Responsible government

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Responsible government is a conception of a system of government that embodies the principle of parliamentary accountability which is the foundation of the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy. Governments (the equivalent of the executive branch) in Westminster democracies are responsible to parliament (and if bicameral, primarily to the lower house, which is more numerous, directly elected, and thus more representative than the upper house) rather than to the monarch, or, in the colonial context, to the imperial government.

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 have to be members of either house of Parliament. Secondly, and most importantly, although ministers are officially appointed by the head of state and can theoretically be dismissed at leisure, they retain office subject to their holding the confidence of the lower house of Parliament. Once 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.

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Canada

In the history of Canada, responsible government was a major plank of the programme of development towards independence. The concept of responsible government is associated in Canada more with self-government than with parliamentary accountability; hence the notion that Newfoundland "gave up responsible government" when it withdrew its dominion status in 1933.

In the aftermath of the American Revolution, the British government was sensitive to unrest in its remaining colonies with large populations of British colonists. After the Lower Canada Rebellion led by Louis-Joseph Papineau in 1837, and the 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.

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