Cut it in half and no one would notice

As we wait for Stephen Harper to appoint a new cabinet, it is worth recalling a point I’ve made before: we have, and will continue to have unless he does something surprising, the largest cabinet in the democratic world. Or at least among the major developed democracies: apparently Nigeria is threatening to beat us.

Harper’s last cabinet had 38 members: 27 ministers, plus 11 ministers of state. (In Canada these are considered full members of Cabinet: there is no longer any effective difference between Cabinet and the ministry. It was indeed Harper who erased the distinction in October 2008, when he converted what were previously secretaries of state to ministers of state.)

The US Cabinet currently contains 16 members, including the Vice-President. There are, in addition, six “cabinet-level officers,” none of whom has executive responsibility for any department.

The British Cabinet consists of 23 ministers (one of whom is unpaid), including the Prime Minister. Five other officials “attend cabinet meetings,” but are not considered full members of cabinet. Neither is the Attorney General, although he sometimes attends.

Some other cabinets of note:

Germany : 16 ministers, including the Chancellor.

Japan : 17 ministers, including the Prime Minister.

France : 16 full ministers, including the Prime Minister, plus 7 “ministres auprès d’un ministre” and 8 secretaries of state.

Italy : 25 ministers, including the Prime Minister. 13 have departmental responsibility; 11 are ministers without portfolio.

Australia : 20 ministers, including the Prime Minister.

New Zealand : 20 ministers, including the Prime Minister, plus 8 ministers outside cabinet, some from supporting parties in the coalition.

CODA: Harper does not preside, however, over the largest cabinet in Canadian history. That honour goes to Brian Mulroney, by a whisker: at its largest, his was 39. That’s more than Macdonald (15 at the most), Laurier (17), King (20) Diefenbaker (24), Pearson (28), or even Trudeau (37 by the end, but fewer than 30 for most of his time in office) somehow struggled by on.

SPECIAL BONUS PAK: Here’s what a slimmed-down cabinet could look like (revised from earlier version):

  • Prime Minister
  • Justice/ Attorney General
  • Public Safety/Solicitor General
  • Defence (inc Veterans)
  • Foreign Affairs & Trade
  • Intergovernmental Affairs
  • Aboriginal Affairs
  • Immigration
  • Finance (inc. Revenue, Treasury Board, Financial Services)
  • Industry
  • Resources (inc. Energy, Mining, Forestry, Fisheries, Agriculture)
  • Infrastructure (inc Transportation, Telecoms, Public Works)
  • Environment & Public Health
  • Work & Incomes (inc Labour, Training, Unemployment Insurance, Income Assistance, Pensions)

There’s also:

  • Government House Leader
  • Senate Leader

but strictly speaking these aren’t supposed to be cabinet posts. But even if they were, you’d still come in well under 20. And even if you split up the Resources and Infrastructure portfolios into two or three departments each, you’re barely at it.

BUT WAIT THERE”S MORE: I notice that Australia combines “Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry” in one post, “Resources and Energy” in another. Japan also combines Farming, Fishing & Forests under one minister, while France does the first two.

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