Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the government House leader, I stand today in order to begin second reading debate on Bill C-24, which would amend the Salaries Act and formalize the equality of all ministers in this ministry to better reflect the operating reality in the current cabinet since its swearing-in last November. This would in fact formalize that.
These changes to the Salaries Act would fulfill the commitment made by the Prime Minister last November when he said he would introduce legislation to formalize the equal status of his whole ministerial team. From the beginning, the Prime Minister has created a ministry in which every single minister around the cabinet table has an equal voice, an equal capacity to perform his or her duties and functions, and leading roles to deliver on the important priorities of this government. The ministers are equally accountable as well, individually and collectively, to the Prime Minister and to Parliament for the performance of their duties.
The ministers have also been receiving the same salary since day one. However, without legislative change, it is not possible to accurately reflect this parity among ministers because the list of ministerial positions in the Salaries Act is fixed and inflexible. While that list may have served previous administrations well, it needs to be updated to reflect the priorities of this government. It needs to be modernized to make it a more flexible and adaptable tool for the design of future ministries. This is nothing new. Indeed, the Salaries Act was amended in 2005, 2012, and 2013 so as to reflect the reality of ministries at those times. As time goes by, realities change and new priorities emerge, and the government has the responsibility to ensure it has the ability to respond adequately.
Let me mention for members of the House that the Salaries Act authorized payment out of the consolidated revenue fund for ministers' salaries to individuals who have been appointed to ministerial positions listed in the act. The current ministry has 30 ministers, including the Prime Minister. However, five of these ministerial positions are not listed in the Salaries Act, namely the Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, the Minister of Small Business and Tourism, the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, and the Minister of Status of Women.
Because the Salaries Act could not accommodate those important priorities of this government, the five ministers had to be appointed pursuant to the Ministries and Ministers of State Act, and their legal title is minister of state. Many observers thought that the Prime Minister had created a two-tiered cabinet comprised of senior and junior ministers. Let me assure the House that, as one of those ministers of state in her capacity as Minister of Small Business and Tourism, our current House leader, just like all ministers in the Prime Minister's cabinet, from day one has had full standing and authority. The spirit and intent, and indeed the wording of the oath of office taken by each and every minister, conferred an equal status. Even though some positions are not listed in the Salaries Act, it is a team of equals. It has been well understand among all cabinet colleagues that the use of minister of state provisions was a temporary measure that would be addressed by legislation. The legislation is indeed before us today.
Before I turn to Bill C-24 to outline the important proposed amendments it contains, I would like to mention that the bill would not affect the Ministries and Ministers of State Act. Appointing ministers of state pursuant to the act will remain an option should the Prime Minister wish to exercise it.
Now I would like to give the House an overview of the bill. There are essentially two components to the bill: adjustments to the list of ministerial positions in the Salaries Act, and the creation of a framework to support certain ministers in the carrying out of their responsibilities.
I will begin with the adjustments of these positions. Bill C-24 would adjust the list in three ways. First it would add eight ministerial positions to the Salaries Act. Five off those positions are already filled by ministers and would replace the current minister of state appointments.
Again, those five positions are the Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, the Hon. Navdeep Bains (Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Lib.), the Minister of Small Business and Tourism, the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, and the Minister of Status of Women.
The other three positions would be untitled and are not filled in the current ministry. These flexible positions could be used and titled by a prime minister at his or her discretion, in response to future priorities and emerging challenges and opportunities. In this way, the bill would not simply amend the Salaries Act to reflect the current ministry, it would also look to the future. Prime ministers would have the flexibility to adapt their ministries to the priorities of their time.
I want to stress that the increase in possible ministerial positions in this bill does not mean that the cabinet would expand. In fact, we now have a cabinet of 30 full ministers, including the Prime Minister, though the Salaries Act would allow for a cabinet of up to 35. Second, the bill would remove the titles related to the six regional development positions in the Salaries Act.
I want to emphasize that this would not impact in any way the regional development agencies, nor would it eliminate the need for ministerial oversight of them. It is quite the opposite. The positions would continue to be filled by a minister to oversee the regional development agencies and fulfill the statutory responsibilities related to them. This could be done, for example, by cross-appointing Salaries Act ministers to these positions.
My hon. colleague, the member for Mississauga—Malton and the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, is the responsible minister for all of the regional agencies. Regional development is and remains a major priority of our government to help grow our economy, strengthen the middle class, and help those who are working so hard to join it.
To recap, Bill C-24 would spell out five titled positions, which are already occupied by individuals who are paid a ministerial salary. It would create three new untitled positions and remove six positions. The maximum number of ministerial positions that could be paid out of the consolidated revenue fund would be capped at 37, including the prime minister. This represents an increase of two positions over the current 35.
The final adjustment to the list of ministerial positions is a housekeeping matter. The bill would change the title of the minister of infrastructure, communities and intergovernmental affairs to the minister of infrastructure and communities. The minister of infrastructure and communities has no overall responsibility for federal-provincial-territorial relations. The Prime Minister has assumed responsibilities for intergovernmental affairs. Removing that phrase from the minister of infrastructure and communities title better reflects the responsibilities of the position in order to avoid confusion. Those are adjustments that Bill C-24 would make to the list of ministers.
Now I would like to briefly explain the framework that Bill C-24 would add to the Salaries Act to provide support to ministers appointed to any of the new positions.
The bill would authorize the Governor in Council to designate departments to provide support to any of the new Salaries Act ministers in the carrying out of their responsibilities. The Governor in Council would have the flexibility to designate the department to provide support to a minister with respect to some or all of the ministers' responsibilities.
The Governor in Council would also be able to designate more than one department to provide support to a minister while maintaining clarity with respect to which departments support the ministers for which matters. The bill would authorize the ministers to use services, facilities, and employees of the department or departments who have been designated to support them.
The framework means that no new departments need to be created to support these ministers. This departmental support authority is an important element of the bill. I would like to explain why with a concrete example, that of the House leader.
In her role as Minister of Small Business and Tourism, she is currently appointed pursuant to the Ministries and Ministers of State Act. The act authorizes her, in carrying out her small business and tourism responsibilities, to use the departmental services, facilities, and employees of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, the portfolio to which she is attached.
Once the position moves to the Salaries Act, the automatic link to the department through the Ministries and Ministers of State Act will not be available. Bill C-24 would authorize the Governor in Council to essentially re-establish that particular link.
In her case, of course, she is both the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, which is already a Salaries Act position, and the Minister of Small Business and Tourism. Under Bill C-24, the Governor in Council would be able to designate the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development to continue to support her in relation to her small business and tourism responsibilities. As is the case now, she would be supported by other public servants with respect to her government House leader responsibilities.
The bill would amend the Salaries Act to authorize ministers whose departments are designated to support any of the new positions, if occupied, to delegate their financial and procurement authorities to the new ministers to exercise and be accountable for within their areas of responsibility. Let me state again that this bill would enable these new ministerial positions, if occupied, to be supported by an existing department. No new departments would need to be established.
Finally, I would like to address the question of costs associated with Bill C-24. This bill would not increase the cost of the current ministry. The five ministers currently appointed as ministers of state receive the same salary as their cabinet colleagues and have office budgets that match their responsibilities. This will not change under the bill before us. What this bill simply does is enshrine in law what is current practice within the ministry.
To conclude, since the cabinet was sworn in last November, all ministers have taken their places as equals at the cabinet table. It is unfortunate that the statutory differences between Salaries Act ministers and the Ministries and Ministers of State Act ministers created for some an incorrect perception that some had a lesser status.
By bringing this entire cabinet under the Salaries Act, we are sending a powerful signal that there are no second-tier ministers in this government. Each and every minister's voice is being heard. They all have equal authority. As a result of this bill, the equality that is felt at the cabinet table will also be reflected in the law. Such a simple bill can carry a powerful message.
For the purpose of the business of this House, this is indeed a simple and straightforward housekeeping bill. Nonetheless, this is a matter that must be attended to. I hope my colleagues from the other side of the floor will agree with me that we should proceed expeditiously. I hope all members of the House will join me in supporting this bill to resolve the discrepancies between the legislation and the current reality while allowing enough flexibility to respond to future events.
I know that the government House leader would welcome the opportunity, no doubt, to express her gratitude to all those who assisted her in bringing forward the legislation I was able to present today. I would also like to thank the Conservative and New Democratic representatives at the technical briefings. I found them to be quite informative, and I appreciated their interest in listening to the technical support provided by the department.
With that, I appreciate the opportunity to introduce the legislation.