Privy to the Prime Minister's person:
For all intents and purposes, the Cabinet Committee on Priorities and Planning is Mr. Harper's Cabinet.
There are 12 members on the committee—including the vice-chair, Senator Marjory LeBreton—who are considered part of Mr. Harper's inner circle.
"They're planning the strategic direction of the government. They do it all. I would be very surprised if any policy originates from any of the other committees. They might get things referred to them from P&P but they're not going to be giving them ideas and sending them up the ladder. All the stuff is coming from the top down," said one political insider who did not want to be identified.
Cabinet meets much less frequently, with estimates ranging from once a month to only two or three times a year. Full Cabinet meetings focus on longer-term issues, such as planning for a fall or winter sitting, and may take the form of a retreat to Willson House on Meech Lake in the Gatineau hills, said Mr. Baran.
This shifting of power away from the actual cabinet, toward a less constitutionally substantive duo of committees, is only to be expected. The ruling element here is group dynamics. Beyond about 12 people small groups cannot function effectively as a team. One of the basic units of modern armies is a section or squad of about 8 to 13 soldiers. The same rough pattern repeats itself in business and sports. With a bloated cabinet of 39 members real power, of necessity, had to move to smaller and nimbler groups.
So is this the end of cabinet government? Well no. In most largish cabinets there has usually been a distinction between the inner and outer cabinet, the former being comprised of a small group of the senior most cabinet ministers. The power structure of the cabinet committees suggests that the new "inner cabinet" is based on the minister's personal relationship to the Prime Minister, rather than the importance of the file. Jason Kenney remains Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, a traditionally mid-level file, yet is now also Operations Committee chair.
The emergence of the cabinet committee as a major political power center, dating of course from the Trudeau-era, represents an ironic constitutional development. Cabinet government itself emerged from a larger and now mostly ceremonial body, the Privy Council. Dating from the Norman Conquest the Privy Council were the monarchy's official advisers. Appointment to the council was prestigious and often given to friends and supporters of the monarch, rather than men of political ability or influence. The growth and sophistication of government operations led to the creation of ad hoc committees to advise the monarch on particular issues. In time one of those committees became what we today describe as the Cabinet.
Even in modern Canada the Cabinet remains a committee of the Privy Council. Now real power has drifted into the hands of a sub-commitee of that committee. Stop me if I you're getting dizzy. Membership of these cabinet committees are determined by the members personal relationship to the fount of power and honour in modern Canada, the Prime Minister. We have replaced an unelected monarch with an elected one, while taking one step more down the road away from a parliamentary to a Presidential system of government.