Cabinet bloat

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“When you use the formula for the number of settings per long table, you come up with the following results: a 40 x 72-inch table comfortably seats six guests; a 44 x 84-inch table, eight guests; a 48 x 96-inch table, either eight or 10 guests if you squeeze in two at each end. Given the average size of dining rooms in today's homes, any table bigger than this would make getting into their seats impossible for guests.”

- From

Monday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced his new and improved, younger, more female cabinet. It's a mid-term refresher designed to make the government look more responsive - and, for that matter, more reflective of the country as a whole. But you have to wonder if we haven't reached a point where the federal cabinet is, well, meaningless.

Because it's gotten to the point - now with 39 members - where you could hardly seat them all at a single table with room for their knees and elbows and coffee cups, let alone have the 39 voices each have meaningful input. By's calculation, you'd need a table over 35 feet long.

Does a cabinet of that size even have the ability to do any sort of manageable work? Or has it simply reached the point where it's all about rewarding the faithful with cabinet salaries and prestige, while the real decision-making is concentrated more and more in the hands of the prime minister's office?

Have you ever sat on a committee of even 10 people? Remember how hard it was to get anything done effectively? Just about the time you've heard everyone's opinion on the first thing on the agenda, it's time to break for coffee.

Now, take that committee and multiply it by a factor of four: the only way you could possibly get anything done is to have at least two-thirds of the members simply choose to nod and clap their hands in support of the positions being put forward by the remaining one-third. And realistically, if that's the case, why have the taxpayers pay for the nodders and clappers? We could get an applause soundtrack far cheaper.

After all, when you have 40 students in a secondary school class, that's pretty much too many to teach them effectively, and that's with just one teacher who's supposed to be doing the talking.

Committees are already a battle for the middle ground, a way to find your way to an acceptable, mediocre decision. It's a process that is not inaccurately described as being the equivalent of being nibbled to death by ducks.

Perhaps we do need a minister of state for consular services, a minister of state for democratic reform and a minister of state for sport. Perhaps we need a federal cabinet with representatives from every region of Canada - even though there aren't enough hours in a cabinet meeting to let many of them even speak.

But perhaps, in a mid-sized nation with an over-sized deficit, we really don't need 39 ministries, each with ministers, official cars, office staffs and attendant costs.

Especially when it's in a government that's run by the prime minister anyway, and what we really have is a goodly number of ministers responsible for window-dressing.

Geographic location: Canada

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Recent comments

  • Aunt Lizzie
    July 17, 2013 - 15:08

    The Telegram editorial staff are obviously in need of a lesson in how government works. Here's a crash course: Just because there are 39 ministers, that doesn't mean there are 39 ministries. Some ministries have more than one member of Cabinet. For example, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade has three: a Minister of Foreign Affairs, a Minister of International Trade, and a Minister of State who handles consular issues. There are also Ministers of State who are responsible for certain policy areas that do not have ministries at all, such as Democratic Reform, ACOA, etc. Ministers of State do NOT have their own cars and drivers, etc., and generally have only a couple of staffers each. Moreover, the entire Cabinet almost never meets, and it does not really have to. Instead, Cabinet is divided into a system of Committees - Social Affairs (which includes Aboriginal Affairs, Health, HRSDC, Labour, etc.); Foreign Affairs and Defence (which includes National Defence, Foreign Affairs, Public Safety, International Trade, etc.), and so on. Each item requiring a Cabinet decision is referred to the appropriate committee. Then the decisions of all committees are ratified by the Priorities and Planning Committee, which is chaired by the Prime Minister. This system has been used by Canadian governments since the early 20th century, and all the info I have provided here is readily available online. Please, Telegram editors, do some basic research before writing about a subject, and spare yourself the embarrassment of publishing nonsense like this piece.