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Responsible government is a conception of a system of government that embodies the principle of parliamentary accountability, the foundation of the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy.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 usually has more members and they are always directly elected.
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 colour 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[ clarification needed ] is Israel, which operates under a simplified version of the Westminster system.
Responsible government was implemented in several colonies of British North America (present day Canada), between 1848 and 1850, with the executive council formulating policy with the assistance of the legislative branch, the legislature voting approval or disapproval, and the appointed governor enacting those policies that it had approved. This replaced the previous system whereby the governor took advice from an executive council, and used the legislature chiefly to raise money.
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 "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 1949.
After the formation of elected legislative assemblies starting with Nova Scotia in 1758, governors and their executive councils did not require the consent of elected legislators in order to carry out all their roles. It was only in the decades leading up to Canadian Confederation in 1867 that the governing councils of those British North American colonies became responsible to the elected representatives of the people.
In the aftermath of the American Revolution, based on the perceived shortcomings of virtual representation, 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 and 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 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."
After the Rebellions of 1837–1838 in the Canadas, 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 in January–February 1848 through the efforts of Joseph Howe. Howe's push for responsible government was inspired by the work of Thomas McCulloch and Jotham Blanchard almost two decades earlier.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 1848when 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 introduced with the ministry of Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and 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.
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).
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 and made efforts to reform local government in order 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 the American Revolutionary War and threatened in the Rebellions of 1837–1838 in Canada. This first took the form of appointed or partially elected Legislative Councils. By the 1850s the Australian colonies (with the exception of Western Australia that did so in 1890) and New Zealand had established both representative and responsible government.
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.
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".
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."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.
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 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.
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.Later however – following the South Africa Act 1909 to form the Union of South Africa – this multi-racial universal suffrage was steadily eroded, and eventually abolished by the Apartheid government in 1948.
The following is a list of British colonies, and the year when responsible government was established in the territory:
In the early 1860s, the Prussian Prime Minister 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 and more securely with the creation of the Federal Republic of Germany. 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.
The Westminster system or Westminster model is a type of parliamentary government that incorporates a series of procedures for operating a legislature. This concept was first developed in England.
The Union of South Africa was the historical predecessor to the present-day Republic of South Africa. It came into existence on 31 May 1910 with the unification of the Cape, the Natal, the Transvaal, and the Orange River colonies. It included the territories that were formerly a part of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State.
English colonisation of North America began in the 16th century in Newfoundland, then further south at Roanoke and Jamestown, Virginia, and more substantially with the founding of the Thirteen Colonies along the Atlantic Coast of North America.
The premier of Nova Scotia is the first minister to the lieutenant governor of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia and presides over the Executive Council of Nova Scotia. Following the Westminster system, the premier is normally the leader of the political party which has the most seats in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly who is called upon by the lieutenant governor to form a government. As the province's head of government, the premier exercises considerable power.
In the British Empire, a self-governing colony was a colony with an elected government in which elected rulers were able to make most decisions without referring to the colonial power with nominal control of the colony. This was in contrast to a Crown colony, in which the British Government ruled and legislated via an appointed Governor, with or without the assistance of an appointed Council. Most self-governing colonies had responsible government.
The constitutional history of Canada begins with the 1763 Treaty of Paris, in which France ceded most of New France to Great Britain. Canada was the colony along the St Lawrence River, part of present-day Ontario and Quebec. Its government underwent many structural changes over the following century. In 1867 Canada became the name of the new federal Dominion extending ultimately from the Atlantic to the Pacific and the Arctic coasts. Canada obtained legislative autonomy from the United Kingdom in 1931, and had its constitution patriated in 1982. Canada's constitution includes the amalgam of constitutional law spanning this history.
A Crown colony or royal colony was a colony administered by the Government of the United Kingdom within the British Empire. There was usually a Governor, appointed by the monarch of the UK on the advice of the Home (UK) Government, with or without the assistance of a local Council. In some cases this Council was split into two: an Executive Council and a Legislative Council, and was similar to the Privy Council that advises the Monarch. Members of Executive Councils were appointed by the Governors, and British citizens resident in Crown colonies either had no representation in local government, or limited representation. In several Crown colonies this limited representation grew over time. As the House of Commons of the British Parliament has never included seats for any of the colonies, there was no direct representation in the sovereign government for British subjects or citizens residing in Crown colonies.
John Xavier Merriman was the last prime minister of the Cape Colony before the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910.
Province House in Halifax is where the Nova Scotia legislative assembly, known officially as the Nova Scotia House of Assembly, has met every year since 1819, making it the longest serving legislative building in Canada. The building is Canada's oldest house of government. Standing three storeys tall, the structure is considered one of the finest examples of Palladian architecture in North America.
The Colony of British Columbia was a British Crown Colony that resulted from the amalgamation of the two former colonies, the Colony of Vancouver Island and the mainland Colony of British Columbia. The two former colonies were united in 1866, and the united colony existed until its incorporation into the Canadian Confederation in 1871.
Beginning with the 1763 Treaty of Paris, New France, of which the colony of Canada was a part, formally became a part of the British Empire. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 enlarged the colony of Canada under the name of the Province of Quebec, which with the Constitutional Act 1791 became known as the Canadas. With the Act of Union 1840, Upper and Lower Canada were joined to become the United Province of Canada.
The South Africa Act 1909 was an Act of the British Parliament which created the Union of South Africa from the British colonies of the Cape of Good Hope, Natal, Orange River Colony, and Transvaal. The Act also made provisions for admitting Rhodesia as a fifth province of the Union in the future, but Rhodesian colonists rejected this option in a referendum held in 1922. The South Africa Act was the third major piece of legislation passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom with the intent of uniting various British colonies and granting them some degree of autonomy. Earlier, the British North America Act, 1867 had united three colonies and the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, 1900 had united the Australian colonies.
The Government of Nova Scotia refers to the provincial government of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia is one of Canada’s four Atlantic Provinces, and the second-smallest province by area. The capital of the province, Halifax, is Nova Scotia's largest city and its political capital. Halifax is where the Province House, Canada’s oldest legislative building, is located.
Sir John Charles Molteno was a soldier, businessman, champion of responsible government and the first Prime Minister of the Cape Colony.
Sir Thomas Charles Scanlen was a politician and administrator of the Cape Colony.
The word Dominion was used from 1907 to 1948 to refer to one of several self-governing nations of the British Empire. "Dominion status" was formally accorded to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland, South Africa, and the Irish Free State at the 1926 Imperial Conference to designate "autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations”. India, Pakistan, and Ceylon were also dominions for short periods of time. The Balfour Declaration of 1926 recognised the Dominions as "autonomous communities within the British Empire", and the 1931 Statute of Westminster confirmed their full legislative independence. With the dissolution of the British Empire after World War II and the formation of the Commonwealth of Nations, use of the term was formally abandoned at the 1949 Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference. Commonwealth realms and Commonwealth republics replaced the old term, as both kinds of governments could become full members of the Commonwealth, and the terms also recognised the full autonomy of the realms and full sovereignty of independent republics.
The Colony of New Zealand was a British colony that existed in New Zealand from 1841 to 1907, created as a Crown colony. The power of the British Government was vested in the governor of New Zealand, but the colony was granted self-government in 1852. The New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 was passed and the first parliament was elected in 1853; the first responsible government was formed in 1856. The Colony of New Zealand had three capitals: Old Russell (1841), Auckland (1841–1865), and Wellington. In 1907, the colony became the Dominion of New Zealand with a more explicit recognition of self-government within the British Empire.
The Parliament of the Cape of Good Hope functioned as the legislature of the Cape Colony, from its founding in 1853, until the creation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, when it was dissolved and the Parliament of South Africa was established. It consisted of the House of Assembly and the legislative council.
The Seven Circles Act, 1874, was an act of the Cape Parliament that divided the Cape Colony into seven provinces for the Legislative Council elections.