Fifteen men and 15 women walked side by side into Ottawa's Rideau Hall in an apparent show of gender equality on Wednesday to be sworn into Justin Trudeau's cabinet.

But when the orders in council making all the new ministerial changes official appeared online, five of the women appeared less equal: designated as more junior "ministers of state."

Were the cabinet optics a sleight of hand? Was a third of the women ranked lower than all the males? 

Not so, says the office of the new prime minister: It's just a matter of the Treasury Board statutes catching up to reality.

Previous cabinets have offered a mix of "full" ministers and lower-ranking ministers of state. Wednesday's oath-taking swore in 30 men and women who used the word "minister" only.

The list of ministers on the newly revised government website also lists only ministers, not ministers of state.

But the orders in council for Nov. 4 included the following language:

  • Marie-Claude Bibeau, a minister of state to be styled minister of la Francophonie, to assist the minister of foreign affairs in the carrying out of that minister's responsibilities.
  • Patricia A. Hajdu, a minister of state to be styled minister of status of women, to assist the minister of Canadian heritage in the carrying out of that minister's responsibilities.
  • Carla Qualtrough, a minister of state to be styled minister of sport and persons with disabilities, to assist the minister of Canadian heritage and the minister of employment and social development in the carrying out of those ministers' responsibilities.
  • Bardish Chagger, a minister of state to be styled minister of small business and tourism, to assist the minister of industry in the carrying out of that minister's responsibilities.
  • Kirsty Duncan, a minister of state to be styled minister of science, to assist the minister of industry in the carrying out of that minister's responsibilities.

At first blush, that seemed to suggest Trudeau had, in fact, opted for a model used previously where some junior ministers, paid a lower salary and lacking the full powers of a cabinet minister, are nevertheless sworn into the Privy Council to function as assistants to the senior ministers in certain complex, large departments.

When asked to clarify the discrepancy Friday morning, a senior government source speaking on background told CBC News that what was presented to the public on Wednesday is, in fact, what's real: all 30 are full ministers.

Some of the Treasury Board statutes pertaining to cabinet roles, however, have to be changed to give all these roles full ministerial status and salaries, retroactive to Wednesday.

Those changes can't just happen overnight, the source said, but will happen pretty quickly.

The new president of the Treasury Board, Scott Brison, was, after all, only sworn in a few minutes before the female ministers in question.

Now that the Liberals are calling the shots at Treasury Board, they're in a position to begin the legal changes required to realize the kind of cabinet they've designed.

In the meantime, the orders in council had to be signed the old way, the senior source said. But the official paperwork will eventually reflect the oaths taken by the five women, which all said "minister," not "minister of state."

When asked about the five junior ministers and whether their salaries would be equal, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion said Friday that his colleagues were full ministers.

"I will have the great pleasure to work with Minister Bibeau. Let me tell you, she's not junior in my mind, one minute."


Special Report: The parliamentary gender gap

SPECIAL REPORT: WOMEN IN POLITICS

(CBC)

A record 88 women were elected in the 2015 federal election, up from 76 in 2011. The increase represents a modest gain in terms of representation, with women now accounting for 26 per cent of the seats in the House.Read a special report the gender imbalance in Canadian politics.