Guide to Canadian Ministries since Confederation

Table of Contents

About the Guide

The Guide to Canadian Ministries since Confederation provides a detailed list of members of each government ministry in Canada since 1867.

Its predecessor, the Guide to Canadian Ministries since Confederation, July 1, 1867- January 1, 1957 appeared in 1957, followed by a supplement in 1966. A Guide combining the earlier publications was published in 1974. The current Guide to Canadian Ministries combines all these earlier publications with new information concerning the latest ministries.

The earlier compiling of information was largely the work of the late Mr. Henri Chassé, Assistant Clerk of the Privy Council, with the assistance of Communication Services, National Archives of Canada.

How This Guide Works

The Guide to Canadian Ministries provides a chronological list of the ministries since Confederation. For each ministry, there is an alphabetical list of departments followed by the names and dates of service of the various ministers. The accompanying footnotes indicate when one person held more than one office at the same time as well as later appointments. They also indicate offices held ex officio and provide information on the creation and abolition of ministerial offices.

Life of a Ministry

The First Day

The life of each ministry is dependent on the tenure of its Prime Minister. The simplest way of determining the day on which a ministry began is the date of the oath of office taken as Prime Minister. However, there is no legal requirement that a Prime Minister take such an oath. Until 1957, only two Prime Ministers did so: Arthur Meighen in 1920 and William Lyon Mackenzie King in 1921. Until 1957, the Prime Minister held at least one portfolio. If no oath of office as Prime Minister was sworn, the life of the ministry began on the day the Prime Minister was sworn to his other portfolio. If the Prime Minister retained the same portfolio from the previous ministry, the first day was considered that on which his ministers were sworn to their offices.[1] This changed in 1957 with the swearing-in of John George Diefenbaker. Since then, all Prime Ministers have sworn an oath of office as Prime Minister.

The Last Day

The last day of a ministry is determined by the date the Prime Minister died[2] or the Governor General accepted his or her resignation. Before 1920, a Prime Minister's resignation was accepted immediately. The ministry was dissolved ipso facto, but individual ministers continued to carry on the routine business of their departments until their own resignation was accepted by the new Prime Minister or a new appointment was made. In 1920, Sir Robert Laird Borden indicated his intention to resign, but offered his formal resignation only when Arthur Meighen was ready to form a government. This practice continues today.

There are two ways to note the dates of ministries. The date used in the Guide corresponds to the day the Prime Minister's resignation was accepted or to the date of his or her death. Another possible reference date is the final date in office of a ministry, which corresponds to the Interpretation Act, 1967. Where an appointment is made effective or terminates on a specified day, that appointment is considered to be effective or to terminate after the end of the previous day[3]. Individual resignations, in the text, conform to the Interpretation Act.

Appointment of Ministers

Ministers are usually appointed by commission under the Great Seal of Canada. During the 13 years following Confederation, the appointments of ministers were recommended verbally by the Prime Minister. The dates of such appointments have been determined from the notices appearing in the Canada Gazette. In most cases since Confederation, the date of appointment corresponds to the date the Minister took his or her oath of office. Between 1880 and 1953, a Minute of Council was approved recommending to the Governor General that a commission of appointment be issued. Since September 1953, a recommendation for ministerial appointment has been effected by an Instrument of Advice, a letter from the Prime Minister to the Governor General.[4]

Ministers are sworn in as members of the Privy Council before being sworn to their first portfolio. As a result, they are given the title honourable. The date on which they are sworn in as members of the Privy Council is considered the day on which they assume office.[5] In the case of later appointments, only a new oath of office is taken. Click here for the list of members of the Privy Council.

Most Prime Ministers and a number of other ministers have been sworn as members of the United Kingdom Privy Council. As a result they are accorded the title right honourable. The actual date of swearing in has been used rather than the date of appointment of office. In March 1968, the Table of Titles to be used in Canada was amended to accord the title right honourable for life to Prime Ministers upon their taking office.

Ministers without Portfolio

There have been a number of Ministers without Portfolio in all except the First Ministry[6]. Until 26 September 1926 the term Minister without Portfolio was used. Incumbents were sworn as Privy Councillors and attended Cabinet meetings on the invitation of the Prime Minister. However, after 1926 they were appointed as Members of the Administration and Ministers without Portfolio.[7] Until 1968 they took an oath of office as Members of the Administration. At that time the traditional title of Minister without Portfolio was reintroduced. The title has been used throughout the Guide until 11 June 1971 when the Government Organization Act, 1970-71, was proclaimed in force. The Act provided for the appointment of Ministers of State who may be assigned to assist any Minister having responsibility for a department or portion of the public service.

Acting Ministers

Acting ministers are shown when an office has been vacated during a ministry and an acting minister has been appointed to fill the vacancy. On 3 December 1886, provision was made for the appointment of acting ministers by Order in Council when a minister was absent or incapacitated. For most appointments prior to this date,.[8] it has been necessary to rely on the signatures on departmental submissions to the Governor in Council. Since 1886, the date of approval of the Order in Council appointing an acting minister is the date on which he or she began to serve. In 1965, provision was made for the appointment of acting ministers on a continuing basis to act when a minister is absent or incapacitated or when the office is vacant. This is done by Order in Council and provision is usually made for an alternative acting minister.

Offices of the Ministry but not of the Cabinet

There have been several offices that were considered of the ministry but not of the cabinet. The Solicitor General of Canada, Controller of Customs, and Controller of Inland Revenue have all, at various times, fallen into this category. They were not appointed to the Privy Council and did not attend cabinet meetings..[9] Parliamentary secretaries and parliamentary under secretaries during the Ninth and Tenth Ministries were also included in this group.

On several occasions, parliamentary secretaries and parliamentary under secretaries were appointed from among members of the House of Commons to assist various ministers or to act in their absence. The Parliamentary Secretary of Militia and Defence and the Parliamentary Under Secretary for External Affairs, were appointed by Order in Council on 15 July 1916. A Parliamentary Secretary of Soldiers' Civil Re-establishment was appointed in February 1918. Since their duties were ministerial in nature, parliamentary secretaries and parliamentary under secretaries were considered of the ministry but not of the cabinet..[10] An annual salary of $5000 was provided for in September 1917 by Statute Geo. V, c. 35. The Statute also provided for the abolition of the offices of Parliamentary Secretary of Militia and Defence and Parliamentary Under Secretary for External Affairs at the end of the session of Parliament in which the First World War ended. The office of Parliamentary Secretary of Soldiers' Civil Re-establishment was abolished in June 1928.

Parliamentary Assistants and Parliamentary Secretaries not of the Ministry

Parliamentary assistants were first appointed in the Sixteenth Ministry. Provision for their appointment and a salary of $4000 per annum was made by an annual vote in the House of Commons estimates. Formal appointments were made by Order in Council and the parliamentary assistants ceased to hold office on the dissolution of the House. Parliamentary assistants were not considered to be of the ministry. By the Parliamentary Secretaries Act, 1959, the office of parliamentary assistant was replaced by that of parliamentary secretary. The Act provided for the appointment of a maximum of 16 parliamentary secretaries. In 1970, it was amended to allow the appointment of a parliamentary secretary to assist each minister.


    [1] This was the case with the ministries of Sir John Sparrow David Thompson (Fifth), Sir Charles Tupper (Seventh) and Sir Robert Laird Borden (Tenth).
    [2] Only two ministries have been dissolved because of the death of the Prime Minister: the Third Ministry with Sir John A. Macdonald's death on 6 June 1891 and the Fifth Ministry with Sir John Sparrow David Thompson's death on 12 December 1894.
    [3] Interpretation Act, Statute 16 Eliz. II, c. 7, Section 22:5.
    [4] The Solicitor General was not appointed through the use of the Instrument of Advice until 1966.
    [5] The Hon. Hugh McDonald is the exception to this rule, having served as President of the Privy Council and Ministry of Militia and Defence before being sworn as a Privy Councillor.
    [6] During the First Ministry James Cox Aikins was appointed to the Privy Council on 16 November 1869 and at that time was invited by Macdonald to attend Cabinet meetings. He cannot be considered a Minister without Portfolio, however, as he was not sworn of the Privy Council until 8 December 1869, which coincided with his appointment as Secretary of State.
    [7] William Frederic Kay was appointed with the title Minister without Portfolio in 1930.
    [8] Appointments were occasionally recorded by Order in Council after 1879.
    [9] Hon. Sir Charles Hibbert Tupper had been sworn of the Privy Council on 1 June 1888. During the Seventh Ministry he was Solicitor General of Canada, 1 May 1896 to 8 July 1896, but he was not invited by the Prime Minister to be a member of the cabinet.
    [10] P.C. 1916-1970 describes the office of Parliamentary Secretary of Militia and Defence as follows:"...a Parliamentary Secretary who shall assist the Minister of Militia and Defence and within certain limits shall act for him during his absence.... The Parliamentary Secretary shall ex officio be a member of the Militia Council and in the absence of the Minister shall act as chairman thereof.... In the absence of the Minister from Ottawa and the Parliamentary Secretary shall preside over and administer the Department of Militia and Defence."