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Photograph of Conservative Party whips, May 1880
Group of small photographs of the postmasters general of Canada, 1851-1929
Ministers are members of Cabinet who are assigned a particular departmental portfolio, or who address prominent administrative, symbolic or other non-departmental duties as ministers "without portfolio." Most ministers, however, serve as the heads of federal departments, such as Finance or Agriculture, and undertake responsibilities as defined in the legislation governing those departments.
Ministers are chosen by the prime minister and are officially appointed as members of the Privy Council by the governor general. In practice, the prime minister has the final word on the government's policy and legislative agendas; however, individual ministers and Cabinet as a unit are intended to define the executive agenda by initiating and promoting constructive policies. Ministers must defend the interests of their departments both in Cabinet and in public. In choosing his or her Cabinet, therefore, the prime minister weighs these political and public obligations and will usually appoint individuals who have been elected to the House of Commons and who, collectively, will embody Canadian regional, linguistic, ethnic and gender interests.
While most members of the government caucus will aspire to be appointed to Cabinet, great responsibilities are attached to that appointment. Ministers must specialize in their assigned policy or program areas, attend Cabinet meetings, national and perhaps international gatherings, and administer their departments in consultation with senior public servants. Like other members of Parliament, ministers must also address the needs of their local constituents and of their particular provinces or regions, ensuring a dynamic connection between the citizens of Canada and the individuals who comprise the core of Canadian government.