What a Canadian Cabinet Minister Does

Ottawa Senate Chamber
Ottawa Senate Chamber. Archive Photos / Stringer

The Cabinet, or Ministry, is the center of the Canadian federal government and the head of the executive branch. Led by the country's prime minister, the Cabinet directs the federal government by determining priorities and policies, as well as ensuring their implementation. The members of the Cabinet are called ministers, and each has specific responsibilities affecting critical areas of national policy and law.

How Are the Cabinet Ministers Appointed?

The prime minister, or premier, recommends individuals to the Canadian governor-general, who is the head of state. The governor-general then makes the various Cabinet appointments.

Throughout Canada's history, each prime minister has considered his or her goals, as well as the country's current political climate, when deciding how many ministers to appoint. At various times, the Ministry has consisted of as a few as 11 ministers and as many as 39. 

Length of Service

A Cabinet's term begins when the prime minister takes office and ends when the prime minister resigns. The individual members of the Cabinet remain in office until they resign or successors are appointed. 

Cabinet Ministers' Responsibilities

Each Cabinet minister has responsibilities aligned with a particular government department. While these departments and corresponding minister positions can change over time, there will usually be departments and ministers overseeing a number of key areas, such as finance, health, agriculture, public services, employment, immigration, indigenous affairs, foreign affairs and the status of women.

Each minister might oversee an entire department or certain aspects of a particular department. Within the Health department, for example, one minister might oversee general health-related matters, while another might concentrate only on children's health. The Transport ministers might divide the work into areas like rail safety, urban affairs, and international issues.

Who Works With the Cabinet Ministers?

While the ministers work closely with the prime minister and Canada's two parliamentary bodies, the House of Commons and the Senate, there are a few other individuals who play important roles in the Cabinet. 

A parliamentary secretary is appointed by the prime minister to work with each minister. The secretary assists the minister and acts as a liaison with Parliament, among other duties.

Additionally, each minister has one or more "opposition critics" appointed to her or his department. These critics are members of the party with the second-largest number of seats in the House of Commons. They are tasked with criticizing and analyzing the work of the Cabinet as a whole and individual ministers in particular. This group of critics is sometimes called the "shadow Cabinet." 

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Munroe, Susan. "What a Canadian Cabinet Minister Does." ThoughtCo, Jul. 29, 2017, thoughtco.com/cabinet-minister-508067. Munroe, Susan. (2017, July 29). What a Canadian Cabinet Minister Does. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/cabinet-minister-508067 Munroe, Susan. "What a Canadian Cabinet Minister Does." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/cabinet-minister-508067 (accessed November 18, 2017).