Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today to speak in support of Bill C-24. This is my second opportunity to speak to this bill, and I take great pride in it, as it is one I wholeheartedly endorse.
Assembling a cabinet is one of the first responsibilities of an incoming prime minister. The overall design of cabinet, the selection of ministers, and the alignment of their responsibilities determine how the government will marshal its individual and collective strengths under the prime minister's leadership to accomplish its priorities and oversee the day-to-day governing of the country. All these decisions are at the prerogative of the prime minister, as we know. The selection of members of cabinet is both vitality important and highly personal.
The Right Hon. Jean Chrétien writes in his memoir, “Building a cabinet is perhaps the most private and personal duty a prime minister has to perform.” The Right Hon. Lester B. Pearson writes in his, “In choosing my Cabinet, the decisions were mine and I did not ask anyone to share that responsibility.” The prime minister of Canada has considerable flexibility in exercising his or her prerogative for assembling the ministry and cabinet. Although a number of ministerial offices are created by statute and must be filled, the prime minister has room to design the ministry by cross-appointing individuals to more than one position, changing ministers' working titles to reflect their roles in advancing the priorities, and assigning responsibilities to the ministers through changes to the machinery of government.
The prime minister can also recommend the appointment of ministers of state to assist other ministers. These ministers might assist a minister with particularly heavy responsibilities or with a specific responsibility requiring special attention. Ministers of state can also receive statutory powers, duties, and functions. When they do, they are accountable to the prime minister and to Parliament directly for the manner in which they exercise them. The prime minister decides whether ministers of state are to be vested with statutory authorities in their own right and whether they sit in cabinet.
There can be parliamentary secretaries as well, as we know. These discretionary positions are not members of the ministry and do not normally play a role in cabinet. They are appointed under the Parliament of Canada Act to assist ministers with their parliamentary responsibilities, including interacting with caucus members and opposition counterparts, and assisting with the shepherding in of legislation.
Although the prime minister has considerable flexibility, there are rules underpinning the structure of the ministry too. For example, the Salaries Act, the legislation that authorizes the remuneration of ministers, lists 34 specific ministerial positions in addition to the prime minister. Many of those ministerial positions are statutory offices that must be filled. A few are discretionary.
While the governor general, on the advice of the prime minister, can appoint any number of ministers, only individuals appointed to positions listed in the Salaries Act can be paid a ministerial salary out of the consolidated revenue fund. The number of ministers of state whom a prime minister can appoint is unlimited, but it is subject to the requirement of Parliament's agreement to appropriate the necessary monies for that purpose under the annual appropriation acts.
The number of parliamentary secretaries that may be appointed cannot exceed the number of ministerial positions listed in the act. This mix of flexibility and rules reflects a fundamental constitutional principle. It is the crown's business to organize itself for the proper administration of the affairs of state, and it is Parliament's business to guide and supervise that administration through the granting or withdrawal of authorities and funding to the executive.
The size of the Canadian ministry has changed significantly over time, reflecting the development of Canada as a country and the growing complexity and range of issues under the federal government's purview. At the time of Confederation, the fledging government carried over seven federal organizations from its predecessor government, six departments and the Geological Survey of Canada. However, by the time of the first anniversary of Confederation, there were 15 organizations with 12 departments, the Geological Survey, the Dominion police service, and the office of the governor general's secretary.
Today, the prime minister must organize upward of 190 federal government entities into portfolios, each to be managed by ministers who are accountable for results. Over the course of the last 50 years, ministries have varied in size, from a low of 30 members in the Clark ministry, to at one point a high of the prime minister plus 39 other members in the Harper ministry.
The current ministry is composed of the Prime Minister and 30 ministers. It has not grown in number since its swearing-in on November 4, 2015. On that day, 26 individuals were sworn into ministerial positions listed in the Salaries Act. One of those 26 ministers, the Minister of International Development, and four other individuals were sworn in as ministers of state and assigned by orders in council to assist other ministers pursuant to the Ministries and Ministers of State Act.
The Ministries and Ministers of State Act was used in four cases because the positions are not listed in the Salaries Act and those ministers could not be paid or supported by the public service in carrying out their responsibilities. The Minister of International Development is paid under the Salaries Act. In this case, the Ministries and Ministers of State Act offered a way for the Minister of International Development to assume Canada's responsibilities for La Francophonie from the Minister of Foreign Affairs and to be supported by Global Affairs Canada in that role.
The legal title of ministers appointed under the Ministries and Ministers of State Act is “minister of state”. They are paid under the appropriation acts. The orders in council assigning these ministers to assist other ministers are necessary because of the legislative framework and the decision to have these ministers supported by existing departments in the exercise of their authorities and performance of their duties.
When the ministry was sworn in, a number of observers wondered why five of its members were appointed as ministers of state rather than simply as ministers. They concluded that the Prime Minister's gender-balanced cabinet was not really that at all.
In an interview with iPolitics, for example, the member for London—Fanshawe said she did not understand the technical reason for making the positions ministers of state rather than full ministers. At the time, the positions were all filled by women. The member has been a powerful champion of women's rights and women's voices in politics. She said she was disappointed and sad. However, she need not be, and she was right: the reason is a technical one.
The appointments as ministers of state and the orders in council under the Ministries and Ministers of State Act allow these ministers to be paid and supported by existing departments in carrying out their important mandates. They were provided with what was possible within the legal framework that existed on November 4, 2015.
The Prime Minister made a commitment to introduce legislation that reflects the composition of his one-tier ministry. Bill C-24 fulfills that commitment. It would revise the list of ministerial positions in the Salaries Act by adding five titled positions that are currently minister of state appointments: namely, 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.
It would add three untitled positions to provide a degree of flexibility for this and future prime ministers to adapt their ministries to respond to priorities of the day. It would offset the increase in ministerial positions that may be paid out of the consolidated revenue fund by removing six regional development ministerial positions from the statute. This would have no impact on the regional development agencies or the statutory requirement for ministerial oversight of them.
Bill C-24 would also create a framework within which any of these eight ministers can be supported by existing departments, meaning that no new departments need to be created as a consequence of the bill. Also, it would change the legal title of Minister of Infrastructure and Communities and Intergovernmental Affairs to Minister of Infrastructure and Communities to properly reflect the responsibilities of that position.
Why is the bill important? Why not just continue with the current arrangement under the current legal framework? We want to send a strong signal to Canadians that all ministers in this cabinet are equal. In Canada, we like to treat people equally. The ministry is the reflection of that value. We want to remove distracting distinctions, which even after two years and even after we debate the bill, have some members insisting that they are junior ministers and that they should stay as junior ministers.
The Prime Minister's team is a group of equals. We need to make this legislative framework a reality. In this ministry, there are no junior ministers or senior ministers. There are no first-tier and no second-tier ministers. There are just ministers, working together to deliver results for Canadians.
We would be shortsighted if we did not look to the future now. We need to modernize the legislation to allow for sufficiently varied and flexible ministerial structures, which can adapt quickly to the contemporary challenges of complex issues, changing priorities, and big government.
I urge my fellow hon. members to join me in supporting Bill C-24.