Responsible government

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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. [1] 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.

Westminster system democratic parliamentary system of government

The Westminster system is a parliamentary system of government developed in England, now a constituent country within the United Kingdom. This term comes from the Palace of Westminster, the seat of the British Parliament. The system is a series of procedures for operating a legislature. It is used, or was once used, in the national and subnational legislatures of most former British Empire colonies upon gaining responsible government, beginning with the first of the Canadian provinces in 1848 and the six Australian colonies between 1855 and 1890. However, some former colonies have since adopted either the presidential system or a hybrid system as their form of government.

The executive is the organ exercising authority in and holding responsibility for the governance of a state. The executive executes and enforces law.

Presidential system form of government

A presidential system is a democratic and republican system of government where a head of government leads an executive branch that is separate from the legislative branch. This head of government is in most cases also the head of state, which is called president.

Contents

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.

A minister is a politician who heads a government department, making and implementing decisions on policies in conjunction with the other ministers. In some jurisdictions the head of government is also a minister and is designated the "prime minister", "premier", "chief minister", "Chancellor" or other title.

A head of state is the public persona who officially represents the national unity and legitimacy of a sovereign state. Depending on the country's form of government and separation of powers, the head of state may be a ceremonial figurehead or concurrently the head of government. In a parliamentary system the head of state is the de jure leader of the nation, and there is a separate de facto leader, often with the title of prime minister. In contrast, a semi-presidential system has both heads of state and government as the leaders de facto of the nation.

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.

Advice, in constitutional law, is formal, usually binding, instruction given by one constitutional officer of state to another. Especially in parliamentary systems of government, heads of state often act on the basis of advice issued by prime ministers or other government ministers. For example, in constitutional monarchies, the monarch usually appoints Ministers of the Crown on the advice of his or her prime minister.

An exception to this is Israel, which operates under a simplified version of the Westminster system.

Israel country in the Middle East

Israel, also known as the State of Israel, is a country in Western Asia, located on the southeastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and the northern shore of the Red Sea. It has land borders with Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan on the east, the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the east and west, respectively, and Egypt to the southwest. The country contains geographically diverse features within its relatively small area. Israel's economic and technological center is Tel Aviv, while its seat of government and proclaimed capital is Jerusalem, although the state's sovereignty over Jerusalem has only partial recognition.

Canada

In the Canadian system, responsible government was developed between 1846 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. It was a transition from the older system whereby the governor took advice from an executive Council, and used the legislature chiefly to raise money. [2] 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. [3]

Nova Scotia House of Assembly single house, former lower house, of Nova Scotia Legislature

The Nova Scotia House of Assembly, or Legislative Assembly, is the deliberative assembly of the General Assembly of Nova Scotia of the province of Nova Scotia, Canada. The assembly is the oldest in Canada, having first sat in 1758, and in 1848 was the site of the first responsible government in the British Empire. Bills passed by the House of Assembly are given royal assent by the Queen of Canada in Right of Nova Scotia represented by the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia.

Canadian Confederation process by which the British colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick were united into one Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867

Canadian Confederation was the process by which the British colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick were united into one Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867. Upon confederation, the old province of Canada was divided into Ontario and Quebec; along with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the new federation thus comprised four provinces. Over the years since Confederation, Canada has seen numerous territorial changes and expansions, resulting in the current union of ten provinces and three territories.

British North America Former British imperial territories

British North America refers to the former territories of the British Empire in North America, not including the Caribbean. The term was first used informally in 1783, but it was uncommon before the Report on the Affairs of British North America (1839), called the Durham Report. These territories today form modern-day Canada and the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

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 1948. [4]

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. Most self-governing colonies had responsible government.

Dominion of Newfoundland UK possession in North America between 1907 and 1949

Newfoundland was a British dominion from 1907 to 1949. The dominion, situated in northeastern North America along the Atlantic coast, comprised the island of Newfoundland as well as Labrador on the continental mainland. Before attaining dominion status, Newfoundland was a British colony, self-governing from 1855.

Provinces and territories of Canada Top-level subdivisions of Canada

The provinces and territories of Canada are sub-national governments within the geographical areas of Canada under the authority of the Canadian Constitution. In the 1867 Canadian Confederation, three provinces of British North America—New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the Province of Canada —were united to form a federated colony, becoming a sovereign nation in the next century. Over its history, Canada's international borders have changed several times, and the country has grown from the original four provinces to the current ten provinces and three territories. Together, the provinces and territories make up the world's second-largest country by area.

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." [5]

After the 1837 Lower Canada Rebellion led by Louis-Joseph Papineau, and the 1837–1838 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 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. [6] [7] 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 [8] 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 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).

Australia and New Zealand

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 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. 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

John Molteno, Father of Responsible Government and first Prime Minister of the Cape. 1 John Molteno - 1st Prime Minister of the Cape - 1860s - Copy2.jpg
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. John Molteno and Saul Solomon preside over Cape Government - Zingari cartoon 1873.jpg
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. [9]

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". [10]

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." [11] 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. [12]

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. [13]

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. [14] [15] 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.

Former British colonies with responsible government

In German history

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 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

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References

Citations

  1. "Victorian Electronic Democracy, Final Report – Glossary". 28 July 2005. Archived from the original on 13 December 2007. Retrieved 14 December 2007.
  2. Phillip A. Buckner, The Transition to Responsible Government: British Policy in British North America, 1815-1850 (1985) ch. 4
  3. "Responsible Government and Ministerial Responsibility". Parliament of Canada. October 2015. Retrieved 7 November 2016.
  4. "Responsible Government, 1855-1933". Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Website. 2016. Retrieved 7 November 2016.
  5. Despatches from Sir F.B. Head, relative to Canada, with Answers from Secretary of State. Parliament of the United Kingdom. 1839.
  6. Ritchie, Holly. ""For Christ and Covenant:" A Movement for Equal Consideration in Early Nineteenth Century Nova Scotia." Master's Thesis. Saint Mary's University, 2017. Pages 112-116. http://library2.smu.ca/handle/01/27387#.XMmNDrdKg_4
  7. Beck, J.M. (Spring 1974). ""A Fool for a Client": The Trial of Joseph Howe". Acadiensis. 3: 27–28.
  8. Forsey, Eugene A. (2016). How Canadians Govern Themselves (PDF) (9 ed.). Ottawa: Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada. p. 3. ISBN   978-0-660-04488-0 . Retrieved 9 March 2019.
  9. A.L. Harrington: The Parliament of the Cape of Good Hope, with special reference to party politics 1872–1910. Government Printer, 1973.
  10. The Zingari. 9 June 1871. p.94.
  11. GE Devenish (1978). Our legal heritage. De Rebus Procuratoriis, p.486. University of the Western Cape.
  12. African Historical Biographies.
  13. Phyllis Lewsen: The First Crises in Responsible Government in the Cape Colony. University of The Witwatersrand / Argief-jaarboek vir Suid-Afrikaanse geskiedenis. 1940/3.
  14. RFM Immelman: Men of Good Hope, 1804–1954. CTCC: Cape Town, 1955. Chapter 6 The Anti-convict Agitation. p.154.
  15. 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

Sources

  • 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.