBN 8-0820-6703-4. 
  17. ^ Forsey 2005, pp. 4, 34
  18. ^ Library and Archives Canada. "Politics and Government > By Executive Decree > The Governor General". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 18 May 2009. 
  19. ^ Office of the Governor General of Canada. "Governor General of Canada: Role and Responsibilities of the Governor General". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 18 May 2009. 
  20. ^ Selley, Chris (9 February 2007). "The fight for the sextuplets". Maclean's (Toronto: Roger's Communications). ISSN 0024-9262. Retrieved 18 October 2009. 
  21. ^ "Who went where in Harper's cabinet shuffle", The Globe and Mail, 19 January 2010,, retrieved 19 January 2010 
  22. ^ "Who moves where after Jay Hill's departure", Globe and Mail, August 6, 2010
  23. ^ PM announces changes to the Ministry
  24. ^

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