Prime Minister Justin Trudeau kept his campaign promise to appoint a cabinet in which half of the positions went to women – but not all ministers are created equal.
The Liberals say the members of the cabinet are of the same stature – at least in their eyes – and will be accorded the same treatment. But five of the 15 new female ministers have been given junior seats that support the work of other ministers, while all 15 men are full ministers in charge of their own departments.
On Tuesday, the day of his swearing-in, Mr. Trudeau was asked why he believes it is important to have a cabinet in which half of the 30 ministers are women. He replied: "Because it's 2015."
In demonstrating his commitment to gender equality, he has appointed more women to a single cabinet than any other prime minister in history. In former prime minister Stephen Harper's last cabinet, for instance, 12 of the 39 seats went to women – four of whom were ministers of state.
But, according to the orders-in-council appointing the ministers, both Science Minister Kirsty Duncan and Small Business and Tourism Minister Bardish Chagger are subordinate to Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.
Patricia Hajdu, the Minister of Status of Women, and Carla Qualtrough, the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, are subordinate to Mélanie Joly, the Minister of Canadian Heritage.
And both Ms. Qualtrough and MaryAnn Mihychuk, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, are subordinate to Jean-Yves Duclos, the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development.
Although the Liberal government has referred to the five women as ministers in news releases, they are officially ministers of state.
Unlike full ministers, they are not in charge of their own separate departments.
No government representatives would speak on the record about the fact that all of the junior posts have gone to women.
But Liberal sources said on background that the government will refer to the ministers of state as ministers and that the five women will attend all full meetings of the cabinet.
In addition, they said, the government is taking steps to ensure that they receive the full pay of a cabinet minister – ministers currently make $20,000 more annually than ministers of state.
They also said the five subordinate ministers will take the lead on some key Liberal priorities.
Those assurances were enough for Nancy Peckford, the national spokesperson for Equal Voice, an organization that aims to get women elected to political office in Canada.
"We are taking the Prime Minister's Office at their word that these women, regardless of portfolio, will have a full seat at the table and will be paid the same – thereby having an equal voice," Ms. Peckford said in an e-mail on Friday.
But New Democrat MP Irene Mathyssen said she was disappointed to learn that all of the secretary of state jobs went to women.
"It was such an important thing to have gender equity, real equity," Ms. Mathyssen said. "I am very sad about this because we were so optimistic. We thought, absolutely, this was an important step, an important statement.
"But it is a matter of once again relegating women into that lesser position."