Collective and Individual Ministerial Responsibility

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Collective and Individual Ministerial Responsibility:
Should Ministers or Senior Bureaucrats be Held Accountable for the Department?

For years, Canadians have stood by and watched as officials of the Canadian government have been questioned, accused and held up for public scrutiny on issues of misappropriation of funds, personal and public scandals, and inappropriate departmental spending of taxpayers’ dollars. In the public eye, Ministers abused their public authority and were inadequately serving the public. Lack of confidence was evident when election time arrived and voter turnout was dismal at best. In 2008, the lowest voter turnout on record was at 58.8% and most recently, voter turnout has been 61.4%, the third lowest in Canadian history. Public perception of government, from Prime Minister down to department clerk, has held a lack of confidence. There was a need for enforceable measures to be put in place to make certain responsibility, answerability and accountability were at the forefront of government ministries. Stephen Harper ran his 2006 “Stand up Canada” campaign stressing accountability in government. “For those Canadians seeking accountability the question is clear: which party can deliver the change of government that’s needed to ensure political accountability in Ottawa? We need a change of government to replace old style politics with a new vision. We need to replace a culture of entitlement and corruption with a culture of accountability. We need to replace benefits for a privileged few with government for all.” The mantra paid off and the disheveled Liberal party was ousted from power. Prime Minister Harper promised the Canadian people corruption would end and backroom deals would be history. The first bill tabled by the newly-elected Conservative government, Bill C-2, was the Federal Accountability Act, introduced by President of Treasury Board, John Baird, and was passed by the House of Commons on June 22, 2006, by the Senate on November 9, 2006, and granted royal assent on December 12, 2006. The Act and Action Plan provided conflict of interest rules, restrictions on election financing and measures respecting administrative transparency, oversight and accountability. Based on Britain’s Westminster model for responsible government, Canada’s Parliament has a responsibility to hold the government to account, as well as all Ministers, collectively and individually. While senior bureaucrats in public service are not directly accountable to Legislature, they are directly accountable to superiors of their department, internal government authorities, and the courts. Accountability should be the responsibility of those who have the greatest opportunity to control departmental situations. Therefore, it is not reasonable to blame Ministers for the actions of their Department, as it is the Deputy Ministers and Senior Bureaucrats who run the day to day operations of Ministerial departments and influence not only the development of policy, but the implementation of policy. At the root of Canada’s parliamentary structure is the British model for a responsible government known as the Westminster model, whereby a Cabinet Minister bears the ultimate responsibility for actions of his Ministry or department. Before a law can be passed, the symbolic monarch, in Canada’s case the Queen, a lower house of members elected by citizens and the upper house of appointed members, must approve legislation. The principle of a collective agreement remains, regardless of how legislation procedures may vary. This doctrine is the principle for a responsible government and accountability is essential to guarantee that an elected official is answerable for actions made. There is no common model for accountability however the Westminster system relies on Ministers being accountable in the House of Commons and to the electorate. The functioning of government management depends on the democratic principle of...
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