Tuesday, December 13, 2016

History of cabinet and minutes of cabinet

The East block cabinet room, JA Macdonald to PE Trudeau era

I'm impressed and a bit surprised to read that it was just a century ago that the British cabinet began to keep minutes of its meetings, and established the Cabinet Office to manage its record-keeping operations.

It was a wartime thing, at first.  The new prime minister, David Lloyd George, had just established the first War Cabinet, itself an innovation -- an inner cabinet of five ministers to manage grand strategy for the war leaving other ministers, with day-to-day departmental operations to supervise, unconsulted.  It was in the War Cabinet that minutes of cabinet meetings originated, and the original cabinet staff was strongly military in background and orientation.

The blogger, Andrew Blick, appends a substantial bibliography on the inner workings of British cabinets.  I'm not aware of much that is comparable about Canadian cabinets and their organization. The website of the Privy Council Office is notably ahistoric, but it does note that in 1940 -- wartime again -- Arnold Heeney, Clerk of the Privy Council, was named secretary to the cabinet and organized the first record-keeping system for Canadian cabinet meetings.

The PCO site recommends Eugene Forsey's booklet How Canadians Govern Themselves for further information. Any other suggestions for readings on Canadian cabinet history out there?

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