In the News
Parliament to Resume Sitting on January 31
Reorganization of Trudeau Cabinet and Civil Service Concentrates More Power
into Private Hands
– Anna Di Carlo –
The House of Commons will resume sitting on Monday, January 31. The Senate will not reconvene as scheduled, announcing it will return on Tuesday, February 8. It says the Rules of Parliament permit an extended break “if it is deemed that the public interest does not require [it] to meet.”
Parliament has only sat for 19 days since the September 20 federal election returned the Liberals for a third term of office with a minority position in the House of Commons. It was not convened until November 22 instead of the originally scheduled date of October 18. Asked about the reason for the delay at that time, an anonymous source from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) told Reuters News Agency that the Prime Minister wanted to ensure the process of naming the cabinet was done correctly. The unknown individual told Reuters, “We are still doing work, we can still do the important things.”
A significant statement indeed since “doing the important things” without going through the Parliament has become the hallmark of the Trudeau government. The more it does “the important things” without the Parliament, the more it says it speaks on behalf of not just the government of Canada but also the Canadian people.
The Cabinet, comprised of 38 ministers, was sworn in, but the ministers did not receive their “mandate letters” until December 16, the last day of Parliament’s sitting before its recess. Ministerial “mandate letters” “outline the objectives that each minister will work to accomplish, as well as the pressing changes they will address in their role.”
The Cabinet constitutes the executive branch of Parliament. In addition, Trudeau appointed his Chief Government Whip and his Deputy Whip. Thus, 40 Liberal MP’s have been taken out of backbencher status.
Trudeau has also reorganized cabinet committees which are said to “carry out most of the day-to-day work of the Cabinet.”
Parliamentary secretaries for each minister were chosen, not by the ministers but by the Prime Minister. Such appointments are cited as one of the ways power has been concentrated in the hands of Canadian prime ministers. The secretaries are not sworn into the Cabinet but are said to receive information about cabinet deliberations on a need-to-know basis. They are sworn to secrecy and told they must “refrain from engaging in public criticism of the department and its policies.”
Finally, in a process conducted in consultation with the Clerk of the Privy Council — the most senior Civil Servant — several major changes were made to the senior civil service involving a total of 18 appointments. It is described as “the biggest deputy minister shuffle in memory.”
Reporting on the shuffle, the Institute for Research on Public Policy predicted that “now the capital’s insiders are reading the tea leaves to discern where’s the power, who to watch and the future of the public service.” Others would argue that power resides elsewhere. In his book entitled Democracy in Canada: The Disintegration of Our Institutions, Donald Savoie writes, “If Canadians wish to locate political power, they should not look to Parliament, political parties, Cabinet or bureaucracy. Rather, they should look to the prime minister, his immediate advisors, key lobbyists, and economic elites.”
1. On August 15, at the same time as Parliament was dissolved, a Royal Proclamation was issued setting October 18 as the date for it to reconvene. Written using the royal pronoun, the Proclamation stated: “We are desirous to meet Our People of Canada as soon as may be and to have their advice in Parliament.” On October 15, a second Proclamation was issued setting out the new date of November 22. It stated: “We … do command and enjoin each of you … to appear in person … for the DISPATCH OF BUSINESS, to treat, do, act and conclude on those things that Our Parliament of Canada may, by the Grace of God, ordain.”
(Renewal Update, posted January 19, 2022)