Insights into Being the Minister of Education.

AuthorRouble, Patrick

Education is a significant portfolio in any provincial or territorial cabinet. The Education Minister makes decisions and works with others to accomplish specific functions that affect individual students and society as a whole. They are widely seen to have a key role in shaping the future, and as such the pressure on them to perform well and succeed is immense. Surprisingly, for such an important position, new appointees often find they are unprepared for all that is expected of them. In this article, the author, a former territorial Education Minister, summarizes his doctoral research into education leadership. Employing interviews with other former education ministers from across the country and the political spectrum, he endeavoured to develop an interpretive understanding of the position through the lens of identity. Four common themes were developed from the stories of the former ministers: changing identity, voicing identity, educating identity, and trusting identity. He concludes by expressing hope that his analysis and research will help us do a better job of preparing people who assume these positions to understand their roles and responsibilities.


When I made the decision to retire from office, I decided to return to school, as a student, to continue my education. Having been Yukon's Minister of Education, I thought that it would be fitting to study education leadership.

In conversations with students and faculty alike, I was surprised at how little understanding there was of the role of Minister of Education. Perhaps they had as little understanding of the role as new ministers have of education? Attempting to address this situation would form the basis of my doctoral dissertation.

Creating a better understanding of the experience of being a Minister of Education proved to be a thought-provoking academic project. The position is complex and multifaceted. It involves being a politician, a representative, a decision-maker, and a leader. And, it involves operating in the contentious, emotional field of education. Revisiting the experience through a researcher's lens was interesting, frustrating, and rewarding. It was an opportunity to study various philosophical perspectives, examine political science theories (something I had not done before entering politics), and carefully consider how others had experienced the position. This article briefly summarizes my doctoral research, findings and insights. The full dissertation, Anxiety, Authority, and Accountability: The Experience of Being a Minister Responsible for Education, can be found online.

I began my study with an examination of what was known about being a Minister of Education, including the legislated duties, the mechanics of the position, and the conventions of the office. There were varied perspectives on what it means to be a politician, a member of the legislative assembly, and a cabinet minister, and current thinking on leadership in education. Even though I had been in the position for five years, this research activity was a bit of a revelation. When I took office, I had next to no training or orientation for what I was about to experience. Other than an afternoon with the Clerk, a day with a communications specialist, and a stack of briefing books, there was very little preparation for the position. It seems that many of my colleagues found themselves in similar positions. As several researchers have noted, including Loat and MacMillan, newly elected officials, cabinet ministers included, tend to have a poor understanding of the role that they are about to undertake.

Comparing and contrasting provincial Education Acts, researching the concepts of ministerial responsibility and cabinet solidarity, and examining leadership theories provided a theoretical understanding of the position. However, I was interested in trying to explain how people actually lived the experience of being the Minister of Education. To this end, I used a hermeneutic phenomenological methodological approach--in plain language, I interviewed other former Ministers of Education from across the country, analyzed their comments, and presented a nuanced thematic understanding of the experience.

Some interesting statistics emerged when I examined who had been a provincial Education Minister. About 81 different individuals had been provincial Education Ministers between 2000 and 2016. The average time holding that office was just under two years. Only 34 people (42 per cent) had held the position for more than two years. The breakdown by gender was 62 per cent male and 38 per cent female. And, 52 per cent of the ministers had a substantial background in education (either having been employed in the field or having received postsecondary education in the field). This finding is inconsistent with the typical practice of premiers of not putting a subject matter expert in charge of a portfolio.

In order to hear from a fairly broad spectrum of people and to gather good stories, I interviewed five former Ministers of Education. The participants included men and women; former representatives from five different provinces in the West, the Prairies, Central Canada, and the Maritimes; members of Conservative, Liberal, and New Democratic Parties; and people from a variety of professions (including former educators). I kept the names of the participants in the study confidential. In addition to this being a condition of the university's ethics review board, I believe that keeping the identity of...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT