Are there too many ministers? -

Are there too many ministers?

Brent Rathgeber doesn’t think we need 39 ministers


Brent Rathgeber sounds like Andrew Coyne in lamenting the latest version of cabinet.

Firstly, the cabinet is too large.  At thirty-nine members, this Cabinet is morbidly obese.  No deliberative body can function with that many members.  Anyone who has ever served on a volunteer board of directors understands that meetings and decisions become paralyzed when more than a dozen people are involved in the process.  I remain perplexed as to why the United States, with approximately nine times the population of Canada, can function with only 15 fifteen Cabinet Secretaries but Canada needs almost forty Ministers!…

If you accept the premise that no functional decision making body can be comprised of an unwieldy thirty-nine members, it becomes easy to comprehend why cabinets have become so bloated. Ceasing to be deliberative bodies quite some time ago, they have in fact become representative bodies.  Great care is exercised to assure that every region and every province has comparable representation.  Gender balance becomes important, as do attempts to make sure that ethnic communities are adequately represented.  A perfectly chosen representative cabinet would be a microcosm of Canadian society.

Stephen Harper once believed in a smaller cabinet too.

It is an imperfect measure because senators have historically been part of the cabinet—John A. Macdonald’s cabinet included five senators—but as proportion of the House of Commons, the cabinet has gone from 7.2% in 1867 to 12.7% in 2013. It first cracked 10% under Lester B. Pearson in 1967. Brian Mulroney got to 13.8% with his 39-member cabinets in the 1980s. If the cabinet were to remain at its current 39 positions after the 2015 election, when the House expands to 338 seats, the proportion would drop to 11.5%.

In fairness, this enlargement of the government seems to be a trend in the United Kingdom as well.

Including the 20 parliamentary secretaries, there are 59 Conservative MPs who have paid positions with the government, leaving 105 unaffiliated backbenchers.


Are there too many ministers?

  1. Waaaaaaaaaaay too many. But then these aren’t real jobs, they’re rewards. Candy.

    • One conservative is way too many BwaH hah hah!

      • Heh….very true.

  2. Now that I know Harper’s cabinet maintains an enemies list, I feel somehow unfulfilled without being on it.

    Where do I apply?

    • You have to be important to be on it, so any such application would likely be rejected.

      • I’m a legend in my own mind. Doesn’t that count for something?

    • Comment under your name – give money to the NDP or the Liberals – and you will be on one of their enemies lists. There is likely a number of these lists, including list of enemy citizens, people whose names are on the list of donors to parties, who have the gall to put a sign on their lawns for a party other than the CPC , who when polled said they won’t vote for the CPC. These people receive special treatment: a call from ‘Elections Canada’ telling them that their polling station has moved.

      • Yes, Loraine, they’re out to get you. You better go hide under your bed. BOOOOOO!

        • I have never hidden for fear of anything and I am not about to start. Unlike you I don’t hide under a pseudonym. Loraine Lamontagne King is my name. That political parties have databases containing information gathered from the electoral list (22.5 million Canadians) and that they update it with the list of donors to parties has long been public knowledge. That the CPC has been proven to be too incompetent to safeguard its access should not surprise anyone.
          Why are you too cowardly to comment under your name? What scares you? Why do you booo to others when you are not even brave enough to put your name to your opinions?

  3. The multiple cabinet and sec of state positions are also a way for the PM to keep any other MPs from gaining much influence and power. There must be all kinds of overlap between ministries and no one person will be able to build fiefdom. Other than PM and or two of his most trusted cabinet ministers, MPs in cabinet are anonymous and weak.

    Never mind wondering how America gets away with just 15 cabinet positions, Britain ruled the world with just the Colonial Office and Royal Navy but now, apparently, we need hundreds of thousands of public servants or else there will be anarchy.

    • Public servants rather than gunships, don’t you think?

      • Yeah, the Brits were bigger on gunships than they were on paperwork, and they certainly didn’t allow the colonials any bennies.

  4. “Are there too many ministers?”

    Yes. Please eliminate 3. I am not a crackpot!

    • Hope everyone got the Abe Simpson reference. I’m not serious of course. Please eliminate 23 would be more like it.

      • I’ll be dead in the cold, cold ground before I recognize Missour-ah

  5. of course it’s noteworthy how much harper praised his first small cabinet and then expanded it – I understand many formre PMs have done the same. And I think that together with the GG they pass orders in council, right? But I don’t really think of it as a deliberative body that needs to come together to run things in the way Rathberger seems to be talking about. Isn’t it more of individuals running individual areas rather than 39 people deciding everything?

    Prepared to accept further information about their role and information showing my perception is not inaccurate.

    • Senior civil servants provide the background and do the actual work….ministers only have an overall ideology, but no training or involvement in the portfolio…..unless you believe Mackay [a lawyer and sometime rugby player] knew anything about the military, or Flaherty [an accident lawyer aka an ambulance chaser] knows anything about economics.

      Under our system one week a minister can be in charge of ‘sports’ and the next in charge of foreign affairs.

      Civil servants [who probably do facepalms a lot ] know politicians come-and-go, and so do their best to protect the depts from the fly-by-nights….so no minister really ‘runs’ anything.

      See ‘Yes Minister’ for further enlightenment

      • Sometimes ministers have training in the public service – Marcel Massé, worked for both federal and provincial bureaucracies – Mackenzie-King had first-hand knowledge of bureaucracy. It is difficult for bureaucrats to get elected, they are usually parachuted into ridings. They don’t spend their evenings and weekends in the riding’s associations making friends.

  6. Of course an independent MP who never sat in cabinet is the PERFECT person to be asking about the proper size of cabinet. I think Wherry’s the only person left in Canada who cares what the self-promoting Rathgeber thinks about anything.

    • The enemy of Aaron’s enemy is Aaron’s friend.

      • . . . and, as a journalist, Aaron is a model of objectivity, fairness, balance and non-partisanship.

        • As a columnist and blogger his opinions are what interests me. I don’t read columnists and bloggers when I am in search of objectivity, fairness and non-partisanship; on federal politics I read Helene Buzzetti for that.

          • Thanks for telling us all about yourself.

          • You’re welcome.

    • You’re wrong.