When former Newfoundland MP John Crosbie was overseeing the Fisheries and Oceans department in the early 1990s, a radio show routinely referred to him as the minister responsible for all the fish, or just minister of fish.

It was just for laughs, but it pretty much summed up Crosbie’s portfolio in a way that everyday folks could understand. Not all departments are that simple, and not all ministers can take and give a joke like Crosbie could.

One of the unintended consequences of the sexual harassment allegations swirling around Parliament Hill at the moment is that a powerful and little-known agency briefly emerged in the limelight.

The Board of Internal Economy meets behind closed doors every second week “to allow for full and frank exchanges” among MPs of every political stripe, but nobody outside government really knows what it does. To be fair, the Harper Conservatives have made an effort to de mystify this agency, even posting the minutes in a “concise” format online, but for most people it remains a symbol of a disconnect between the machinations of government and the people who elected it.

Inevitably, many government departments come to be known by their acronyms, like Ontario’s former MNR, the Ministry of Natural Resources. We may not have always agreed with what the MNR did, be it a hunting regulation or a land-access issue, but at least you know who were dealing with.


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