The Liberal government was in damage-control mode on Day 3 of its government after it emerged that five of the historic 15 women cabinet ministers were actually ministers of state, more junior cabinet members who get paid less than their ministerial counterparts.
The Liberals say this will change, that all 30 ministers are full-fledged ministers and will be paid the same.
“To reflect their role as full members of Cabinet, the government is taking steps to adjust their salary so that it is the same as that of their colleagues,” Raymond Rivet, director of corporate and media affairs with the Privy Council Office, said in an emailed statement Friday.
But no one from the party was willing to go on the record to clarify the reason behind this apparent taxonomical hiccup.
Meantime, the pay scale for those ministers says otherwise: Ministers of State make $20,000 less per year, according to the Parliament of Canada website.
The salary change would be retroactive to Wednesday, when these ministers were sworn in. But it isn’t clear how long the change will take.
All of the Ministers of State in the new cabinet are women.
A Liberal source told Global News that these five MPs are being called Ministers of State to ensure they’ll have departmental support regardless while the government changes are being made.
“They’re all ministers and there’s nothing wrong with describing them all as ministers,” said Rob Walsh, a former parliamentary law clerk.
“But the term ‘Minister of State’ is used for a minister who doesn’t have a department for which he or she is responsible.”
All the same, Walsh thinks that the Liberals should have realized this would be an issue, especially after Trudeau’s public embrace of gender equity in his cabinet.
“I think they’re caught in an embarrassing position where they appear to have been slighting women generally by putting them in these junior portfolios at reduced pay, and they’re trying to repair that by bringing in equal pay and equal status, and disregarding the question of whether in fact the responsibilities are comparable.”
That last thing, Walsh argues, should be what determines members’ paycheques.
“The Minister of National Defence, you can be sure, is going to be called upon to account for the operations of his department and government policy in relation to defence far more often than will the Minister for Sport, Status of Women or Science,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate that Mr. Trudeau found himself, perhaps unwittingly, giving the junior portfolios to women only. But I think the system itself is sound. It’s fewer responsibilities, so you have a lower pay scale and you don’t have the same status.”
Several Liberal MPs have defended the setup, saying all 30 ministers are equal.
“We’re a singular cabinet and each minister has equal responsibilities and input into cabinet decisions,” Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould told Global News Friday afternoon.
Peter Schiefke, Liberal MP for Vaudreuil-Soulanges, argues the Ministers of State issue is “just semantics.”
“The fact is that we’ve got 15 women and 15 men that are in very high-profile positions who are incredibly qualified and capable.”
Not all Liberals are happy with these optics, however. Sources have told Global News that many women in the party are furious this happened, saying it’s been embarrassing for the five women appointed Ministers of State.
The website of the Privy Council Office listed the following five members of cabinet, unveiled on Wednesday and styled as “minister” by the new government, as “ministers of state”:
Bardish Chagger, Small Business and Tourism
Kirsty Duncan, Science
Marie-Claude Bibeau, International Development and La Francophonie
Patty Hajdu, Status of Women
Carla Qualtrough, Sport and Persons with Disabilities
Qualtrough, for example, is listed as “a Minister of State to be styled Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities” with a mandate “to assist the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Minister of Employment and Social Development, effective November 4, 2015.”
She told Global News that she considers herself a full minister.
“As far as I’m concerned, and the message I get regularly is, I report to the Prime Minister, I don’t report to another minister,” she said.
WATCH: Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities Carla Qualtrough discusses her role in cabinet
“The machinery of government is such that because there’s no separate ministry of sport – Sport Canada is currently housed in he department of Canadian Heritage – there’s a bit of work to be done in terms of the machinery side of government. I think that’s personally where some of the confusion and concern is laying.”
“But my marching orders, and the person I report, and I’m very confident in that, is the Prime Minister himself.”