09 June 2009


How often are there cabinet changes and shifts in the senior bureaucracy?

While there is no text-book solution to that question, aside from elections, resignations and political meltdowns, there usually aren’t a lot of shakeups in a team government.

The reasons are pretty simple.  Cabinet ministers and senior officials (deputy ministers and assistant deputies)  are expected to get to know their departments and the people in them, to form good working relationships and then get on with the business of running their respective shows.  cabinet will send down some instructions.  Departments are expected to come up with new ideas.

In order to do that, people have to spend time working together.  They need time to learn the issues and figure out what happens when you pull the lever over there in the corner.

All of that applies equally to both the political side of departmental management (the cabinet minister) and the public servants (deputy ministers and assistant deputies). 

In the eight years between 1996 and October 2003, successive Liberal premiers changed their cabinets (major and minor changes) 11 times. 

In the five and a half years since the fall 2003 election, the current administration has made changes to cabinet 12 times. The bulk of that shifting came in the first term, with at least two changes in assignments involving some ministers roughly every six months.

Over on the public service side, the relative numbers are even more dramatic.

Liberals:  24 appointments over eight years.

Progressive Conservatives:  37 in five and a half years or so.

Now some of these announcements were onesies and twosies, that is one appointment at a time.  In other cases, like the one made today, the changes have involved seven or eight people in different departments. 

Two of the appointments made Tuesday were for people filling jobs in an acting capacity while the person normally in the job is one some form of leave.  In some instances, there have been times when the top two positions in one department have both been acting simultaneously.  That hasn’t happened a lot but it has happened.

While changes at the cabinet level have been relatively infrequent since 2007, the same can;’t be said on the executive side.  Eight changes in 2005, but 11 in 2007, five in 2008 and four already in 2009. 

Beyond the frequency, your humble e-scribbler hasn’t finished a detailed assessment yet to see who has been moving and if there are any departments that have been the focus of the changes.


the numbers are striking.