Everybody knows the answer to this question, but again in some cases the real answer is far more complicated then it may seems. Yes, the PMO or the premier’s office in some provinces is a quasi-executive branch à la White House but my main point in this article is not to talk about the PMO by on ministers, deputy ministers and technocrats running the show.
In the media and generally in »talking points », when something is not going correctly at a given ministry, the minister takes the blame. This is tradition, but the reality is quite different.
In reality, a minister tend only to last a few months or at best a few years at his post, when the deputy minister is usually there for many years. Like in any job, I do believe that it takes many months for a minister to be comfortable in the issues surrounding his ministry.
As a parenthesis, in the Canadian sense, there is a few examples (like education) in some provinces where technocrats runs the ministry and the ministers is in sandwich between voters, school boards, academics having their ideas and technocrats running the show. Even if not personally a resident of Quebec, I followed the education reform in Quebec which lasted a decade and this is a good example of what happens when party politics does not matter anymore when technocrats are calling the shots.
This is why the media have a complicated relation with deputy minister, they tend to be »useful » when they don’t contradict the narrative of a news story, but they are considered as not useful when they don’t recite the talking points of the media by having a more nuanced approach. In my humble opinion, the great problem with the media in Canada (like in many other places in the world) is the overreliance on the »gotcha-moment » concept without letting explaining the concerned actor on the fied. I am maybe wrong but this explains why governments which spin by the »zeitgeist » (read having good intentions more then good results) are usually well received by the media. But again, I find that it is sad that very few deputy ministers had written memoirs of their work.
Again, for ministers, for deputy ministers and for members of the media, some of them are very good, others are fine, which a minority are corrupt and incompetents. An example? I am sure that in the scandal of the stealth fighters, the problem goes much deeper then the minister and more into some people in the pyramid. Again, even as always, an opposition will criticize the minister which is in some cases nothing more figurehead who knows not more of what is briefed to him. I can be wrong, but I would not be surprised if lobbying is involved not necessarily among the minister per se, but among some people which are not members of the public sphere but who have a great power of decision among day to day situations in the ministry and the choice of military hardware.
In conclusion, in some cases, you have to take what the media with a grain of salt. I do follow international politics closely, and let me say that I laugh when I see the coverage dedicated to my country which is sometimes much worse then a simple cut and paste of current national news. Even if someone don’t follow international news that much, you tend to be skeptical if they are incapable of telling the whole story of an event in a country like Canada which is far from North Korea in term of liberty of press.