The Info List - Responsible Government

--- Advertisement ---

Responsible government
Responsible government
is a conception of a system of government that embodies the principle of parliamentary accountability, the foundation of the Westminster system
Westminster system
of parliamentary democracy.[citation needed] Governments (the equivalent of the executive branch) in Westminster democracies are responsible to parliament rather than to the monarch, or, in a colonial context, to the imperial government, and in a republican context, to the president, either in full or in part. If the parliament is bicameral, then the government is responsible first to the parliament's lower house, which is more representative than the upper house, as it has more members and they are always directly elected. Responsible government
Responsible government
of parliamentary accountability manifests itself in several ways. Ministers account to Parliament for their decisions and for the performance of their departments. This requirement to make announcements and to answer questions in Parliament means that ministers must have the privileges of the "floor", which are only granted to those who are members of either house of Parliament.[clarification needed] Secondly, and most importantly, although ministers are officially appointed by the authority of the head of state and can theoretically be dismissed at the pleasure of the sovereign, they concurrently retain their office subject to their holding the confidence of the lower house of Parliament. When the lower house has passed a motion of no confidence in the government, the government must immediately resign or submit itself to the electorate in a new general election. Lastly, the head of state is in turn required to effectuate their executive power only through these responsible ministers. They must never attempt to set up a "shadow" government of executives or advisors and attempt to use them as instruments of government, or to rely upon their "unofficial" advice. They are bound to take no decision or action that is put into effect under the color of their executive power without that action being as a result of the counsel and advisement of their responsible ministers. Their ministers are required to counsel them (i.e., explain to them and be sure they understand any issue that they will be called upon to decide) and to form and have recommendations for them (i.e., their advice or advisement) to choose from, which are the ministers' formal, reasoned, recommendations as to what course of action should be taken. An exception to this is Israel, which operates under a simplified version of the Westminster system, essentially cutting out the middleman: many non-reserve powers which would have been exercised by the President of Israel
on advice in an unmodified system are exercised directly by the officers which would have given such advice, the Prime Minister
Prime Minister
of Israel
is dominant over the Cabinet and not a Primus inter pares office, and Presidential reserve powers do not exist.


1 Canada 2 Australia
and New Zealand 3 Cape Colony 4 Former British colonies with responsible government 5 In German history 6 See also 7 Notes 8 References 9 External links

Canada[edit] In the first centuries of European colonization, both French and British governors were answerable only to imperial authorities. Even after the formation of elected legislative assemblies starting with Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia
in 1758, governors and their executive councils did not require the consent of elected legislators in order to carry out all the prerogatives of the executive branch of government. It was only in the decades leading up to Canadian Confederation
Canadian Confederation
in 1867 that the governing councils of those British North American colonies that had not joined the American Revolution
American Revolution
in 1776 became responsible to the elected representatives of the people.[1] Responsible government
Responsible government
was a major element of the gradual development of Canada towards independence. The concept of responsible government is associated in Canada more with self-government than with parliamentary accountability; hence there is the notion that the Dominion of Newfoundland
Dominion of Newfoundland
"gave up responsible government" when it suspended its self-governing status in 1933, as a result of financial problems. It did not regain responsible government until it became a province of Canada in 1948.[2] In the aftermath of the American Revolution, the British government became more sensitive to unrest in its remaining colonies with large populations of European-descended colonists. Elected assemblies were introduced to both Upper Canada
Upper Canada
and Lower Canada
Lower Canada
with the Constitutional Act of 1791. Many reformers thought that these assemblies should have some control over the executive power, leading to political unrest between the governors and assemblies in both Upper and Lower Canada. The Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada
Upper Canada
Sir Francis Bond Head wrote in one dispatch to London that if responsible government were implemented "Democracy, in the worst possible Form, will prevail in our Colonies." [3] After the 1837 Lower Canada
Lower Canada
Rebellion led by Louis-Joseph Papineau, and the 1837–1838 Upper Canada
Upper Canada
Rebellion led by William Lyon Mackenzie, Lord Durham was appointed governor general of British North America and had the task of examining the issues and determining how to defuse tensions. In his report, one of his recommendations was that colonies which were developed enough should be granted "responsible government". This term specifically meant the policy that British-appointed governors should bow to the will of elected colonial assemblies. The first instance of responsible government in the British Empire outside of the United Kingdom itself was achieved by the colony of Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia
in January–February 1848 through the efforts of Joseph Howe. The plaque in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly
Nova Scotia House of Assembly
erected by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada
Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada

First Responsible Government in the British Empire. The first Executive Council chosen exclusively from the party having a majority in the representative branch of a colonial legislature was formed in Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia
on 2 February 1848. Following a vote of want of confidence in the preceding Council, James Boyle Uniacke, who had moved the resolution, became Attorney General and leader of the Government. Joseph Howe, the long-time campaigner for this "Peaceable Revolution", became Provincial Secretary. Other members of the Council were Hugh Bell, Wm. F. Desbarres, Lawrence O.C. Doyle, Herbert Huntingdon, James McNab, Michael Tobin, and George R. Young.

The colony of New Brunswick
New Brunswick
soon followed in May 1848 when Lieutenant Governor Edmund Walker Head
Edmund Walker Head
brought in a more balanced representation of Members of the Legislative Assembly to the Executive Council and ceded more powers to that body.

Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine, Father of Responsible Government

Robert Baldwin, Father of Responsible Government

In the Province of Canada, responsible government was introduced with the ministry of Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin
Robert Baldwin
in spring 1848; it was put to the test in 1849, when Reformers in the legislature passed the Rebellion Losses Bill. This was a law that provided compensation to French-Canadians who suffered losses during the Rebellions of 1837–1838 in Lower-Canada.

Punch in Canada, February 3, 1849 by Frederick William Lock depicting "Young Canada" being "delighted" by Lord Elgin pulling the strings of “Responsible Government”

The Governor General, Lord Elgin, had serious misgivings about the bill but nonetheless assented to it despite demands from the Tories that he refuse to do so. Elgin was physically assaulted by an English-speaking mob for this, and the Montreal
Parliament building was burned to the ground in the ensuing riots. Nonetheless, the Rebellion Losses Bill helped entrench responsible government into Canadian politics. In time, the granting of responsible government became the first step on the road to complete independence. Canada gradually gained greater and greater autonomy over a considerable period of time through inter imperial and commonwealth diplomacy, including the British North America Act of 1867, the Statute of Westminster of 1931, and even as late as the patriation of the Constitution Act in 1982 (see Constitution of Canada). Australia
and New Zealand[edit] While the various colonies in Australia
were either sparsely populated or penal settlements or both, executive power was in the hands of the Governors, who, because of the great distance from their superiors in London and the resulting very slow communication, necessarily exercised vast powers. However, the early colonists, coming mostly from the United Kingdom, were familiar with the Westminster system
Westminster system
and made efforts to reform it to increase the opportunity for ordinary men to participate. The Governors and London therefore set in motion a gradual process of establishing a Westminster system
Westminster system
in the colonies, not so fast as to get ahead of population or economic growth, nor so slow as to provoke clamouring for revolutionary change as happened in America. Initially, this took the form of appointed or partially elected Legislative Councils. Then, during the 1850s, all Australian colonies except Western Australia, along with New Zealand, established both representative and responsible government; Western Australia
did the same in 1890. Cape Colony[edit]

John Molteno, Father of Responsible Government and first Prime Minister of the Cape.

Cartoon critical of responsible government, showing power and positions divided between various factions by Cape leaders, depicted as owls, Molteno (to the right) and Saul Solomon.

The Cape Colony, in Southern Africa, was under responsible self-government from 1872 until 1910 when it became the Cape Province of the new Union of South Africa.[4] Under its previous system of representative government, the Ministers of the Cape Government reported directly to the British Imperial Governor, and not to the locally elected representatives in the Cape Parliament. Among Cape citizens of all races, growing anger at their powerlessness in influencing unpopular imperial decisions had repeatedly led to protests and rowdy political meetings – especially during the early "Convict Crisis" of the 1840s. A popular political movement for responsible government soon emerged, under local leader John Molteno. A protracted struggle was then conducted over the ensuing years as the movement (known informally as "the responsibles") grew increasingly powerful, and used their parliamentary majority to put pressure on the British Governor, withholding public finances from him, and conducting public agitations. Not everyone favoured responsible government though, and pro-imperial press outlets even accused the movement of constituting "crafts and assaults of the devil".[5] Supporters believed that the most effective means of instituting responsible government was simply to change the section of the constitution which prevented government officials from being elected to parliament or members of parliament from serving in executive positions. The conflict therefore centred on the changing of this specific section. "Although responsible government merely required an amendment to s.79 of the constitution, it transpired only after nearly twenty years in 1872 when the so-called "responsibles" under Molteno were able to command sufficient support in both houses to secure the passage of the necessary bill."[6] Finally, with a parliamentary majority and with the Colonial Office and new Governor Henry Barkly won over, Molteno instituted responsible government, making the Ministers directly responsible to the Cape Parliament, and becoming the Cape's first Prime Minister.[7] The ensuing period saw an economic recovery, a massive growth in exports and an expansion of the colony's frontiers. Despite political complications that arose from time to time (such as an ill-fated scheme by the British Colonial Office
British Colonial Office
to enforce a confederation in Southern Africa in 1878, and tensions with the Afrikaner-dominated Government of Transvaal over trade and railroad construction), economic and social progress in the Cape Colony continued at a steady pace until a renewed attempt to extend British control over the hinterland caused the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer Wars in 1899.[8] An important feature of the Cape Colony under responsible government was that it was the only state in southern Africa (and one of very few in the world at the time) to have a non-racial system of voting. [9][10] Later however – following the South Africa Act 1909
South Africa Act 1909
to form the Union of South Africa
Union of South Africa
– this multi-racial universal suffrage was steadily eroded, and eventually abolished by the Apartheid
government in 1948. Former British colonies with responsible government[edit]

1848 – Province of Nova Scotia 1848 – Province of Canada 1851 – Prince Edward Island 1854 – Province of New Brunswick 1855 – Newfoundland (suspended from 1934 to 1949, then part of Canada), the Colony of New South Wales, and the Colony of Victoria 1856 – Colony of New Zealand, the Colony of New South Wales
Colony of New South Wales
and the Colony of Tasmania 1857 – Province of South Australia 1859 – Colony of Queensland
Colony of Queensland
(separated from New South Wales in that year with self-government from the beginning) 1872 – The Cape Colony, South Africa 1890 – Colony of Western Australia 1893 – Natal, South Africa 1906 – Transvaal, South Africa 1907 – Orange River Colony, South Africa 1921 – Malta
(suspended from 1936 to 1947, and from 1959 to 1962) 1923 – Southern Rhodesia 1947 – India
(became a republic in 1950) 1947 – Pakistan
(became a republic in 1956)

In German history[edit]

This section does not cite any sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (May 2017) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

In the early 1860s, the Prussian Prime Minister
Prime Minister
Otto von Bismarck
Otto von Bismarck
was involved in a bitter dispute with the Liberals, who sought to institute a system of responsible government modeled on that of Britain. Bismarck, who strongly opposed that demand, managed to deflect the pressure by embarking energetically and successfully on the unification of Germany. The Liberals, who were also strong German nationalists, backed Bismarck's unification efforts and tacitly accepted that the Constitution of Imperial Germany, crafted by Bismarck, did not include a responsible government – the Chancellor being accountable solely to the emperor and needing no parliamentary confidence. Germany gained a responsible government only with the Weimar Republic
Weimar Republic
and more securely with the creation of the German Federal Republic. Historians account the lack of responsible government in the formative decades of united Germany as one of the factors contributing to the prolonged weakness of German democratic institutions, lasting also after such a government was finally instituted. See also[edit]

Fusion of powers


^ "Responsible Government and Ministerial Responsibility". Parliament of Canada. October 2015. Retrieved 2016-11-07.  ^ "Responsible Government, 1855-1933". Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Website. 2016. Retrieved 2016-11-07.  ^ Despatches from Sir F.B. Head, relative to Canada, with Answers from Secretary of State. Parliament of the United Kingdom. 1839.  ^ A.L. Harrington: The Parliament of the Cape of Good Hope, with special reference to party politics 1872–1910. Government Printer, 1973. ^ The Zingari. 9 June 1871. p.94. ^ GE Devenish (1978). Our legal heritage. De Rebus Procuratoriis, p.486. University of the Western Cape. ^ African Historical Biographies.  ^ Phyllis Lewsen: The First Crises in Responsible Government in the Cape Colony. University of The Witwatersrand / Argief-jaarboek vir Suid-Afrikaanse geskiedenis. 1940/3. ^ RFM Immelman: Men of Good Hope, 1804–1954. CTCC: Cape Town, 1955. Chapter 6 The Anti-convict Agitation. p.154. ^ Molteno, P. A. The Life and Times of John Charles Molteno. Comprising a History of Representative Institutions and Responsible Government at the Cape. Volume II. London: Smith, Elder & Co., Waterloo Place, 1900. p.214


Arthur Berriedale Keith. Responsible Government in the Dominions, 1912. Molteno, P. A. The Life and Times of John Charles Molteno. Comprising a History of Representative Institutions and Responsible Government at the Cape. London: Smith, Elder & Co., Waterloo Place, 1900. Status and Respectability in the Cape Colony, 1750–1870 : A Tragedy of Manners. Robert Ross, David Anderson. Cambridge University Press. 1 July 1999. 220 pages. ISBN 0-521-62122-4.

External links[edit]

Forsey, Eugene A. (1981). How Canadians Govern Themselves. Government of Canada. p. 58.  Hamer, David J. (August 1995). "Can Responsible Government Survive in Australia" (PDF). Papers on Parliament. Parliament of Australia
Parliament of Australia
(26). Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 October 2008.  Rathgeber, Brent (10 September 2014). Irresponsible Government: The Decline of Parliamentary Democracy in Canada. Dundurn Press. ISBN 9781459728370.  Salles, Denis (2011). "Responsibility based environmental governance". S.A.P.I.EN.S. 4 (1). Retrieved 15 June 2011. 

v t e

Constitution of Canada

List of constitutional documents Quasi-constitutional law

Pre- Confederation
constitutional documents

Iroquois constitution Mi'kmaq constitution Constitution of New France Royal Proclamation of 1763 Quebec Act
Quebec Act
of 1774 Constitutional Act of 1791 Declaration of Independence of Lower Canada
Lower Canada
(1838) Report on the Affairs of British North America
British North America
(1839) Act of Union 1840


Charlottetown Conference, 1864 Quebec Conference, 1864

Quebec Resolutions

London Conference, 1866 Fathers of Confederation

Constitution Act, 1867

Canadian federalism Preamble Section 121 Section 125

Powers under Section 91

Peace, order, and good government Trade and commerce Criminal law Matters excepted from s. 92

Powers under Section 92

Licensing Works and undertakings Property and civil rights Administration of justice Fines and penalties for provincial laws Matters of a local or private nature

Amendments and other constitutional documents 1867–1982

British North America
British North America
Acts, 1867–1982 Manitoba Act, 1870 Alberta Act, 1905 Saskatchewan Act, 1905 Statute of Westminster, 1931 Newfoundland Act, 1949


Fulton–Favreau formula Victoria Charter Kitchen Accord/Night of the Long Knives

Constitution Act, 1982

Part I – Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Preamble 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 16.1 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34

Part II – Rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada


Part III – Equalization and regional disparities


Part VII – General

52 59


At Her Majesty's pleasure Cabinet collective responsibility Disallowance and reservation Responsible government Fusion of powers


Implied repeal Individual ministerial responsibility Interpellation

Question Period

Parliamentary privilege Parliamentary sovereignty Reserve power

Royal prerogative

Constitutional debate since 1982

Triple-E Senate Meech Lake Accord Charlottetown Accord Calgary Declaration Other unsuccessful amendments

Interpretation of the Constitution

Aboriginal self-government Pith and substance Double aspect Equal authenticity rule Paramountcy Living tree Implied Bill of Rights Interjurisdictional immunity Purposive theory Dialogue principle

Provincial constitutional law

Constitution of Alberta Constitution of Quebec Constitution Act (British Columbia)

Category WikiProject

v t e

Constitution of Australia


I: The Parliament II: The Executive III: Courts IV: Finance and Trade V: The States VI: New States VII: Miscellaneous VIII: Amendments


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128


Powers of interstate trade and commerce taxation communication defence quarantine fisheries currency banking insurance copyrights, patents and trademarks naturalization and aliens corporations marriage divorce pensions social security race immigration external affairs Pacific islands acquisition of property conciliation and arbitration transition referral incident


Category:Amendments to the Constitution of Australia Referendums

Other documents

Statute of Westminster 1931 Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 1942 Australia
Act 1986 Australian Constitution (Public Record Copy) Act 1990


Constitutional Conventions (1998) Governor-General Monarchy Parliament High Court Inter-State Commission

Theories and doctrines

Responsible government Separation of powers Federalism Reserved powers doctrine Implied immunity of instrumentalities

Other topics

Australian constitutional law Constitutional convention Reserve power Constitutional history of Australia 1975 Australian constitutional crisis 2017–18 Australian parliamentary eligibility crisis List of proposed states of Australia Republicanism in Australia Commerce clause

v t e

Politics of Australia


Monarch Governor-General Prime Minister Cabinet (Shadow Cabinet) Executive Council Ministry Foreign relations

Parliament House of Representatives Senate Opposition Leader

High Court Lower courts

Constitution Statute of Westminster Australia

Federal elections

pre-1969 1969 1972 1974 1975 1977 1980 1983 1984 1987 1990 1993 1996 1998 2001 2004 2007 2010 2013 2016 next by-elections

State/Territory governments

Governors and Administrators Premiers and Chief Ministers Parliaments and Assemblies


State/Territory elections

Vic 2014 NSW 2015 ACT 2016 NT 2016 WA 2017 Qld 2017 Tas 2018 SA 2018

Vic 2018 NSW 2019 ACT 2020 NT 2020 WA 2021 Qld 2020 Tas 2022 SA 2022

Timeline of Elections

Amalgamated Timeline

Local government

NSW Vic Qld WA SA Tas NT

Political parties

Coalition (Liberal, National, Liberal National, Country Liberal) Conservatives Greens Hinch Katter Labor Lambie Liberal Democrat One Nation Xenophon Other parties

Political terminology

Bjelkemander Branch stacking Casual vacancies Caucus revolt Champagne socialist Contempt of Parliament Despatch box Donkey vote Dorothy Dixer Double dissolution Faceless men Group voting ticket Hardworking families How-to-vote card Independent politicians Kirribilli agreement Langer vote Leadership spill Mortgage belt Nationalism Parliamentary secretary Responsible government Stolen Generations W