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.