Deputy Prime Minister of Canada

Liberal Party of Canada Chrystia Freeland Cabinet of Canada
Deputy Prime Minister of Canada
Vice-première ministre du Canada
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Chrystia Freeland in Ukraine - 2017 (cropped) 2.jpg
Chrystia Freeland

since November 20, 2019
Executive branch of the Government of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
StyleThe Honourable
Member of
Reports to
AppointerMonarch (represented by the governor general)
on the advice of the prime minister
Term lengthAt Her Majesty's pleasure
Inaugural holderAllan MacEachen
FormationSeptember 16, 1977
SalaryCA$269,800 (2019)[4]
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The deputy prime minister of Canada (French: vice-première ministre du Canada)[NB 1] is a minister of the Crown and a member of the Canadian Cabinet. The office is conferred at the discretion of the prime minister and does not have an associated departmental portfolio. Canadian deputy prime ministers are appointed to the Privy Council and styled as The Honourable (French: la honorable),[NB 2] a privilege maintained for life.

Chrystia Freeland is the 10th and current deputy prime minister of Canada, assuming the role on November 20, 2019. She serves concurrently as the minister of finance, and was the minister of foreign affairs before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau elevated her to the position following the 2019 federal election.[5] The post was vacant from 2006 to 2019.

The deputy prime minister should not be confused with the position of the clerk of the Privy Council, who is effectively the deputy minister (the senior civil servant in a department) of the prime minister's department (which is the Privy Council Office).


The position of deputy prime minister was created by Pierre Trudeau in 1977, largely to recognize the long years of service of Allan J. MacEachen.[6] Before then, Trudeau had given the title of senior minister to a member of his cabinet.[6] The last to occupy that position was Paul Hellyer.[6]

Joe Clark's government did not have a deputy prime minister. Similarly, Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not designate a deputy prime minister,[7] nor did Prime Minister Justin Trudeau until the appointment of Chrystia Freeland in his second mandate.[8] Prior to Freeland's appointment, Canada's most recent deputy prime minister was Anne McLellan, who in 2006, was also the first deputy prime minister to lose her seat in the House of Commons.

Harper gave special status in the line of authority to members of his cabinet: under an order-in-council issued on February 6, 2006—the day Harper was appointed prime minister—when "the prime minister is unable to perform the functions of his office", Lawrence Cannon, then Jim Prentice, then the balance of the Cabinet by order of precedence, were "authorized to act for the prime minister".[9] This order was followed by a number of others updating the list; in each case, the status as the top person on that list was accorded to the vice-chair of the cabinet's Priorities and Planning Committee.[10] Previous prime ministers have had similar orders-in-council, under which the deputy prime minister and then the balance of the Cabinet, in order of precedence, have been authorized to act for the prime minister. Media analysts generally credited the top person on these lists as being the de facto deputy prime minister,[10] although the title was never conferred. These "order of precedence" lists have no status as a formal line of succession, however, and would carry no special weight in determining who would take over as the new prime minister if an incumbent died in office or was forced to suddenly resign in advance of a leadership convention.

Cannon seconded the pro forma bill to start the first session of the 39th Canadian Parliament; the bill is introduced before the House takes the Speech from the Throne under consideration to maintain the right of the House to consider matters other than those directed to it by the crown. Traditionally, either the deputy prime minister or government house leader seconds this bill.[11]

Similarly, no deputy prime minister had initially been named in the cabinet of incumbent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Ralph Goodale was deputy leader of the Liberal Party and had been ranked first in the "order of precedence" in the cabinet, and an order in council designated him as first in line to assume the prime minister's duties in the event Trudeau ever became incapacitated.[12] However, media analysts focused on Dominic Leblanc, who despite having been lower in the official order of precedence served on numerous cabinet committees and as the government's liaison with the Senate, as being the "de facto deputy prime minister".[13]

Following the 2019 federal election, which saw the Liberals returned to power in a minority government but being shut out of the western provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, Goodale was defeated in the Saskatchewan riding of Regina—Wascana,[14] while Leblanc was reelected in his New Brunswick riding of Beauséjour[15] but on medical leave due to recovery from cancer treatment.[16] The Liberals were pressed to respond to concerns about lack of representation in cabinet from the prairie provinces potentially driving sentiments of western alienation.[8][17] On November 20, 2019, Trudeau appointed Chrystia Freeland, who represents the Toronto riding of University—Rosedale in Parliament but was born in Peace River, Alberta and grew up in Alberta, as the deputy prime minister.[8]


The official duties of the deputy prime minister are to answer questions pertaining to overall government policy during Question Period and to chair the Cabinet in the absence of the prime minister. The office has no standing in law and does not carry any formal duties or tasks—that is, it is without a portfolio—though, the prime minister may negotiate or assign specific tasks in conjunction with the title. With the exception of Herb Gray, all deputy prime ministers have held another ministerial portfolio alongside this title.

One deputy prime minister, Sheila Copps, attracted controversy in 1993 after asserting that she was "in charge" of government business while the then prime minister, Jean Chrétien, was out of the country. After she left politics, she wrote that although the position of deputy prime minister is only ceremonial, "very often, the DPM's job was to protect the prime minister from the political damage that Question Period can inflict on a leader", further citing the experience of Erik Nielsen during the Sinclair Stevens scandal.[18]


Unlike the role of vice president in some presidential systems, the deputy prime minister does not automatically assume the office of prime minister if the incumbent of the latter office dies or resigns.[19] Although he or she may serve in an acting capacity on a temporary caretaker basis to ensure continuity of government function during the immediate period of transition, the deputy prime minister does not automatically become the new permanent prime minister. Constitutional convention requires the governor general to consult the governing party regarding the permanent succession, and to call on a member of that party's caucus to assume the prime ministership.[19] No policy or convention precludes the deputy prime minister from being chosen as the new prime minister in such a scenario, but none assures it, either—the party caucus would be free to recommend any new leader of its choice to the governor general. Barring extraordinary circumstances, the governor general is expected to follow the wishes of the party, although officially he or she retains the authority to make the final decision. That being the case, no prime minister has died in office or resigned suddenly (except following his or her party's electoral defeat) since the 1890s, many decades before the office of deputy prime minister was created.

In the provinces of Canada, the deputy premier also does not automatically succeed to the office of premier in the event of a sudden resignation or death. Unlike at the federal level, however, there have been instances where the governing party recommended that the deputy premier serve as premier on an interim basis until a permanent successor was chosen—most notably, Dan Miller ascended from the deputy premiership to the premiership of British Columbia in 1999, following the resignation of Glen Clark, and Kathy Dunderdale ascended from the deputy premiership to the premiership of Newfoundland and Labrador in 2010, following the resignation of Danny Williams. Miller served only as an interim premier for just six months until the party selected Ujjal Dosanjh as the new leader and premier in a leadership convention, while Dunderdale won the permanent leadership of her party and served four years as premier before retiring voluntarily in 2014.

Extended notice is usually given when a sitting prime minister does not plan to lead his/her party into another election. Leadership contests to determine the successor to a prime minister are usually held during the final days of the incumbent's term, and are traditionally a lengthy and competitive process. In almost all cases, the outgoing prime minister hands over power directly to their designated successor, without any interim prime minister. By contrast, during leadership contests for the official opposition party, the leader of the opposition has often (though not always) been occupied by an interim parliamentary leader. The opposition party's deputy leader (assuming that post is occupied) is often chosen for this role unless they plan to run in the leadership election, in which case someone else would be chosen since it would be considered harmful to the election process if the interim leader was to be one of the candidates.

Legally speaking, any interim prime minister appointed by the governor general would not merely be acting on behalf of the prime minister, but would have the full powers and prerogatives of any other prime minister.

Succession chances

Chrétien is the only deputy prime minister who has become prime minister. However, no deputy prime minister has directly (or within one parliamentary term) ascended to the position of prime minister or party leader. By contrast, five ministers of finance have become prime minister; Sir Charles Tupper, R.B. Bennett, John Turner, Jean Chrétien, and Paul Martin. All but Chrétien (during his 1984 leadership bid) were considered the front-runners to succeed the outgoing prime minister or party leader. Chrétien was finance minister from 1977 to 1979, deputy prime minister in the short-lived government of John Turner in 1984, was the front-runner when he mounted his successful 1990 leadership bid, and became prime minister after his party won a majority in the 1993 election.

Though Paul Martin did not hold the title of deputy prime minister during his tenure in cabinet, as finance minister, he was considered to be more influential than Copps while she was deputy prime minister. Martin's successor, John Manley, was the only finance minister to also hold the title of deputy prime minister, from 2002 to 2003. When Martin became prime minister, however, Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan generally had precedence over Finance Minister Ralph Goodale. The Liberals were defeated in 2006 and McLellan lost her seat, opting to retire from politics afterwards.

In the 2003 Liberal leadership convention the then former and then current deputy prime ministers, Sheila Copps and John Manley (also the finance minister), respectively, were candidates, but neither were successful in their bids, losing to Paul Martin. Copps and Manley did not run for re-election to the House of Commons in 2004, and neither contested the Liberal leadership in 2006 that was triggered when Martin resigned.

Aside from Chrétien, the only deputy prime minister to even become leader of their party (not counting Erik Nielsen and Herb Gray, who acted as leaders of their respective parties, but only on a temporary basis, and before their time as deputy prime minister) was Jean Charest, who took over as leader of the Progressive Conservative party following its defeat at the 1993 election, which saw party leader Kim Campbell defeated in her riding. However, the Progressive Conservatives would never form a government again, and Charest left the party leadership (and federal politics) in 1998. Charest later became premier of Quebec, the only deputy prime minister to become first minister of a province or territory.

List of deputy prime ministers


No. Portrait Name Term of office Political party Ministry
1 Allan MacEachen.jpg Allan MacEachen September 16, 1977 June 4, 1979 Liberal 20 (P. E. Trudeau)
No image.svg Vacant June 4, 1979 March 3, 1980 21 (Clark)
(1) Allan MacEachen.jpg Allan MacEachen March 3, 1980 June 30, 1984 Liberal 22 (P. E. Trudeau)
2 Jean Chrétien1.jpg Jean Chrétien June 30, 1984 September 17, 1984 Liberal 23 (Turner)
3 No image.svg Erik Nielsen September 17, 1984 June 30, 1986 Progressive Conservative 24 (Mulroney)
4 No image.svg Don Mazankowski June 30, 1986 June 25, 1993 Progressive Conservative
5 Jean Charest.jpg Jean Charest June 25, 1993 November 4, 1993 Progressive Conservative 25 (Campbell)
6 Sheila Copps (cropped).jpg Sheila Copps November 4, 1993 April 30, 1996 Liberal 26 (Chrétien)
No image.svg Vacant[NB 3] April 30, 1996 June 19, 1996
(6) Sheila Copps (cropped).jpg Sheila Copps June 19, 1996 June 11, 1997 Liberal
7 Herb Gray 2008.jpg Herb Gray June 11, 1997 January 15, 2002 Liberal
8 John Manley IMF.jpg John Manley January 15, 2002 December 12, 2003 Liberal
9 FEMA - 14172 Anne McLellan cropped.jpg Anne McLellan December 12, 2003 February 6, 2006 Liberal 27 (Martin)
No image.svg Vacant[NB 4] February 6, 2006 November 4, 2015 28 (Harper)
No image.svg Vacant[NB 5] November 4, 2015 November 20, 2019 29 (J. Trudeau)
10 Chrystia Freeland in Ukraine - 2017 (cropped).jpg Chrystia Freeland November 20, 2019 Incumbent Liberal

Acting prime minister

Ellen Fairclough served as acting prime minister from February 19 to 20, 1958, in the absence of John Diefenbaker.

Prior to the creation of the position of deputy prime minister, a prime minister would routinely name a member of the cabinet to temporarily act on the prime minister's behalf while the prime minister was away from the regular duties of his job for a period of time, such as being out of the country on a working visit or a vacation. The delegate was thus a caretaker, whose role was to oversee the routine day-to-day functioning of the government and cabinet during the prime minister's absence; for example, in his capacity as acting prime minister, Mitchell Sharp ordered a precautionary one-day shutdown of government offices in Ottawa on August 20, 1970, as the storm that had spawned the Sudbury, Ontario, tornado headed toward Ottawa.[20] An acting prime minister did not otherwise have the authority to act independently of the sitting prime minister in a legislative or political capacity, nor would an acting prime minister be considered to have actually served as prime minister. As well the acting prime minister was not given the title The Right Honourable, even during the acting period.

Due to the routine and relatively minor nature of the role, few to no research sources exist to provide a complete list of everyone who was ever named as acting prime minister. However, John Diefenbaker's selection of Ellen Fairclough as acting prime minister on February 19 and 20, 1958, is historically noteworthy as Fairclough was the first woman ever designated.[21]

Senior Minister

Prior to the creation of this position, the position of "Senior Minister" was a ceremonial position used in a similar manner, heading the order of precedence.[6] Upon the absence of the prime minister, the senior minister would act on behalf of the prime minister.[22]

No. Portrait Name Term of office Political party Ministry
1 Paul Hellyer-c1969.jpg Paul Hellyer April 30, 1968[22] April 23, 1969[23] Liberal 20 (P. E. Trudeau)


  1. ^ When the position is held by a male, the French title is vice-premier ministre du Canada"
  2. ^ When the style is held by a male, the French title is: "le honorable".}}, a privilege maintained for life.
  3. ^ The office of deputy prime minister was briefly vacant in 1996 when Copps, after being challenged on her 1993 campaign promise to resign if the government did not repeal the Goods and Services Tax, resigned from Parliament and recontested her seat in a byelection. Chrétien did not name a replacement during Copps' absence from Parliament. After winning the byelection and returning to Parliament, Copps was reappointed to the position.
  4. ^ Harper did not name a deputy prime minister, although in practice Lawrence Cannon (Member of Parliament for Pontiac, Quebec) was named second below Harper in the order of precedence. Following Cannon's defeat in the 2011 election, Leader of the Government in the Senate Marjory LeBreton was named the first minister to act for Harper in his absence. After LeBreton resigned, the Minister of Finance at the time, Jim Flaherty and then Joe Oliver were named next in line.
  5. ^ Justin Trudeau also did not name a deputy prime minister during his first mandate, although Ralph Goodale had been designated to act for Trudeau in the event he became incapacitated. Chrystia Freeland was appointed Deputy Prime Minister following the 2019 election, in which Goodale was defeated.


  1. ^ Marleau, Robert; Montpetit, Camille, eds. (2000). "Parliamentary Institutions". House of Commons Procedure and Practice. Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada. ISBN 2-89461-378-4.
  2. ^ "The Canadian Parliamentary system - Our Procedure - House of Commons". Retrieved 2020-04-20.
  3. ^ "Review of the Responsibilities and Accountabilities of Ministers and Senior Officials" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on December 5, 2019.
  4. ^ "Indemnities, Salaries and Allowances". Library of Parliament. April 11, 2018. Archived from the original on June 1, 2017. Retrieved September 21, 2017.
  5. ^ Tonda MacCharles and Bruce Campion-Smith. "Chrystia Freeland named deputy prime minister in cabinet shuffle". The Star. Retrieved 20 November 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d Ottawa Citizen, "A Heartbeat From The Top", Charles Lynch, 10 November 1982, pp.3
  7. ^ "What powers do deputy PMs hold? And where is Harper's?". CTV News, July 4, 2010.
  8. ^ a b c LeBlanc, Daniel, and Robert Fife (19 November 2019). "Trudeau appointing Freeland as deputy prime minister in cabinet shuffle, officials say". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 20 November 2019.
  9. ^ PC 2006-1422, available at[full citation needed]
  10. ^ a b "Your new de facto deputy prime minister: Senator Marjory LeBreton" Archived 2015-09-03 at the Wayback Machine., May 22, 2011.
  11. ^ "Journals (No. 002)". Retrieved 2010-07-05.
  12. ^ List of Ministers to act for the Prime Minister in the event of his unable to perform functions of his office
  13. ^ "Political Notebook: An old family friend becomes Trudeau's right-hand man". The Globe and Mail, November 6, 2015.
  14. ^ Martin, Ashley (22 October 2019). "Election 2019: Goodale loses seat in Regina-Wascana". Regina Leader-Post. Retrieved 20 November 2019.
  15. ^ Canadian Press, The (21 October 2019). "Dominic LeBlanc thanks supporters for election win from hospital bed in Montreal". Toronto Star. Retrieved 20 November 2019.
  16. ^ Canadian Press, The (26 April 2019). "Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc stepping away from cabinet after cancer diagnosis". Global News. Retrieved 20 November 2019.
  17. ^ Platt, Brian (23 October 2019). "With Liberals wiped out in Alberta and Sask., Trudeau promises to do 'a lot more' to rebuild Western support". Retrieved 20 November 2019.
  18. ^ Retrieved 2006-02-11. Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link][full citation needed]
  19. ^ a b Lang, Eugene; August 6, Greg Schmidt Originally published on Policy Options; 2020. "The role of deputy prime minister is not as powerful as most think". Policy Options. Retrieved 2020-09-03.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  20. ^ "Ottawa concerned". The Globe and Mail, August 21, 1970. p. 8.
  21. ^ "As Acting Prime Minister Ellen Fairclough First Again". The Globe and Mail, February 21, 1958.
  22. ^ a b The Gazette (Montreal), "Hellyer Appointed No.2 Man To Rule In Trudeau's Absence", 1 May 1968, p.3
  23. ^ Reading Eagle, "Hellyer Quits Cabinet Job", P, 24 April 1969, pg.47