Cabinet Selection

… a core term in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100


Selecting (and deselecting) the members of Cabinet (i.e., the Ministers of the Crown) is one of the most important of the Prime Ministerial Prerogatives.

Jay Makarenko, writing in Mapleleafweb in 2007 describes the process in Canada:

“The Prime Minister usually appoints elected Members of Parliament to Cabinet, although, it is permissible to choose those who are not elected to serve. Moreover, a Prime Minister generally appoints MPs solely from his/her political party to serve (unless it is a coalition government). In this way, the Prime Minister often looks to the best and brightest members of his/her party. A Prime Minister may also look to use his/her power to smooth over divisions within the party by, for example, appointing a chief rival to a key Cabinet position.

“It is also customary (although, not mandatory) for the Prime Minister to select a Cabinet that is representative of Canada’s regional and linguistic traditions. The Prime Minister will often look to have at least one Cabinet Minister from each province or region in Canada. This custom stems, in large part, from the fact that Canada is a federation and that the Senate has never adequately performed its intended role of representing provincial interests in the federal government. It is also tradition for the Prime Minister to attempt to strike an appropriate balance in Cabinet between the interests of French and English Canada; typically one-third of Cabinet Ministers are French, with the remainder being English. The precise regional and linguistic makeup of a Cabinet, however, often depends on the pool of MPs elected. It may be the case that the Prime Minister simply does not have enough qualified MPs from a particular region or linguistic group, and may not make a related Cabinet appointment.”

Bakvis and Wolinetz (p. 210) provide the following examples:

“Federal cabinets are expected to be representative of Canada’s regions and provinces. Convention dictates that each province – even Prince Edward Island with a population of 135,000 – should have at least one member in the cabinet. Larger provinces are entitled to more, but here too representation needs to be balanced. In the case of Ontario, for example, there should be ministers from northern and south-western Ontario as well as Toronto. The regional imperative limits the prime minister’s capacity to slot people into positions where they can help in implementing or furthering the premier’s agenda. As a result, a prime minister may be unable to appoint people who are his or her supporters and/or possess expertise or experience helpful in managing a particular portfolio. Second, the prime minister may be forced to include certain figures in the cabinet because they have strong regional bases of support. Such individuals do not necessarily share the prime minister’s agenda and may be in a position to challenge the premier on issues that directly affect their province or region. Under the Mulroney government (1984–93), John Crosbie, the Minister from Newfoundland, extracted concessions on offshore resources which benefited the province. Crosbie also forced the prime minister to renounce a treaty between Canada and France on fishing rights off the French islands, St. Pierre and Miquelon. The prime minister also needs to include his or her closest competitors in the leadership race. When Chrétien first came to power, it would have been difficult to exclude his main rival, Paul Martin, or deny him a major portfolio.”

Canada’s first Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald, famously responded to a criticism of the quality of some of his government’s ministers with the quip “Give me better wood and I will make you a better cabinet.”

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Machinery of Government (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.


Jay Makarenko (2007), The Prime Minister & Cabinet in Canada, Mapleleafweb, 1 June 2007, at, accessed 26 August 2016.

Herman Bakvis and Steven B. Wolinetz (2005), “Canada: Executive Dominance and Presidentialization,” in The Presidentialization of Politics: A Comparative Study of Modern Democracies, eds. Thomas Poguntke and Paul Webb, pp. 200-219. Oxford : Oxford University Press.

Macdonald quote from, accessed 26 August 2016.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 26 August 2016.