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Role of ministers

Individually, ministers are accountable to Parliament for the performance of their duties and functions. They are also responsible, collectively, for carrying out the government's policies as established by Cabinet. Ministers must attend to all matters in Parliament that concern any organizations for which he or she is responsible, including responding to questions.


In exercising the powers conferred by Parliament and in implementing Cabinet decisions, ministers are supported by a deputy minister, (i.e., the commissioner) and departmental officials. They are also provided with resources for their own office staff, (i.e., exempt staff) to assist them in their official responsibilities by providing political analysis, advice, and support that the public service cannot provide.

Additional information: The Role of the Public Service and Exempt Staff

Powers, duties, and functions

The Prime Minister determines the broad organization and structure of the government to enable it to meet its objectives. The Prime Minister is responsible for allocating ministers' portfolios, establishing their mandates, clarifying the relationships among them, and identifying the priorities for their portfolios through mandate letters.

Typically, departmental statutes provide the minister with powers, duties and functions. However, most of the ministers' powers are exercised on the minister's behalf by deputy ministers and departmental officials, who may in some cases act under formal delegations. Ministers are individually accountable to Parliament and the Prime Minister for their own actions and those of their department, including the actions of all officials under their management and direction.

The Prime Minister may assign additional responsibilities to a minister, either through an Order in Council or as a result of a designation by the Prime Minister. Consequently, ministerial responsibilities can encompass a range of diverse activities, some based on statute, others on specific direction provided by the Prime Minister.

Additional information: Powers, Duties and Functions

Access to previous government papers

Generally, a newly elected Cabinet will have control over and access to government records.

There are some exceptions. There is a long-standing convention that ministers may not see Cabinet papers of former ministers of a different party. Nor can ministers see other papers containing the unpublished views or comments of their predecessors on advice submitted to them. The purpose of this convention is to avoid having a new government make political capital out of the deliberations of the former government.

Additional information: Cabinet, Institutional, Ministerial and Personal Records

Security practices and considerations

As public figures, ministers are potential targets for cyber attacks and should exercise caution when using or accessing their social media and email accounts. Additionally, ministers are obligated to ensure the security of the privileged and protected information to which they have access.

Additional resource

Open and Accountable Government | Prime Minister of Canada ( provides additional information on ministerial responsibility and accountability, portfolio responsibilities and support, ministerial relations with Parliament, and standards of conduct.

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