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Legislation

Law still doesn’t reflect equal status of five female ministers

By Peter Mazereeuw      

Office budgets are kept secret until the year’s end.

Sport and Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough, Science Minister Kirsty Duncan, Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu, Small Business and Tourism Minister Bardish Chagger, and Francophonie Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government is planning to change the law outlining ministerial titles in the fall, according to the PCO. The Hill Times photographs by Jake Wright
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Five ministers technically appointed as ministers of state still don’t have their roles recognized in the law used to dictate cabinet salaries.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named a cabinet with gender parity in November 2015: 15 women, 15 men.

But five female ministers were appointed as ministers of state—traditionally junior ministers who assist full cabinet members—“to be styled as” full ministers.

At the time, the government said those five—Francophonie Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, Status of Women Minister Patricia Hajdu, Sport and Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough, Small Business and Tourism Minister Bardish Chagger, and Science Minister Kirsty Duncan—were indeed full ministers with full cabinet privileges, but were appointed as ministers of state due to laws outlining different roles in cabinet. Those statutes would be changed quickly, an unnamed government official told the CBC in November.

Those five ministers are equal, but the government still has not made the promised legal changes, according to Privy Council Office spokesperson Raymond Rivet.

The government plans to introduce the needed legislation in the fall, wrote Mr. Rivet in an emailed statement July 7. The office of Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc did not immediately respond when asked why the government had not yet made those legal changes, or which changes would be required.

The government has already ensured that the five ministers have salaries equal to their peers, which did not require any legislative change, wrote Mr. Rivet. But it’s unclear whether their office budgets are the same, which would affect the money they have to hire staff and furnish their office.

The government is being tight-lipped about what ramifications, if any, the delay to the legal changes may have on the five politicians. The PCO refused to disclose the budget allocated to any of the government ministers to run their offices this year, calling it a cabinet secret.

In years past, ministers of state have typically been allotted an office budget about half the size of their peers who were full ministers.

However, a former official in the PCO says there is no legal reason all 30 ministers could not be given equal resources.

Treasury Board controls the purse strings

Ministers’ salaries are prescribed by the federal Salaries Act, which uses a base amount of $67,800, indexed since 2004 to increase annually. This year that figure stands at $81,500 plus a $2,000 car allowance, above and beyond the $170,400 basic MP salary.

The Salaries Act specifically lists ministerial positions that a salary can be allotted to. The Status of Women, Small Business and Tourism, Sport and Disability, Science, and Francophonie portfolios are not included in that list.

That is likely the reason that Ms. Duncan, Ms. Chagger, Ms. Hajdu, Ms. Qualtrough, and Ms. Bibeau were awarded their roles in the cabinet, on paper, as ministers of state, said Sylvain Dubois, vice president of public governance at Ottawa’s Institute on Governance, and a former director of operations at the Machinery of Government Secretariat in the Privy Council Office.

Ms. Bibeau also holds the International Development portfolio, which is written into the Salaries Act.

Ministers of state are appointed through the Ministries and Ministers of State Act, which is far more flexible. It does not prescribe any specific titles, portfolios, salaries, or budgets. As a result, the federal Treasury Board is free to give ministers of state whatever salary the government wants, said Mr. Dubois.

(A side note for legislation wonks: the Salaries Act does prescribe salaries, equal to those of regular ministers, for ministers of state who preside over ministries of state, individuals with responsibility for specially-created ministries. No such ministers have been appointed since the days of Pierre Trudeau, said Mr. Dubois.)

Amending the Salaries Act would likely be a quick and simple way to solve the problem, and ensure that the portfolios of all of the Trudeau ministers are reflected equally in the law, said Mr. Dubois.

“It’s no big deal to change,” he said.

The Treasury Board is also responsible for setting the annual budget for ministers’ offices, said Mr. Dubois.

During the 2014-2015 fiscal year, spending by the offices of Conservative ministers ranged from $821,685 (house leader Peter Van Loan) to $2.26 million (justice minister Peter MacKay), compared to between $78,771 (minister of state for agriculture Maxime Bernier) and $687,669 (Rob Moore, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency) for ministers of state.

Under the previous government, ministers or ministers of state with multiple portfolios drew multiple office budgets.

peter@hilltimes.com

@PJMazereeuw

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