Trudeau names his new cabinet Tuesday. Here are some of the perks and quirks of being a minister

Trudeau Cabinet 2021

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will unveil a cabinet Tuesday that he promises will have gender parity and “proper regional distribution.” Like all prime ministers, he’s expected to make appointments that reflect the diversity of the country.

There are many reasons MPs covet a spot around the cabinet table — such as the opportunity for more power and influence. Ministers are also paid $88,700 on top of the current annual base MP salary of $185,800 and are entitled to an official car and driver.

As we wait to learn who’s in and who’s out, here are a few interesting facts about cabinets and cabinet-making.

Why are ministers called ‘honourable’ for life?

Ministers are appointed to the Queen’s Privy Council by the governor general on the recommendation of the prime minister. The Constitution states that the body — which includes past cabinet ministers and other prominent Canadians, such as former speakers of the House of Commons — is there to “aid and advise” the Crown.

Membership in this exclusive group lasts for life unless the appointment is withdrawn by the governor general on a prime minister’s advice.

Privy councillors can use the title “honourable” and the initials “P.C.” after their names after swearing to “keep secret all matters committed and revealed” to them “in this capacity, or that shall be secretly treated of in Council.”

Do ministers need to be elected MPs?

No. Nothing stops a prime minister from naming someone to cabinet who does not already have a seat in the House of Commons. As noted in last week’s Minority Report newsletter, however, it’s customary for such ministers to quickly get a seat in either the House or Senate.

When he formed his first cabinet in 2006, Stephen Harper surprised many by naming unelected Montreal lawyer Michael Fortier as his minister of public works and government services. Fortier later became minister of international trade.

Harper appointed Fortier to the Senate weeks later but said his minister would seek a seat in the House in the next federal election. Fortier did just that in 2008, stepping down from the upper chamber to run in the former Quebec riding of Vaudreuil-Soulanges, where he finished a distant second to the Bloc Québécois incumbent.

Jean Chrétien also named two unelected ministers in 1996 — Stéphane Dion for intergovernmental affairs and Pierre Pettigrew for the international cooperation portfolio. Considered star Quebec Liberals, both were elected to the House in byelections two months later.

Do ministers need to have specific expertise in their portfolio?

Nope. The minister of agriculture doesn’t need to know how to run a farm, for instance (though it might be useful).

Still, it’s hard to imagine a PM naming a minister of justice and attorney general who is not a lawyer. The justice minister is responsible for developing justice policy and the attorney general provides legal services to the government, according to the Justice Department.

But Privy Council Office spokesperson Pierre-Alain Bujold told CBC News “there is no legal requirement that the position of Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada must be occupied by a lawyer or someone with a legal background.”

Former prime minister Joe Clark, who was not a lawyer, briefly served as the acting minister of justice and attorney general in Brian Mulroney’s cabinet from Dec. 8, 1988, to Jan. 29, 1989.

How many prime ministers were cabinet ministers previously?

While a cabinet spot is seen as a possible stepping stone to the big chair, the last two prime ministers — Trudeau and Harper — did not serve as ministers or in government before assuming power. Brian Mulroney also never served as a minister or in government before becoming prime minister.

Fifteen of the 23 people who have served as prime ministers so far had prior ministerial experience on their resumes.

The finance ministry appears to be the best gig for those with loftier ambitions; five former finance ministers have gone on to become prime ministers. Trudeau has announced already that Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland will stay in that role.

everal prime ministers also took on cabinet portfolios while serving in the big chair. And some, such as Joe Clark, served as ministers after having previously served as prime minister.

Who were the youngest people ever appointed?

Jean Charest holds the record as the youngest MP named to cabinet. He was 28 when Mulroney named him minister of state for youth in 1986.

Karina Gould, the current international development minister, was 29 when she was first named to the cabinet in 2017 as minister of democratic institutions. Her appointment made her the youngest ever female cabinet minister.

What were the biggest and smallest cabinets?

The number of people in a prime minister’s inner circle has varied over the years. The Library of Parliament has listed the size of federal cabinets going back more than 150 years.

According to their data, prime ministers John A. Macdonald and Alexander Mackenzie had the smallest cabinets — 13 members each (including themselves) in 1870 and 1874, respectively.

In the modern era, Kim Campbell had a 24-person cabinet (including herself) in 1993, all of them full ministers.

Harper and Mulroney are tied for the biggest cabinets with 40 each, including themselves. Mulroney appointed his after winning power in 1984. After a cabinet shuffle in 2015, Harper had 26 ministers and 13 ministers of state advising him.

Trudeau has not named a minister of state since coming to power in 2015. The cabinet he named in January topped out at 37 ministers, including himself.

What is the ‘Acting Ministers Minute’?

Trudeau can also be expected soon to release a cabinet pecking order to be consulted in an emergency.

The “Acting Ministers Minute” published by the Privy Council Office, lists the order of ministers who would act for the prime minister, at least temporarily, “in the event of his being unable to perform the functions of his office.”

Though it’s mostly a custom, the list drew some extra attention in the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the most recent version from February, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland is listed at the top of the chart.

The ministers that follow her are listed according to the date they were first sworn into cabinet, putting veterans Lawrence MacAulay and Carolyn Bennett in the number two and three spots.

MacAulay was appointed to cabinet in 1993, while Bennett was named in 2003.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, who became the newest member of the current cabinet in January, is listed at the bottom. He is poised to move up if he is reappointed this week and new faces join the cabinet.

The document also states who would step in as acting minister for a cabinet colleague who is “unable to perform the functions of his or her Office” and lists secondary acting ministers — just in case.


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