Choosing ministers for a federal Cabinet is one of many responsibilities of the prime minister of the day. However, the calibre of any given Cabinet is a function of who the voters elected to the governing party. As Sir John A. Macdonald once famously said, “give me better wood and I will make you a better cabinet.” The quote was sage, like Macdonald himself. Cabinet making needs to account for regional and gender balance, as well as personal loyalty. Do you keep your enemies close?
Prime ministers have the prerogative to shuffle their ministers at any time. This is not-so subtle control the leaders have over their Cabinet colleagues. Such moves give the government an opportunity to make – and, perhaps more importantly, to be seen as making – vital changes at difficult times. It’s like a fresh start. Or a reset.
There are any number of reasons to mix things up around the Cabinet table. The PM is fed up with how a major policy is being rolled out? A scandal is brewing that might bring down the government? A Cabinet minister is simply retiring? Need to change the channel? Time for a shuffle, on either a minor or major scale.
Regardless of size, Cabinet shuffles generally allow the PM to move people out of the inner circle of power without embarrassing them. That said, it can be a very long and humiliating walk from the front benches – where Cabinet ministers sit in the House of Commons – to the backbenches.
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