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The Cabinet and the Privy Council

Photograph of the Privy Council Chamber from 1878-1882, in the Parliament Buildings

Photograph of the Privy Council Chamber from 1878-1882, in the Parliament Buildings
Source

 

Group of small photographs of the prime minister and Cabinet of the Dominion of Canada with members of Parliament representing the province of Quebec, 1922

Group of small photographs of the prime minister and Cabinet of the Dominion of Canada with members of Parliament representing the province of Quebec, 1922
Source

In this section:

The federal Cabinet is the active element of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, an executive body described at Section 11 of the Constitution Act, 1867:

“There shall be a Council to aid and advise in the Government of Canada, to be styled the Queen's Privy Council for Canada; and the Persons who are to be Members of that Council shall be from Time to Time chosen and summoned by the Governor General and sworn in as Privy Councillors, and Members thereof may be from Time to Time removed by the Governor General.”

Membership in the Privy Council is generally conferred on individuals appointed to Cabinet, though the governor general can extend membership to other prominent individuals. Unless removed by the governor general, those who are sworn in as privy councillors retain that distinction for life. Consequently, the Privy Council is a much larger body than the Cabinet itself, though by convention only the Cabinet representing the government-of-the-day makes legislative or other political recommendations to the governor general. Whereas the Cabinet convenes for regular meetings, a gathering of the entire Privy Council is an exceedingly rare occurrence.

The earliest members of the Privy Council met in room 235 of the East Block of the Parliament Buildings. Accommodations in that room limited the size of the first Cabinets -- only 13 Cabinet members comprised Canada's First Ministry in 1867. The complexity of modern government has multiplied the number of Cabinet seats and has led to the establishment of several committees of Cabinet. Among these committees, the group responsible for priorities and planning -- also known as the "inner cabinet" -- is the most influential. The complex business of Cabinet is coordinated by the Privy Council Office, a central agency headed by the Clerk of the Privy Council.