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Photograph of a Cabinet meeting in the East Block Privy Council Chamber, 1930
Group of small photographs of the Dominion Cabinet and Liberal members of the House of Commons, 1902
In this section:
The two most influential institutions of the Canadian political executive, namely the prime minister and the federal Cabinet, are not identified or defined in the Constitution Act, 1867. Nonetheless, the Cabinet as selected and directed by the prime minister constitutes the active seat of executive power in Canada, with vital influence over the workings of the House of Commons and the legislative agenda of Parliament. The Cabinet also wields special power through legislative instruments known as orders-in-council, which are enacted by convention without recourse to the full parliamentary process.
Typically the Cabinet is a committee made up of representatives of the government caucus -- either members of Parliament or senators -- chosen by the prime minister and formally appointed by the governor general. Most Cabinet members are ministers responsible for a specific federal department, while Cabinet is collectively responsible for far-reaching executive policies and planning.
When Cabinet acts in an official capacity -- as, for example, when issuing orders-in-council -- it does so under the name of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, a body that has legal definition in the Constitution Act, 1867 as "a Council to aid and advise" the governor general. In practice, the Cabinet's political decisions are communicated in the form of recommendations to the governor general, who supplies formal, but largely symbolic, executive approval on behalf of the Crown. With its prevailing role in the legislative process and its advisory capacity to the governor general, the Cabinet bridges the government's executive and legislative branches.