moved that Bill C-24, An Act to amend the Salaries Act and to make a consequential amendment to the Financial Administration Act, be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to how Bill C-24 will formalize in legislation the one-tier ministry of this government and ensure that the government and future governments have the flexibility to deliver on their commitments to Canadians.
As you know, the government introduced this bill to amend the Salaries Act on September 27, 2016.
Bill C-24 would amend the Salaries Act by adding eight new ministerial positions to the act, five of which are currently minister of state appointments, and three of which are untitled; removing the six regional development positions from the Salaries Act, for a total increase of two positions that may be paid a ministerial salary out of the consolidated revenue fund; creating a framework within which any of the eight new ministerial positions, if occupied, could be supported by existing departments; and changing the Salaries Act title of Minister of Infrastructure and Communities and Intergovernmental Affairs to Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, including in the Financial Administration Act to better reflect the responsibilities of the position and to reflect the fact that the Prime Minister has taken on the role of minister responsible for intergovernmental affairs.
A historical look at the cabinets of the past confirms what we already know: priorities change. In 1867, there were 14 men around the country's first cabinet table. Among them, a minister of militia and defence, a postmaster general, and a secretary of state for the provinces.
The position of Secretary of State for the Provinces disappeared in the second ministry, and the third ministry saw the introduction of a Minister of Railways and Canals. Trade and Commerce was a new ministerial position in the fifth ministry, Immigration and Labour appeared in the eighth, and Soldiers Civil Re-establishment in the tenth.
Health came later and so did environment, natural resources, and infrastructure.
The first female cabinet minister, the hon. Ellen Fairclough, took her seat at the cabinet table in 1957 and the changes go on.
When the Ministries and Ministers of State Act was introduced in Parliament in 1971, the sponsoring minister remarked that the pace of change imposes a constant challenge on Parliament and the government to be as efficient as possible in doing those things that are vital to the welfare of Canadians. He said that both institutions must be flexible. Both must adapt their procedures and structures to respond effectively to the changing needs of society in a changing world. Those observations are as apt today as they were in 1971.
Modernizing the legislative framework related to creating the ministry is part of the government's determination to enhance its capacity to deal effectively with the changing priorities of Canadians.
Yes, Bill C-24 is an administrative and technical bill, but it will enable an adaptable flexible ministry, now and into the future. It deserves Parliament’s support.
For the benefit of members, I would like to provide a bit of background. The appointment of ministers is a crown prerogative. The Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister may appoint any number of ministers to any office including officers that are not referred to in legislation. This is a common feature of Westminster democracies.
The Prime Minister decides on the composition, organization, and procedures of the cabinet, shaping it to reflect the priorities of the government and to respond to the particular needs of the citizenry.
However, there are two key considerations related to each ministerial appointment. First, under what authority can a minister be paid, and second, how can the minister be supported by the public service in carrying out his or her responsibilities?
Here Parliament has a supervisory role. Even if the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister appointed a whole host of ministers under the crown prerogative, they could not be paid except under the authority of the law. That too is a common feature in Westminster countries. The salaries of ministers must be authorized by law.
These laws may set out the maximum number of ministers that can be provided a salary. In Australia, for example, there can be up to 30 salaried ministers. In the U.K., there are several tiers of ministers. There can be as many as 109 positions that can be paid a salary, including the senior tier ministers of up to 22 and junior members in minister of state and parliamentary undersecretary positions.
In Canada, Parliament has authorized two ways to pay ministerial salaries, specifically via the Salaries Act or through Appropriation Acts. The Salaries Act authorizes payment of a ministerial salary from the Consolidated Revenue Fund to individuals who have been appointed to ministerial positions listed in that act.
The Salaries Act currently lists the Prime minister, 34 specific ministerial positions, and ministers of state who preside over a ministry of state.
When it comes to carrying out the responsibilities, the Ministries and Ministers of State Act provides authority for ministers of state to use their resources, facilities, and services in existing departments.
Therefore, we come to November, 2015. Five positions that the Prime Minister wanted in his ministry and cabinet were not positions listed in the Salaries Act. Other prime ministers have faced this challenge as well. Sometimes they have managed by appointing individuals to Salaries Act positions whose legal titles did not match their responsibilities, sometimes they have been satisfied to appoint a minister of state, and other times they have successfully brought forward amendments to the Salaries Act, including most recently in 2013. There are other instances where they have taken all three of these steps.
Accordingly, in November 2015, the Salaries Act could not accommodate ministerial positions for important priorities of this government, namely promoting science, supporting small business, promoting health through sport and creating opportunities for persons with disabilities, advancing gender equality, and preserving the vitality of the francophone world.
Therefore, five ministers were appointed pursuant to the Ministries and Ministers of State Act. These ministers are paid under appropriation acts.
This was to be the arrangement until legislation could be updated. This was always the plan. There was no plot to deny full status to five ministers. They were provided with what was possible within the legal framework that existed on November 4, 2015, and the Prime Minister made a commitment to bring forward legislation to formalize his one-tier cabinet.
Bill C-24 fulfills that commitment. It would revise the list of ministerial positions in the Salaries Act to afford certain priority areas the status they deserve. The five new title positions that Bill C-24 would add to the Salaries Act carry significant and important responsibilities. Those positions are Minister of La Francophonie, Minister of Small Business and Tourism, Minister of Science, Minister of Status of Women, and Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities.
This government has said from the beginning of its mandate that there are no junior ministers and senior ministers. In practice, that is the way the cabinet has operated since day one of this government.
The Prime Minister created a ministry in which all members are full members of cabinet, have an equal capacity to exercise the powers and perform the functions assigned to them, and have leading roles to deliver on the important priorities of this government.
These ministers are appropriately supported by existing departments. This reflects the government's commitment to a different style of leadership, including close collaboration among cabinet colleagues. The ministry works in that spirit, with strong portfolio teams that share departmental resources and facilities to pursue its goals.
This arrangement would continue under the amended Salaries Act. Bill C-24 would give the Governor in Council the flexibility to ask any department to support the new Salaries Act ministers in carrying out some or all of their responsibilities. This flexibility means that a minister could have access to the expertise and experience of the department or departments best placed to provide them with full and appropriate support.
The amendments proposed by Bill C-24 would modernize the legislation to reflect the current one-tier cabinet. No new departments would need to be created as a consequence of this bill. This bill is designed to help the legislative framework catch up to the reality.
The proposed amendments will also include three new untitled positions. This will provide a measure of flexibility to this Prime Minister and to future prime ministers to appoint ministers to portfolios that reflect changing priorities of the day.
Some members have questioned our government's intentions here, suggesting something nefarious and non-transparent. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Salaries Act has been amended several times in the past. It simply makes sense to build in a degree of flexibility for the future. I encourage the members of this House to support Bill C-24. It represents an attempt to improve the way our system functions by enabling greater flexibility in cabinet design.
I will end where I began. Priorities change. A prime minister must have the flexibility to adjust his or her ministry to respond to those changing needs. The new titles that Bill C-24 would add to the Salaries Act speak to the priorities of our times, just as ministerial titles of the past spoke to theirs.
As society changes, Canada's needs will continue to evolve. It is important that we provide prime ministers with the flexibility to respond to these changes. This bill represents another important step in that process, and I urge members to support it.