What does ministerial accountability mean anymore? - Macleans.ca

What does ministerial accountability mean anymore?


A very relevant discussion from The National last night.

Here is the 2011 edition of Accountable Government, a guide for ministers and ministers of state, as signed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. A few excerpts from Mr. Harper’s preface.

Key among your duties is to ensure that your department and portfolio are managed soundly and with complete integrity, with careful regard to the particular powers, duties and functions assigned to you by statute and convention…

As Ministers of the Crown, we are individually and collectively accountable to Parliament. This accountability is given daily expression in parliamentary proceedings, and we must continually demonstrate our commitment to and respect for the parliamentary process.

As a Minister, you are individually accountable to Parliament for the discharge of all responsibilities vested in you. You must answer all questions pertaining to your areas of responsibility, correcting any inadvertent errors at the earliest opportunity. And you must demonstrate that you are taking corrective action, as appropriate and within your authority, to address any problems that may arise within your portfolio.

Shortly after this there is a section entitled “Ministerial Accountability.”

It is critical to the principle of responsible government that all organizations within the executive be the responsibility of a Minister who is accountable to Parliament for the organization. A Minister is accountable to Parliament for the proper functioning of his or her department and all other organizations within his or her portfolio.

Ministers fulfill their accountability with respect to organizations by demonstrating appropriate diligence and competence in the discharge of their responsibilities. What constitutes appropriate ministerial oversight will depend on the nature of the organization and the Minister’s role. In some cases, where arm’s-length bodies are concerned and most powers, duties and functions are vested in a deputy head or governing body, the Minister’s engagement will be at a systemic level—for example, making or recommending appropriate appointments, approving corporate plans, or examining the need for changes to the framework legislation.

Ministerial accountability to Parliament does not mean that a Minister is presumed to have knowledge of every matter that occurs within his or her department or portfolio, nor that the Minister is necessarily required to accept blame for every matter. It does require that the Minister attend to all matters in Parliament that concern any organizations for which he or she is responsible, including responding to questions. It further requires that the Minister take appropriate corrective action to address any problems that may have arisen, consistent with the Minister’s role with respect to the organization in question.

The entire document is worth reviewing, but there would seem to be the basic ground rules. Reading on—and recalling the House of Commons order that precipitated a finding of contempt last year—there is also this at page 9.

In our system of government, Parliament is both the legislative branch and the pre-eminent institution of democratic accountability. Clear ministerial accountability to Parliament is fundamental to responsible government, and requires that Ministers provide Parliament with the information it needs to fulfill its roles of legislating, approving the appropriation of funds and holding the government to account. The Prime Minister expects Ministers to demonstrate respect and support for the parliamentary process.

For what it’s worth, there are five references to resigning or resignation: once to note that ministers who wish to publicly repudiate a decision of cabinet must resign before doing so, once to note that an individual could resign to pursue an otherwise verboten political activity and three times to note that the Prime Minister has the power to ask for a minister’s resignation.

And for the sake of reference, the parliamentary website maintains a list of all ministerial resignations since 1867.


What does ministerial accountability mean anymore?

  1. In the end, MacKay hasn’t repudiated a cabinet decision, nor sought to pursue other activity. And Harper won’t fire him, because, according to Harper-think, Mackay has done nothing wrong. I don’t say that’s rational. I say that Harper doesn’t share our otherwise rational, consensual meanings over the words ‘Integrity’, ‘Accountability’, the phrase ‘sound management’, or even ‘corrective action’.

  2. Herle on to talk about ministerial responsibility and no one asks about his former boss? 

    I don’t vote for any of the major parties because I think they are corrupt and look out for their own interests, and not Canadians in general, but I doubt there is more egregious abuse of ignoring responsibility than PM Martin. 

    What makes it obvious to me that Canada’s msm is lousy with Liberal supporters is that there was barely a murmur from msm when Martin ignored a loss of confidence vote, bribed an oppo MP to cross floor, and then held another vote 10 days when numbers were more favourable. It was a Canadian coup d’etat and our press hardly noticed.

    PM Harper and Cons get away with the scandals they do because they have not done anything nearly as shocking as Libs did for 12 yrs under Chretien and Martin. Harper scandals received with shrug by electorate because people say government’s been there, done that before, at least Harper hasn’t personally assaulted a Canadian, hasn’t laundered tens of millions of $$$ to reward cronies and corrupt election process, and nor has Harper ignored confidence motions. 


    Prof Desserud ~ Confidence Convention Under Parliamentary System: 
     Canada’s 38th Parliament might provide some insight into how the confidence convention works, or perhaps does not work. During this Parliament, the Liberal minority government under Prime Minister Paul Martin was defeated many times on motions that might well have been considered confidence votes, and three times on motions that appeared to be unequivocal votes of non-confidence (albeit one more explicitly worded than the others). Significantly, these three non-confidence motions were moved by the opposition.

    • “PM Harper and Cons get away with the scandals they do” simply because their tactics are better. Both in-studio commentators make that point.

    •  That wasn’t reported because it never happened.

      • Of course it did happen, and of course it was reported. 

        •  In May 2005, Stronach suggested publicly that forcing an early election, especially before passing that year’s federal budget, was risky and could backfire on the Tories.[12] Harper wanted to force an early election in the wake of testimony at the Gomery Commission
          damaging to the Liberals. The Tories planned to bring down the
          government by voting against an amendment to the budget that the
          Liberals had made to gain New Democratic Party (NDP) support. Since this would be a loss of supply, it would have brought down the government.

          However, on May 17, 2005, two days before the crucial vote, Stronach announced that she was crossing the floor and joining the Liberal Party.


          •  Stronach’s move shifted the balance of power in Parliament and allowed Martin’s Liberal minority government
            to survive for the time being. On May 19, 2005, two crucial confidence
            motions were voted on in the House of Commons. The first vote, on Bill C-43,
            the original budget proposal approved by all parties, was passed as
            expected, with 250 for and 54 against. The second vote was on a new
            budget amendment (Bill C-48) that included C$4.6 billion in additional spending the Liberals negotiated with NDP leader Jack Layton,
            to secure the support of NDP MPs. It was on this amendment that the
            Conservative/Bloc alliance planned to bring down the government.
            However, the vote resulted in a 152-152 tie. It then fell to the Speaker, Peter Milliken,
            to cast the deciding vote, which he cast in favour of continuing
            debate, resulting in the survival of the government. The vote carried
            with a final count of 153 for and 152 against.


          • So your entire point of contention with Tony comes down to the number of days that elapsed between the two events? Well, fair enough, I’ll let you sort that out between you. For me, it’s not worth the trouble. 

            I should note, however, for the benefit of Tony that while Harper has not ignored a vote of confidence – as Martin did – he did prorogue parliament in order to avoid just such a vote. So he hardly holds the high ground on that front. 

        •  I said it wasn’t reported because it didn’t happen….no coups, no refusing to recognize a loss-of-confidence vote…..no msm ‘lousy with Liberal supporters’

          Accuracy is important….it prevents fairy tales

          • Well, some hyperbole is expected (and even welcomed) on the internet, but the specific event – the “overlooked” loss of a confidence vote – did occur and Tony describes it accurately, if not dispassionately. I was another witness to it… and i was pretty incensed about it too.  

            As you say, accuracy is important. 

            With that in mind, please don’t rely on Wikipedia as a source on controversial and partisan topics. The person who gets the final edit at Wikipedia is often the most persistent person rather than the most objective.  

          •  There was no ‘overlooked’ loss of a confidence vote

            There was no loss of a confidence vote.

            There was no coup…and claiming there was is far more than hyperbole.

            And don’t attack Wiki because Tony was wrong. Wiki is as accurate as Britannica, and if people try fooling with the page it is frozen

          • “She will be remembered, also, for her part in Paul Martin’s constitutional coup d’etat — his refusal, for nine long days in the spring of 2005, after losing what was at least arguably a confidence vote, either to resign or submit to a confidence vote, preferring instead to spend the interval dangling government jobs in front of opposition MPs, until at last he emerged, smiling, with Ms. Stronach at his side, at that bizarre news conference: the one where the reporters openly laughed at him.”
            Andrew Coynehttp://www.canada.com/nationalpost/financialpost/story.html?id=1184e345-8003-45f4-9c7a-89cbcc6d468d&k=43779 

          • Another reason not to rely on Wikipedia as a source, may I suggest the article «The
            ‘Undue Weight’ of Truth on Wikipedia», by Timothy Messer-Kruse in The
            Chronicle Review, 12 February, 2012. http://chronicle.com/article/The-Undue-Weight-of-Truth-on/130704/

            requires its contributors to rely on secondary sources, or, as my critic
            informed me, “published books.” Another editor cheerfully tutored me
            in what this means: “Wikipedia is not ‘truth,’ Wikipedia is
            ‘verifiability’ of reliable sources. Hence, if most secondary sources which are
            taken as reliable happen to repeat a flawed account or description of
            something, Wikipedia will echo that.”

          • @lgarvin:disqus

            Coyne?   LOL

          • “There was no ‘overlooked’ loss of a confidence vote …. And don’t attack Wiki because Tony was wrong.” 

            In 2004, the CSPG established the James R. Mallory Research Grant for the Study of Parliament …. Professor Desserud entered the winning application, and began his research in the spring of 2005 ….. Fascinated by the travails of the minority government of Prime Minister Paul Martin, Professor Desserud opted to study the confidence convention in the context of the 38th Parliament.  As he relates, there were three votes of want of confidence in this period. The government ignored two of them, but not the third.  These episodes, interesting in their own right, raise central questions about the conduct of the parliamentary system today. 

    •  @Tony_Adams:disqus

      Sorry, there was no coup.

  3. Ministerial accountability means exactly what ‘Our Great and Fearless Leader’  says it does. Welcome to Harpanistan.

  4. It’s interesting who does get flung from cabinet, and who gets to remain.  So far with harp, only Guergis and Bernier have been “fired” from cabinet — Guergis even from caucas.  In both cases, they made seemingly personal errors in judgement, and in both cases, with results that titillated in the media (Bernier with a well-endowed gang moll; Guergis seen with “busty hookers”, etc.

    However the real transgressors — Paradis, Clement, McKay — blatant liars and users — are protected.  Yet both Herle and Watt asserted yesterday that once the minister resigns, the controvery usually disappears…

    So watch next week, and the week after — if this has sticking power and starts to look real ugly for the pm — ie if the media reports keep connecting him to the story — then peter will be gone in an attempt to make the story disappear.  Because for harper, ministerial accountability is all about his reputation, not theirs or even his government’s. 

    Too little, too late.  But Canadians tend to have short memories and seem willing to accept being lied to in a soothing voice, so perhaps nothing matters: it’s all a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.