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Who stands in for an ill prime minister is not as clear as it is in American politics

OTTAWA — Should U.S. President Donald Trump fall too ill with COVID-19 to be able to perform his duties, there’s an automatic backup: U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence. 

The Canadian approach to succession is a bit more complicated.

While it might seem obvious that Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland would step in if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau couldn’t do his job, there’s no fixed rule or even Canadian precedent for what happens in such a scenario.

In turn, cabinet periodically creates a list of who would stand in.

The most recent version was agreed upon this week and is set to be published formally on Monday. 

Currently, Freeland is designated as next in line to perform the prime minister’s duties, and then all the ministers in the current cabinet are listed in case she also can’t fill the role.

Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay, who first served in cabinet under former prime minister Jean Chrétien, is the next in line after Freeland to act as prime minister.

Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault is currently last.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published October 2, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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