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Responsible government is a conception of a system of government that embodies the principle of parliamentary accountability which is the foundation of the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy. Governments (the equivalent of the executive branch) in Westminster democracies are responsible to parliament (and if bicameral, primarily to the lower house, which is more numerous, directly elected, and thus more representative than the upper house) rather than to the monarch, or, in the colonial context, to the imperial 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 have to be members of either house of Parliament. Secondly, although ministers are officially appointed by the head of state and can theoretically be dismissed at leisure, they retain office subject to their holding the confidence of the lower house of Parliament. Once 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.

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British North America (Dominion of Canada)

In the history of Canada, responsible government was a major plank of the programme of development towards independence. The concept of responsible government is associated in Canada more with self-government than with parliamentary accountability; hence the notion that Newfoundland "gave up responsible government" when it withdrew its dominion status in 1933.

In the aftermath of the American Revolution, the British government was sensitive to unrest in its remaining colonies with large populations of British colonists. After the Lower Canada Rebellion led by Louis-Joseph Papineau in 1837, and the 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 was achieved by the colony of Nova Scotia in January–February 1848 through the efforts of Joseph Howe. The plaque in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly erected by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada reads:

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 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 soon followed in May 1848 when Lieutenant Governor 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.

In the Province of Canada, responsible government 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. The Governor, 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 1867's British North America Act, 1931's Statute of Westminster, and even as late as the patriation of the British North America Act in 1982 (see Constitution of Canada).

Australia

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 colonials coming mostly from the United Kingdom were familiar with the Westminster system and the 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 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.

Former British colonies with responsible government

See also

Notes

References

  • Arthur Berriedale Keith. Responsible Government in the Dominions, 1912.

External links

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Simple English

Responsible government is a principle of some democratic governments. It has nothing to do with the question of whether a government has responsibility.

In the government of a country that uses responsible government, the leaders of the executive branch of government (called the cabinet) are also members of the legislature. Also, the cabinet must have the support of the majority of the legislature to stay in power. If it loses the support of the legislature, there will be an election or a different political party will make a new cabinet.

Countries that use responsible government usually have parliamentary systems of government. Some examples of countries that have responsible government are the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.

In countries that do not have responsible government, the cabinet and the legislature are each elected separately. This system has more separation of powers than a system with responsible government. Some examples of countries that do not have a system of responsible government are the United States and France.


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