Cabinet of Canada

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 King'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 were no members of the latter who were 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 Cabinet of Justin Trudeau, 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 His Majesty's Government,[1][2] is defined by the constitution as the King acting on the advice of his Privy Council;[3][4] what is technically known as the King-in-Council,[5] or sometimes the Governor-in-Council,[6] referring to the governor general as the King'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 of Canada, 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 King-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 judgment about the most suitable candidate for prime minister must be brought into play.[7] The prime minister thereafter heads the Cabinet. The King is informed by his viceroy of the acceptance of the resignation of a prime minister and the swearing-in of a new ministry,[7] and he remains fully briefed through regular communications from his 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; while there are no legal qualifications of the potential ministers, there are 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 sometimes includes 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 although they are almost always selected from the House of Commons. From time to time, a senator may be included.[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 Trudeau Cabinet comprised 37 ministers in 2021.[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. The structure of Cabinet fluctuates between and within ministries. For example, the Priorities and Planning Committee, often referred to as the inner Cabinet, was the body that set the strategic directions for the government under Stephen Harper, approving key appointments and ratifying committee memberships. This committee ceased to exist under Justin Trudeau.[11] Other Cabinet committees common across committee structures include Operations, Social Affairs, a committee focused on Economic Growth, Foreign Affairs and Security, the Environment, and Energy Security.[12] Each committee is chaired by a senior minister whose own portfolio may intersect with the mandate of the committee.[11]

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 first minister, 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 Councillor, if appointed to the Privy Council on the same day, in order of election or appointment to parliament.[13]

Unique positions in Cabinet are those such as Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and President of the King'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, which was last done in 2021 when Prime Minister Trudeau appointed Jim Carr as Special Representative to the Prairies.[14] 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.


Under the Constitution, all legislation involving the raising or spending of public revenue must originate from the Cabinet.[15]

In the context of constitutional monarchy and responsible government, the ministerial advice tendered is typically binding, though it is important to note that formally the Royal Prerogative belongs to the Crown, not to any of the ministers,[16][17] and the royal and viceregal figures may unilaterally use these powers in exceptional constitutional crisis situations.[18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25][note 1] There are also a few duties which must be specifically performed by, or bills that require assent by, the King. Royal assent has never been denied to a law passed by Parliament.[30]

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 King 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 recognizing "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)[31] 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.[32] Savoie quoted an anonymous minister from the Liberal Party as saying Cabinet had become "a kind of focus group for the Prime Minister,"[33][34] while Simpson called cabinet a "mini-sounding board".[note 2][36] 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."[37] 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."[38]

Shadow cabinets

Each party in His 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.

List of cabinets

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.

The swearing-in of the new Cabinet also marked the first gender-balanced cabinet in Canada's history, where an equal number of female and male Ministers were appointed.[39] This was reflected in the fifteen women and fifteen men who were sworn into Cabinet on November 4, for a total of thirty-one members, including the Prime Minister himself. Trudeau has continued to maintain a gender-balanced cabinet throughout several cabinet shuffles in his mandate, and the addition of five new ministerial positions.

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,[40] Small Business and Tourism,[41] Sport and Persons with Disabilities,[42] Status of Women,[43] and La Francophonie.[44] (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,[45] despite the Ministries and Ministers of State Act giving them full authority for any government function delegated to them.[46] 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.[47]

On July 18, 2018, Trudeau reshuffled his cabinet. This included adding 5 new ministry positions expanding the previous size of cabinet from 30 to 35.[48]

Following the September 2021 election, Trudeau shuffled his cabinet on October 26, 2021, increasing the size to 39 members.[49]

Ministers are listed according to the Canadian order of precedence:[50]

Cabinet ministers

29th Canadian Ministry
Ministry Date of creation Incumbent Province Minister since Precedence date[lower-alpha 1]
Prime Minister of Canada 1 July 1867 Justin Trudeau QC 4 November 2015 4 November 2015[lower-alpha 2]
Deputy Prime Minister of Canada 16 September 1977 Chrystia Freeland ON 20 November 2019 4 November 2015
Minister of Finance 1 July 1867 18 August 2020
Minister of Veterans Affairs 18 October 1944 Lawrence MacAulay PE 1 March 2019 11 June 1997
Associate Minister of National Defence 12 July 1940
Minister of Mental Health and Addictions 26 October 2021 Carolyn Bennett ON 26 October 2021 12 December 2003
Associate Minister of Health 26 October 2021
Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities 26 October 2021 Dominic LeBlanc NB 26 October 2021 20 July 2004
Minister of Health 12 July 1996 Jean-Yves Duclos QC 26 October 2021 4 November 2015
Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food July 1, 1867 Marie-Claude Bibeau QC 1 March 2019 4 November 2015
Minister of Foreign Affairs 4 November 1993 Mélanie Joly QC 26 October 2021 4 November 2015
Minister of National Revenue 21 March 1927 Diane Lebouthillier QC 4 November 2015 4 November 2015
Minister of International Development 25 January 1996 Harjit Sajjan BC 26 October 2021 4 November 2015
Minister responsible for the Pacific Economic Development Agency of Canada 26 October 2021
Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion October 1, 1966 Carla Qualtrough BC 20 November 2019 4 November 2015
Minister of Indigenous Services 28 August 2017 Patty Hajdu ON 26 October 2021 4 November 2015
Minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Northern Ontario 3 August 1999
Minister of Innovation, Science, and Industry 29 March 1995 François-Philippe Champagne QC 12 January 2021 10 January 2017
Minister of Families, Children, and Social Development 12 December 2003 Karina Gould ON 26 October 2021 10 January 2017
Minister of Housing, Diversity and Inclusion 26 October 2021 Ahmed Hussen ON 26 October 2021 10 January 2017
Minister of Canadian Heritage 12 July 1996 Pablo Rodríguez QC 26 October 2021 26 January 2017
Minister of Official Languages 12 December 2003 Ginette Petitpas Taylor NB 26 October 2021 28 August 2017
Minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency September 15, 1988
Minister of Labour 2 June 1909 Seamus O'Regan NL 26 October 2021 28 August 2017
Minister of Emergency Preparedness 26 October 2021 Bill Blair ON 26 October 2021 18 July 2018
President of the King's Privy Council for Canada 1 July 1867
Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development 26 October 2021 Mary Ng ON 26 October 2021 18 July 2018
Minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario 26 October 2021 Filomena Tassi ON 31 August 2022 18 July 2018
Minister of Natural Resources 12 January 1995 Jonathan Wilkinson BC 26 October 2021 18 July 2018
Leader of the Government in the House of Commons 14 October 1944 Mark Holland ON 26 October 2021 14 September 2018
Minister of Justice and Attorney General 1 July 1867 David Lametti QC 14 January 2019 14 January 2019
Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard 2 April 1979 Joyce Murray BC 26 October 2021 14 January 2019
Minister of National Defence 1 January 1923 Anita Anand ON 26 October 2021 20 November 2019
President of the Treasury Board 1 October 1966 Mona Fortier ON 26 October 2021 20 November 2019
Minister of Environment and Climate Change 11 June 1971 Steven Guilbeault QC 26 October 2021 20 November 2019
Minister of Public Safety 4 April 2005 Marco Mendicino ON 26 October 2021 20 November 2019
Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations 28 August 2017 Marc Miller QC 26 October 2021 20 November 2019
Minister of Northern Affairs 20 November 2019 Dan Vandal MB 20 November 2019 20 November 2019
Minister responsible for Prairies Economic Development Canada 26 October 2021 26 October 2021
Minister responsible for the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency 26 October 2021
Minister of Transport 2 November 1936 Omar Alghabra ON 12 January 2021 6 February 2020
Minister of Tourism 26 October 2021 Randy Boissonnault AB 26 October 2021 26 October 2021
Associate Minister of Finance 20 November 2019
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship 30 June 1994 Sean Fraser NS 26 October 2021 26 October 2021
Minister of Rural Economic Development 14 January 2019 Gudie Hutchings NL 26 October 2021 26 October 2021
Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth 11 June 1971 Marci Ien ON 26 October 2021 26 October 2021
Minister of Public Services and Procurement 12 July 1996 Helena Jaczek ON 31 August 2022 26 October 2021
Minister of Seniors 4 January 2011 Kamal Khera ON 26 October 2021 26 October 2021
Minister of Sport 29 September 1961 Pascale St-Onge QC 26 October 2021 26 October 2021
Minister responsible for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec 25 June 1993
  1. Ministers' positions in the order of precedence are determined as follows: the prime minister, the deputy prime minister, the remaining ministers in order that they were sworn into the King's Privy Council for Canada.
  2. The Prime Minister has precedence over all other ministers.

Former portfolios

See also


  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,"[26] 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."[27] Examples of such actions took place during the viceregal service of the Viscount Byng of Vimy, John C. Bowen,[28] and Frank Lindsay Bastedo.[29]
  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."[35]


  1. MacLeod 2008, p. 18.
  2. Wrong, Humphrey Hume (November 10, 1952), Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (ed.), "Relations With the United States", Documents on Canadian External Relations, Ottawa, 18–867
  3. Victoria (March 29, 1867), Constitution Act, 1867, III.9 & 11, Westminster: Queen's Printer, retrieved January 15, 2009
  4. Marleau, Robert; Montpetit, Camille (2000). "Parliamentary Institutions". House of Commons Procedure and Practice. Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada. ISBN 2-89461-378-4.
  5. MacLeod 2008, p. 17
  6. Elizabeth II (April 1, 2005), Interpretation Act, 35.1, Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada, archived from the original on July 5, 2009, retrieved August 7, 2009
  7. 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 June 16, 2008. Retrieved May 18, 2009.
  8. The Royal Household. "The Queen and the Commonwealth > Queen and Canada". Queen's Printer. Retrieved May 14, 2009.
  9. Privy Council Office. "Information Resources > About Cabinet". Queen's Printer for Canada. Archived from the original on February 2, 2009. Retrieved October 18, 2009.
  10. "Cabinet". Prime Minister of Canada. Retrieved October 2, 2021.
  11. "Cabinet Committee Mandate and Membership". Prime Minister of Canada. January 1, 1970. Retrieved October 2, 2021.
  12. Office of the Prime Minister of Canada (October 30, 2008), Cabinet Committee Mandates and Membership (PDF), Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada, archived from the original (PDF) on March 27, 2009, retrieved October 18, 2009
  13. Library of Parliament. "Federal government > The ministry". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved October 18, 2009.
  14. Curry, Bill; Walsh, Marieke (January 12, 2021). "Trudeau shuffles senior ministers, puts Champagne in Innovation and Garneau at Global Affairs". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved October 2, 2021.
  15. Brooks 2009, p. 236.
  16. 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 May 17, 2009.
  17. 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 October 25, 2012. Retrieved May 22, 2009.
  18. 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
  19. McWhinney 2005, pp. 16–17.
  20. "The Governor General". By Executive Decree. Library and Archives Canada. Archived from the original on August 11, 2009.
  21. Dawson & Dawson 1989, pp. 68–69.
  22. "Responsibilities". The Governor General of Canada. Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved October 13, 2019.
  23. Tidridge 2011, p. 57.
  24. Forsey 2005, pp. 4, 34.
  25. Forsey, Helen (October 1, 2010). "As David Johnson Enters Rideau Hall..." The Monitor. Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Retrieved January 23, 2011.
  26. Forsey 2005, p. 26
  27. Zolf, Larry (June 28, 2002). "Boxing in a Prime Minister". CBC. Archived from the original on January 20, 2011. Retrieved May 11, 2013.
  28. 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.
  29. Jackson, Michael (2006). "Bastedo, Frank Lindsay (1886–1973)". The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan. University of Regina. Archived from the original on May 24, 2013. Retrieved May 18, 2009.
  30. Brooks 2009, p. 234.
  31. 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.
  32. Brooks 2009, p. 258.
  33. Savoie 1999, p. 260.
  34. Savoie, Donald (May 12, 2010), "Who has the power?", The Globe and Mail, retrieved May 12, 2010
  35. Savoie 1999, p. 362
  36. Simpson 2001, p. 248.
  37. 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.
  38. Robson, John (November 2, 2015). "Trudeau's menacing promise of electoral reform". National Post. Retrieved November 5, 2015.
  39. "'Because it's 2015': Trudeau forms Canada's 1st gender-balanced cabinet | CBC News".
  40. Privy Council Office (November 4, 2015). "Order in Council 2015-1225". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved November 7, 2015.
  41. Privy Council Office (November 4, 2015). "Order in Council 2015-1226". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved November 7, 2015.
  42. Privy Council Office (November 4, 2015). "Order in Council 2015-1227". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved November 7, 2015.
  43. Privy Council Office (November 4, 2015). "Order in Council 2015-1228". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved November 7, 2015.
  44. Privy Council Office (November 4, 2015). "Order in Council 2015-1229". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved November 7, 2015.
  45. "Salaries Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. S-3)". Department of Justice Canada. Archived from the original on March 25, 2012.
  46. "Ministries and Ministers of State Act". Justice Laws Canada. April 2005. Archived from the original on May 23, 2013.
  47. Smith, Joanna (November 6, 2015). "Five Canadian female ministers of state to be full ministers, get raise". Toronto Star. Retrieved November 7, 2015.
  48. "Trudeau adds 5 new ministers in cabinet shakeup that puts focus on seniors, border security | CBC News". CBC. Retrieved July 18, 2018.
  49. "PM Trudeau names new defence, health, foreign affairs ministers in sizable cabinet shakeup". CTVNews. October 26, 2021. Retrieved October 26, 2021.
  50. Parliament of Canada. "Ministry (Cabinet)". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved November 20, 2019.


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