Accountability of Our Government

Accountability is the essence of our democratic form of government. It
is the liability assumed by all those who exercise authority to account for the
manner in which they have fulfilled responsibilities entrusted to them, a
liability ultimately to the Canadian people owed by Parliament, by the
government and thus, every government department and agency.

One of the fundamental principals of a democratic society is the
government must be accountable to the people. Such accountability in Canada is
exercised through Parliament. Every Minister is ultimately accountable for
their portfolio to Parliament and therefore in turn responsible to the Canadian
electorate. The realization of this responsibility is undertaken upon the
assumption of office. Accountability within government is a measure that is
used to control the abuse of power by those elected as government
representatives. "The government must be able to control and protect its own
membership to be able meaningfully to accept responsibility for its direction
and impact as a government." Without accountability we are left with a powerful
political structure that has the ability to act without conscience or redress
and this does not represent a modern democracy. With any discussion which
focuses on responsibility within parliament, one can see the varying levels of
accountability and the difficulties which arise when attempting to describe
power, within the Canadian political system. Accountability in the public
service can be studied from two different perspectives. The civil servant who
represents the bureaucratic sector and the minister indicating the political
sphere. The issue of accountability raises several key questions and queries
for social scientists. Is the power of the civil servant increasing while
ministerial responsibility is decreasing? What effects if any does this have on
the bureaucratic system? How does Parliament excise legislative control over
the bureaucracy? In essence, who is accountable to the Canadian people?

Ministerial Responsibility

Ministers in Canada are elected senior members of parliament who are
appointed to a departmental portfolio by the Prime Minister. These offices are
the constitutional head of all public agencies, ranging from Department of
National Defense to Department of Human Resources. Each portfolio has a deputy
minister and a team of senior civil servants who advise the minister on a
variety of issues ranging from administrative procedures to policy implication.
Because a minister is usually not specialized in his portfolio he usually has to
rely heavily on information acquired from his senior officials. Therefore
Ministerial responsibility is closely tied to bureaucrats.
It may prove beneficial, at this time, to outline general procedures for
policy making and implementation. Cabinet is the form in which new governmental
polices are developed. These policies are then conveyed to individual
departments through the ministers. The implementation and feedback of these
policies is then the responsibility of civil servants.
There are two main types of ministerial responsibility: Collective and
Collective responsibilities refers to the accountability of Government
to Parliament. The collective cabinet responsibility ensures the solidarity of
Government. "Ministers must be supportive of all cabinet policies while at the
same time quell criticisms of individual departments." With collective
responsibility a minister must be supportive of all cabinet policies regardless
of individual concerns especially in public. The government can therefore
present policies to Parliament with one collective voice. This solidarity
enables government to defend individual minister in the House of Commons and
protect its right to govern.
The government's collective responsibility is to have the confidence of
Parliament at all times. If at any time this confidence is questioned the
governing party must be subjected to a vote in Parliament. Failure to win the
vote requires the government to either resign or dissolve Parliament.
Collective responsibility enables the government to rise, put forth policy and
resign as one collective unit.
Three related rules form the doctrine of collective responsibility: that
government should stand or fall as one "administration" (and not re-make itself
out of the same assembly and try to win a vote of confidence); that the
administration speaks formally to Parliament with one voice, and that ministers
collectively resign or the government asks for dissolution if defeated in the
Commons on matters of confidence.
This is one measure in which Government can be held accountable to the
people. Difficulties will arise in trying to convince back benchers to
essentially vote themselves into the unemployment line, however if the
government fails to pass a ‘substantial' bill nowadays that is consider a vote
of non-confidence. Opposition parties also use this accountability measure to
heighten public awareness of questionable government practices or policies.
Individual ministerial responsibility can be divided into two sub-
components. First a minister must answer to Parliament for any wrong doings
that is done by their department while at the