Consolidating the Canadian Ministry

The Canadian Ministry (cabinet) is one of the largest, if not the largest executive councils of any modern democracy. The current Ministry is comprised of 39 ministers (including the Prime Minister). Compare this to the UK, where the Cabinet consists of 22 paid ministers and one unpaid minister unpaid minister appointed to Cabinet, and six other invited ministers and peers (including the PM), Australia has a Ministry of 22 (including the PM), New Zealand has a Cabinet of 20 ministers with an additional 4 ministers outside of Cabinet (including the PM), and the US Cabinet consists of 16 members (including the Vice-President but not counting the President).

I have previously explained that there is a tradition in Canada of ensuring that all regions of the country are represented in Cabinet, but that alone doesn’t explain the need for 39 ministers. There are only 10 provinces and three territories in Canada – divide that into 39 and we have 3 ministers per region. This of course is not the case – there is only Minister from Prince Edward Island and only one from Nunavut, for example, which means that  other provinces have far more than 3 representatives in Cabinet. If you look over the list of Cabinet portfolios, many of them appear to be rather redundant, for example, there is a Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, a Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board and a Minister of State for Agriculture. Another minister’s title is simply “Minister of State” with no specified area of responsibility. The 39 members of cabinet account for nearly a quarter of the Government caucus. Compare that to the UK, where, even with a Coalition Government, the Ministry represents only 6% of the combined Conservative and Liberal Democrat caucuses.

There has been some talk in Ottawa of reforming Question Period more along the lines of the Questions to Departments/PMQs done in the UK House of Commons. While this is a reform I would welcome, it wouldn’t be feasible to carry out with the Canadian Ministry as currently organised. As it is in the UK, each ministry faces questions roughly once every five weeks. The Canadian Ministry would have to be consolidated more along the lines of the UK Ministry for a UK-style Question Time to work.

Intrigued by this idea, I set about looking at how the Canadian Ministry could be reorganized to greatly reduce its size and to better lend itself to a UK-style Question Time. By breaking up some current ministries and combining others, I’ve managed to produce a Ministry of 23, with two unpaid ministers. I am certain many will disagree with my arrangements; I put this forward for discussion purposes only.

The Consolidated Canadian Ministry

1. Prime Minister

2. President of the Privy Council and Cabinet Office (with special responsibility for political, democratic and constitutional reform)

3. Foreign Affairs (would include responsibility for La Francophonie and the Commonwealth, etc.)

4. Finance (would include National Revenue)

5. Chief Secretary to the Treasury (combines duties of President of Treasury Board, Government Services, Public Works)

6. Justice

7. Home Secretary (combines Public Safety, Immigration and Citizenship, Status of Women, Seniors)

8. National Defence (includes Veterans’ Affairs)

9. Business, Industry and Skills Development (combines Skills Development, Industry, Small Business and Tourism)

10. Science, Technology, Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy

11. Labour (combines with Human Resources)

12. Energy, Environment and Climate Change

13. Health

14. Regional Development (includes all of the various regional economic development agencies/initiatives)

15. Federal-Provincial Relations

16. Transportation and Infrastructure

17. Agriculture, Fisheries and Natural Resources

18. International Development

19. International Trade and Competitiveness (includes responsibility for the Atlantic and Pacific Gateway initiatives)

20. Culture and Heritage (would include responsibility for Official Languages, Multiculturalism, Sports)

21. Indigenous and Northern Affairs

22. Government House Leader

23. Attorney General

Non-paid members of cabinet:

Leader of Government in the Senate
Chief Whip

Of course, most of the above ministries would have a number of junior ministers – who would not be cabinet ministers – appointed to each with specific areas of responsibility, as is the case in the UK. For example, in the current Canadian Ministry, there are six Ministers who have as their sole or one of their responsibilities a regional economic development agency or initiative. In my consolidated Cabinet, these six regional development initiatives would be consolidated into one Department of Regional Development, headed by the Minister of Regional Development, who would be assisted by six junior ministers or ministers of state, each one responsible for a different region.

Even if the Canadian House of Commons doesn’t adopt a UK-style Questions to replace its current form of Question Period, consolidating the Ministry still strikes me as a good idea. I really don’t understand the need for 39 cabinet ministers – it makes the Cabinet look like a sort of “make work” program for government caucus MPs.

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