Responsibility in the Constitution

VII Constitutional Responsibility and Accountability

Accountability in Parliamentary Government - the Minister

Accountability is a means of making responsible the exercise of power. In parliamentary government power resides in the Crown and is exercised by ministers. Power is concentrated in ministers both in its exercise and in their personal accountability to the House of Commons for its use. Our system does not control power by dividing it as in systems founded upon "the division of powers", but by ensuring that those who exercise it are personally responsible for their actions.

The direct responsibility of ministers to Parliament on a day-to-day basis is the essential strength of our system.1 Its vitality depends on the ability of ministers to answer for actions carried out under their authority. From the origins of our system, however, political circumstances rather than literal application of the principle of ministerial responsibility have governed the answerability of ministers. Critics of ministerial responsibility have noted that the chances of punishment through loss of ministerial office are few, and that the operation of this ultimate sanction is "arbitrary and unpredictable."2 The fact is, however, that although ministers seldom lose office due to irresponsibility, the possibility of that occurring, and more important the embarrassment and political consequences of being caught out, are more than adequate sanctions.3 Parliament expects ministers to answer to it. Members look upon ministers as readily accessible spokespersons for their departments, and ministers strive to respond because they are constitutionally responsible and they fear the political consequences of making a poor showing.

The personal responsibility of ministers is strengthened by their collective responsibility, which helps internally to ensure the accountability of ministers for their individual actions. Indeed, although it is true that collective responsibility rendered obsolete the impeachment of ministers by Parliament, it replaced that practice with a requirement either to vote want of confidence in the ministry of (by threatening to do so) to persuade a Prime Minister to seek the resignation of a particular colleague whose continued presence might be considered an affront to the doctrine of individual responsibility on account of his or her actions or omissions, or which might force a vote of non-confidence in circumstances that the ministry as a whole was not prepared to accept. In short, the responsibility of ministers depends in good measure on the trill of the House to hold them answerable.


Constitutional responsibility is, therefore, individual in character and governs the relationship between the minister and the House of Commons. Ministers are responsible for all the actions taken under their authority. Although it is true that the degree in which they will be required to answer for the actions of officials will depend upon the political circumstances and whether an official has, for example, acted in a clearly unacceptable manner of which the minister had no knowledge, the fact remains that the minister is constitutionally responsible and this is essential in determining who answers for what and to whom in the system.

Accountability in Parliamentary Government - The Deputy Minister

The responsibility of ministers is a constitutional principle whose quality is essentially political, being drawn upon from time to time in response to exposure of differences about policy or of wrong-doing or mismanagement in order to test the confidence of the House in the ministry. Although the possibility lurks behind every question put to a minister, and although the quality of the answers could weaken the minister's or the government's position, even resulting in parliamentary or public enquiries or the withdrawal of the support of colleagues resulting in the minister's resignation, in many cases the minister's answerability is a matter of providing uncontroversial information where no real test of his or her responsibility is involved.

The pyramid of responsibility that rises up to the deputy and then to the minister extends from the minister to Parliament. Parliament's constitutional concern is to assure itself that ministers have adequate control over their departments in order that they may answer for the activities carried out in their names. Parliament achieves this through a variety of mechanisms such as written and oral questions, motions for papers, study of the estimates, scrutiny of government bills, and review of the Public Accounts and the reports of the Auditor General. Officials, particularly deputy ministers, play an important role in many of these activities.

Officials are not of course constitutionally responsible, but they play and have played a role vis-à-vis Parliament that in some important respects complements the role of ministers. Although officials do not have constitutional responsibility nor share the responsibility of their ministers, they do share to a degree in the answerability of their ministers to Parliament. A traditional preserve has been established that protects officials from answering to Parliament on matters of policy or matters involving political controversy. Apart from the obvious reasons of political sensitivity, matters of policy and political controversy have been reserved more or less exclusively for ministers principally because political answerability on the part of officials would inevitably draw them into controversy, destroy their permanent utility to the system, and, indeed, undermine the authority and responsibility of their ministers. Ministers are, furthermore, most closely associated with policy, and conflicting views expressed by officials could give rise to chaos and embarrassment. Deputies may, however, in the presence of their ministers explain and answer questions having to do with complex policy matters, but they do not defend policy against political attack. In other matters, principally those having to do with the administration of the department and its programs, officials answer directly on behalf of their ministers.

The answerability of deputies and other officials is rendered in the committees of both houses, and is best seen in the Public Accounts Committee, where it is now customary for officials rather than ministers to appear. In other committees officials are supposed to appear in support of the minister or his or her parliamentary secretary. The practice is that officials answer questions of administration directly, with the minister or parliamentary secretary (although regrettably sometimes neither is present) intervening if the proceedings threaten to turn into political debate, raising the possibility of the minister's responsibility being involved overtly.4

Officials are, therefore, in a sense accountable before Parliament for matters of administration. This is a matter of observation. It does not detract from the responsibility of ministers, which will be invoked in cases where

administration infringes on matters of policy or political controversy.5 Even in the days before officials answered before committees, it was normal for ministers to be accompanied by officials to brief them in answering administrative questions. This practice extended to the committee of the whole on supply, where for the first 70-odd years of this century the deputy regularly sat in conference with his or her minister when the department's estimates were under consideration. Nowadays committee of the whole is seldom used except for tax bills. Instead, officials appear before select committees, where they answer directly in the manner described.


Officials are accountable to their ministers, who must answer to the House for their use of the authority conferred upon them in law and by virtue of their responsibility to the House of Commons. It is, however, possible to distinguish between a deputy's accountability to the minister for all that occurs under the minister's responsibility, and the deputy's accountability before parliamentary committees for administrative matters so long as they do not call directly into question the exercise of the minister's responsibility. The accountability of officials before parliamentary committees for administrative matters cannot be said to alter the formal and direct responsibility of ministers personally to Parliament for any matter within their discipline for which the House chooses to hold them answerable.

Accounting Officers

Practice at Westminster with regard to officials vis-à-vis Parliament is in some respects different from ours. At Westminster officials do not appear to give evidence before standing committees. When bills are considered (estimates are not referred to standing committees), the minister becomes a member of the committee and debate is carried on much as in the House of Commons. Witnesses are not called. Officials do, however, appear before select committees. This is particularly the case with the Public Accounts Committee, where ministers do not appear because the committee is administrative in its proceedings and non-partisan in its practices. The Public Accounts Committee, which generally meets in public, summons senior departmental officials to answer questions based on the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General. These officials, usually the permanent secretaries, are appointed by the Treasury as "accounting officers", and they are responsible for the probity and economy with which funds in their custody are spent.6

The basis for the "accounting officer" is the Exchequer and Audit Act of 1866, which in section 22 established that the duty of preparing departmental accounts "may be assigned by the Treasury" to "any Public Officer or Officers".7 This act, and the provision made in the early 1920's to designate permanent secretaries as "accounting officers", perpetuated Parliament's long established practice of looking to the Treasury to ensure probity and economy in the use of resources. The practice whereby "accounting officers", rather than ministers, appear before the Public Accounts Committee depends upon the nonpartisan and administrative concerns of that committee, emphasizing that the accountability of accounting officers is before rather than to the committee and does not detract from the constitutional responsibility of ministers.

Similar if not as precise provision was made by Parliament at Ottawa in 1867. Sections 34 and 37 to 46 of the Revenue Act of that year set out the civil responsibilities and the criminal liability of specially designated officers for the custody and accounting of public money.8 The substance of these provisions was retained in successive consolidated revenue Acts, and was strengthened in the 1931 Bennett reforms through application to the Comptroller of the Treasury and his network of accounting officers. Section 57 to 65 of the Consolidated Revenue and Audit Act of that year established in extensive and very direct terms the accountability of financial officers to the Minister of Finance for the expenditure and accounting of public funds, including their liability to pay costs and fines associated with the recovery of unauthorized expenditures.9 Although reference to the accountability of financial and other officers was removed when the Revenue Act was superseded in 1951 by the Financial Administration Act, the civil liability of such persons was retained, and remains part of the Act currently in force. Similarly, throughout the amendments to successive revenue acts spanning the century from 1867 to 1967, criminal liability for embezzlement and the taking of bribes by public servants has remained a constant feature.10

It is clear, therefore, that the constitutional responsibility of ministers is not designed to protect the irresponsibility of officials. From the earliest days, Parliament has made specific the liability of officials for civil and criminal wrongs respecting their custody of public monies. In fact, the rule of law requires that any individual who violates the law must be legally responsible for his or her action. Dicey noted that "every official, from the Prime Minister down to a constable or collector of taxes is under the same responsibility for every act done without legal justification as any other citizen".11


The civil liability of public officers for misappropriating funds and their criminal liability for fraud has a long history in Canada and may be said to be entrenched in the Common Law. Until 1951 specific provision was made for a system of accounting officers to ensure probity in the use of public money. In Canada accounting officers were responsible in law to the Minister of Finance, and today the "accounting officer" in England is legally responsible to the Treasury. Their accountability before Westminster's Public Accounts Committee is a matter of practice, and it is a matter of observation that a not altogether dissimilar practice is current in Ottawa at the present time. The British practice is, however, better established, which in part at least is due to the non-partisan ground rules at Westminster that enable the Public Accounts Committee and the Treasury to work closely to improve the financial management system.12 The committee is, in short, a highly respected body, and its more important recommendations are periodically published as Epitomes, which are regarded as "the standard text-book of financial administration".13

The British institution of the "accounting officer" is recognition in the statute law of the civil and criminal liability of an individual for his or her personal actions. Convention and parliamentary practice has, however, enabled the institution to develop as a means of enabling Parliament to scrutinize and to some extent to control the exercise of administrative authority within the government. The convention that enables Parliament to hold officials rather than ministers accountable for administration lies at the heart of the value of the institution of the accounting officer, and is made possible by the non-partisan practices of the Public Accounts Committee.

As government has learned through the blurring of individual responsibility by the imposition of central controls, responsibility shared tends to be responsibility shirked. Formal and direct accountability of officials to Parliament for administrative matters would divide the responsibility of ministers. It would require the establishment of firm practices governing the sorts of questions for which ministers as distinct from officials would be answerable, and this would be reflected daily during Question Period. Experience indicates that such distinctions are artificial and that Parliament prefers not to recognize the informal division between the answerability of officials and of ministers for the very reasons that ministers are constitutionally responsible and that the extent of their answerability is defined by political circumstance. Furthermore, theology aside, such divided responsibility would be unsound management.

Administration and management of programs consists of carrying out policies based on political decisions. Programs have, of course, a technical administrative aspect, and these matters are usually dealt with by officials at parliamentary committees. The attempt, however, to identify discrete areas of official accountability to Parliament would likely result in the further blurring of lines of accountability, weakening the ability of the House to hold the minister responsible when it chooses for matters falling under his or her authority. This does not argue against the value of having officials appear and being held accountable before parliamentary committees on behalf of their ministers, and strengthening Parliament's capacity to examine officials and ministers more closely. Ultimately, however, ministers are constitutionally responsible because they (not their deputies) have the deciding word for which they alone can be held politically answerable.14

Ministerial Responsibility and the Congressional System

Accountability is a means of controlling the exercise of power. In parliamentary government constitutional responsibility requires (literally and figuratively) that ministers answer daily for their actions, and imposes a variety of sanctions if they fall short in their answers. There are, however, other constitutional means of controlling the use of power, based not so much on the principle of the exercise of power responsibly as on the limitation of power through its formal division. The best known of these is the congressional system, particular features of which are often promoted for incorporation into our practices. One such feature involves the "accountability" of officials to congressional committees.

What would happen to constitutional responsibility if the minister ceased personally to be exclusively responsible for his or her department and its activities? Could we divide constitutional responsibility between ministers and officials? The short answer is yes, but that in doing so we would also have to make extensive changes in our system of government and set aside the historical evolution of our form of constitutional responsibility based on personal accountability.

Sometimes, those who doubt the continuing application of ministerial responsibility point to federal institutions in the United States, where the activities of government departments are scrutinized through the appearances of several levels of politically appointed officials before the committees of the Congress to defend the policy of the administration. It should be noted, however, that this scrutiny is not formal accountability since once appointed such officials may only be removed by the president unless the Congress resorts to the extraordinary measure of impeachment. In short, such officials are not constitutionally responsible. It is also important to stress that they are politically appointed and not intended to be non-partisan. Indeed, the appearance of officials to defend policy is the consequence of a governmental system based on a principle for the control of power completely different from that operating within parliamentary government. To achieve the same consequence in parliamentary government, we would need to re-examine the principles on which our system is built, starting with the origins of power and the nature of constitutional responsibility that form the basis of all of our arrangements.

Power in representative parliamentary government flows from the Crown, which exercises power responsibly according to the wishes of the legislature and the interpretation of the judiciary, both of which include the Crown as a constituent element. In the congressional system, however, power flows from the People. It is not controlled primarily by making it responsible (i.e. by holding those who use it accountable), but rather by limiting its scope and countervailing its operation - hence the separation of powers.

In giving limited power, congressional government endeavours to ensure that power cannot be grossly abused. It is important to understand that although the system involves important elements of de facto accountability of officials before the committees of the Congress, the system does not vest responsibility in these individuals regardless of their rank. Power is divided among the executive, the legislature, and the courts, three formally distinct and separate arms of the constitution. Once appointed to office by the president and confirmed by the Congress, members of the executive are formally accountable only to the president, who is the only externally accountable member of the executive, and except in the extreme he is accountable not to the Congress but to the People, from who he and the constitution derive their power. In addition, because the executive is vested in one person, rather than in a group individually and collectively responsible, and because neither the president nor his advisers are members of the Congress, there is no collective responsibility and thus no overt internal pressure to ensure the responsible exercise of the executive's authority, which is checked in the last resort not by responsibility in its exercise, but by its inherent limitations.

The control of power by its division (rather than by making those who use it constitutionally responsible and daily and directly accountable to the representatives of the electorate) tends to weaken accountability for its use. The division of powers makes it difficult to focus responsibility or to hold individuals personally accountable. In any given area of major policy one finds a succession of players in the Administration as well as the Congress each of whom has a degree of responsibility and a share of power, but as a rule there is no one with ultimate responsibility for the exercise of all the power necessary to take action.15 An essential aspect of the division of power is the operation of countervailance among those exercising its various parts, and in the absence of constitutional responsibility vested in accessible individuals, the operation of countervailance in a system of divided powers makes it virtually impossible to hold individuals personally accountable, except in the narrow sense of prosecuting personal misconduct.16

Those who think that our parliamentary system is inefficient in transacting business have only to consider the congressional system to realize that parliamentary government is not the only slow-moving constitutional arrangement for the exercise of power. Under parliamentary institutions a government that has determined to act can expect to see its decision translated into action. In the congressional system this is not always so. A president (unlike a Prime Minister) may have security of office for four years, but he may not be able to persuade the Congress to do his bidding. Unlike Parliament, the Congress is able to initiate taxing and spending proposals, but the president may veto them. It is evident that each element of the congressional system of countervailance or "checks and balances" operates independently, which is necessary if the separation powers is to be effective. Parliamentary government functions quite differently. Power is made responsible through the twin devices of integrating the "executive" into the "legislature" and creating a collective executive each member of which is constitutionally responsible and individually accountable to his or her colleagues and to the House of Commons.

In the congressional system, cabinet secretaries and others of similar rank are creatures of the president. Their deputies are appointed to office and are intended to be partisan vis-à-vis the Congress, which holds them politically answerable for their respective roles in the president's administration.17 Ministers are quite different from cabinet secretaries. They are constitutionally responsible for the exercise of power, and they are elected representatives. Their deputies are non-partisan and they cannot formally share the personal responsibility of ministers. Cabinet secretaries could, however, take an important step towards the constitutional responsibility of ministers by being popularly elected and made responsible to the Congress. If under such conditions their deputies continued in a politically active role vis-à-vis the Congress, it would be evident that the cabinet secretaries were not truly constitutionally responsible in that their inability to answer completely for their department undermined their responsibility to the Congress. In such circumstances Congress could either strip deputies of their political answerability, or else it could bring them into the Congress ensuring that the cabinet secretaries and their deputies together would be constitutionally responsible and jointly answerable to the Congress in the sort of commission or board arrangement that was current in parliamentary government until it was found more effective to concentrate responsibility in a single individual personally answerable.

Such an arrangement would, of course, violate the essential principle of the separation of powers in congressional government, and takes no account of the president as the embodiment of the executive. It seeks to graft onto the congressional system the parliamentary notion of the responsibility of the executive to the legislature, which could not be set in place without fundamental change in the distribution of power and hence responsibility in that system. The reverse of the coin in parliamentary government would be formally to divide the constitutional responsibility of ministers. A very important consequence of such a development would be to politicize those with whom the responsibilities of ministers were shared, i.e. deputy ministers. Unless at the same time parliamentary government was replaced with institutions compatible with a congressional-style division of powers, which would require that ministers be stripped of their constitutional responsibility to the House and reduced to the subordinate state of their deputies, the only means of accommodating the politicization of deputies would be to bring them into the House formally placing the minister's responsibility in a commission consisting of the minister and his or her deputy. Without this, Parliament would no longer be able to hold those of its members forming the government responsible for the activities of the public service, which would be intolerable to Parliament and the negation of its historical struggle to make government constitutionally responsible.


Congressional government works more subtly than is indicated here. Nonetheless, the essential differences in foundation and approach to the use of power are stark and must be understood by those who think that an attractive aspect of a different system of government can be transplanted without disturbing the pattern of the constitution, risking destruction of the delicate balance of constitutional responsibility.18

The Deputy Minister's Accountability

The deputy minister is appointed by the Prime Minister, in consultation with the minister whom he or she serves, and must observe centrally prescribed standards for the management of the resources at the disposal of his or her department. It is sensible, therefore, that the accountability of deputy ministers should rest on the roles and responsibilities that stem from their relationships with their respective ministers, the Prime Minister, and the ministry as a whole.

The deputy's accountability cannot be exercised without reference to the responsibility of ministers to Parliament. Deputies act on behalf of their ministers. They are, therefore, accountable to their ministers, although they may be required to answer before parliamentary committees for matters that do not overtly impinge on the responsibilities of their ministers.

The triangular relationship between Prime Minister, minister, and deputy minister defies precise dissection. There is, of course, the theoretical possibility of conflict between the deputy's loyalty to the minister and the Prime Minister. In practice, however, this will not occur if the system's principle of countervailance is at work, with the needs of the collectivity emerging from and sharpening the exercise of the individual responsibilities of ministers.

The deputy's "supreme loyalty is to his (or her) minister", who has within him or her the seeds of the individual and collective nature of the system.19 The Prime Minister orchestrates the individual responsibilities of ministers, drawing forth the harmony essential to stable government. As the Glassco Royal Commission observed in its report, the appointment of deputies by the Prime Minister "provides a reminder to them of their need for a perspective encompassing the whole range of government" and "emphasizes the collective interest of ministers, and the special interest of the Prime Minister in the effectiveness of management in the public service".20 Nonetheless, provided the equilibrium of the system is in order, the principal quality of deputies is loyalty to their ministers.21

Conflict between the deputy's loyalty to the minister and his or her responsibility to the Prime Minister will be symptomatic of a failure of the confederal principle discussed earlier. If it occurs, the clear line of responsibility passing between the minister and the deputy may be destroyed and in the extreme will only be restored through the resignation of one or other, in which event who goes will depend on the particular circumstances.

A deputy will go to the Prime Minister in two sorts of situations. First, there will be the rare case in which the deputy feels that the minister has instructed him or her to do something that is unconscionable, or where in the deputy's opinion the minister is proposing to act dishonestly or in some other unacceptable manner that breaches the standard of ministerial conduct. In such cases deputies must make use of their avenue to the Prime Minister. The second situation is one in which the deputy becomes involved in a dispute with the minister over some matter of policy or administration, or some centrally prescribed management ordinance that the deputy thinks is contrary to the minister's interest. In such a case, a wise deputy will appeal to the Prime Minister only in the last resort, and it would be most extraordinary for disagreements of this nature to result in resignations. Such differences are, after all, exaggerated or uncontrolled examples of countervailance at work in the system, and usually the machinery for forging the collective from the individual wish will correct the situation.

Cases of dispute between ministers and deputies may be resolved with the help of the Prime Minister and his senior advisers, the secretaries to the cabinet. More generally, however, countervailance between ministers or between deputies is made a creative rather than a destructive force by their own desire for accommodation and by the synthesizing roles of the Privy Council Office and the Treasury Board Secretariat, which work to draw individual initiatives and proposals into the market place so that they may interact, gradually forming themselves into initiatives satisfactory to the collectivity.

Deputies are, therefore, principally concerned with the responsibility of their ministers. They should be judged foremost for the way in which their activities on behalf of ministers contribute to the equilibrium of the system. If central agencies operate successfully, they will create the right circumstances for transforming individual initiatives into a collective undertaking. If they do not, due either to too much or too little activity, they destroy the circumstances in which ministerial government operates successfully. This is why it is crucially important that central agencies and departments understand the nature of constitutional responsibility in our system of ministerial government and their respective roles within it. If central agencies can strike the right balance throughout the system, their activities will complement the policy initiatives and management functions of departments, ensuring that the requirements of the centre sharpen the individual responsibilities on which the system is based.


Because deputy ministers support the individual responsibilities of their ministers, and because they play a special role in helping their ministers to maintain the collective responsibility of the ministry, their accountability should reflect:

  1. their responsibilities to their ministers for the authority that they exercise on behalf of ministers to develop policies and programs, to execute it in accordance with the purposes for which Parliament appropriates money, and to do so by managing and directing those portions of the public service located in ministers' departments;
  2. their support for the exercise of their ministers' collective responsibility by ensuring (a) that their ministers' policy positions on departmental and other governmental issues are adequately supported; (b) that at the direction of their ministers they develop policies and programs that will complement the overall objectives of the ministry as subscribed to by their ministers; and (c) that in fulfilling their special responsibility for the management of departments and programs, they observe the standards and practices imposed on each minister and his or her deputy by all ministers;
  3. their special responsibility to ensure that the centrally prescribed management practices of the ministry applicable across the government are observed in their departments in order to ensure (a) that the ministry will be able to approach Parliament as a collectivity for supply; and (b) that management practices are such as to ensure the maintenance of Parliament's confidence in the ministry and ;
  4. that they should (a) be consulted in the elaboration of those policies of the government in whose implementation they will be expected to play a key role; and (b) because they have a special responsibility for the management of the public service resources deployed in their departments, they should contribute to the establishment of centrally prescribed management standards necessary to the maintenance of Parliament's confidence in the ministry.

  1. See above pp. 3-6, also Parris, Constitutional Bureaucracy pp. 294-308; and Goeffrey Marshall and Graeme Moodie, Some Problems of the Constitution (London, 1959) pp. 78-84.
  2. See Finer, "The Individual Responsibility of Ministers" pp. 393-394.
  3. Indeed, although ministers may not lose office immediately as the result of some shortcoming, they are often demoted and sometimes dropped in subsequent cabinet shuffles.
  4. When Mr. Pickersgill was Minister of Citizenship and Immigration he set out the following ground rules: "The view I have taken on what I should do is to use my own judgment when a question is asked as to whether it is the type of question I should take the responsibility of answering myself or the type of question I should ask one of the officers of the department to answer. I do not intend myself to answer questions which do not involve policy and which do involve detail, because I think it would be quite ridiculous for me to turn to one of these gentlemen here and ask him to whisper the answer to me. He is far more capable of giving the answer himself because I do not pretend to be an expert on the details of the department. However, I would like it clearly understood that any question which I wish to answer myself I have the right to answer exclusively." Special Committee on Estimates Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence, No. 1, 17 February 1955. For some of the history of officials appearing as witnesses at committees, see Norman Ward, The Public Purse pp. 62 and 267. See May, The Law Privileges Proceedings and Usage of Parliament page 629-630, on the power of committees to compel officials to attend.
  5. The distinction between policy and administration has been familiarly allegorized: "Policy is rather like an elephant, you recognize it when you see it, but cannot easily define it"; see Edward, Lord Bridges (Secretary of the Cabinet in Whitehall, 1938-1945) "The Relationship Between Ministers and the Permanent Departmental Head", Canadian Public Administration vol. viii, no. 3, 1964.
  6. The appointment of permanent secretaries (i.e. deputies) as accounting officers recognizes that finance cannot be divorced from policy, and that accountability for financial matters can only be rendered by those responsible for providing ministers with policy advice. When the British system was established in the 1920's the Treasury successfully overcame the recommendation of a parliamentary committee to designate financial experts as accounting officers.
  7. An Act to consolidate the Duties of the Exchequer and Audit Departments, to regulate the Receipt, Custody, and Issue of Public Moneys, and to provide for the Audit of the Accounts thereof 29° and 30° Victoriae, Cap. 39. See also extract from a Treasury Minute dated 14 August 1872, in "The Responsibilities of an Accounting Officer", Note by the Treasury, 17 February 1964.
  8. An Act respecting the collection and management of the Revenue, the Auditing of Public Accounts, and the liability of Public Accountants 21 December 1867, 31° Victoriae, Cap. V.
  9. An Act to Amend the Consolidated Revenue and Audit Act 21-22 Geo. V. ch. 27. See Norman Ward for a description of the similarities between the Whitehall reforms of the 1920's that established permanent secretaries as "accounting officers" and the Bennett reforms at Ottawa of 1931; The Public Purse pp. 168-169.
  10. See An Act for the Financial Administration of the Government of Canada the Audit of the Public Accounts and the Financial Control of Crown Corporations 15-16 Geo. Vl, ch. 12, 1951, pt. ix; and R.S.C 197O, ch. F.-10. It is also worth noting that sections 24, 25 and 27 of the Act currently in force require deputy heads to maintain adequate accounting procedures to ensure that funds are not overcommitted and that payments made are both "reasonable" and according to contract.
  11. Dicey, Law of the Constitution page 193. At page 327 he notes that "the acts of Ministers no less than the acts of subordinate officials are made subject to the rule of law".
  12. Indeed the relationship often takes the form of collaboration. See Roseveare, The Treasury pp. 141, 202.
  13. Jennings, Parliament pp. 337-338. See also de Smith, Constitutional and Administrative Law pp. 289-290.
  14. It may be noted that historically Parliament has left detailed control of the purse to the ministry. In his report to the Borden administration in 1912, Sir George Murray plainly set out the facts. "The control of expenditure may be considered from two points of view, there is the control exercised by the Government over its own Departments; and the control exercised by Parliament over the proposals of the Government. The latter may, I think, be regarded as negligible for the present purpose. In theory the control of Parliament over expenditure is complete, in practice it is of little value. This is partly due to the fact that, as the Government must necessarily command a majority in the House of Commons. it can generally secure the passing of its own estimates; and partly because notwithstanding many professions of a desire for economy in the abstracts [sicl. Members will generally be found demanding increased expenditure for purpose in which their constituencies are interested, rather than reductions on items which do not fall under this category. In short, the control of public expenditure must depend almost entirely on the Government of the day; and here again we shall generally find that individual Ministers, while not unwilling to acquiesce in the reduction of the estimates of other Departments, are prima facie disposed to recommend increased expenditure in their own." Murray's solution to this age-old problem was tighter control by the Minister of Finance over the process of reconciling estimates. Report on the Organizations of the Public Service of Canada, pp. 10-11.
  15. The president may, for example, propose a budgetary measure to the Congress, but the House Ways and Means Committee may modify it extensively or recommend something entirely different to the Congress, and short of exercising his veto the president may have to accept measures to which he is more or less opposed and which in any event he has not recommended. By contrast the proposals of the Minister of Finance may only be changed with his or her agreement, and the House may neither increase these taxing proposals nor introduce new ones. In the parliamentary system the budgetary policy of the government is, therefore, the clear and personal responsibility of the Minister of Finance, and he or she cannot blame the House or anyone else for its consequences.
  16. The blurring of accountability may also be seen in the operation of the congressional committee system where powerful committees with influential clientele can in effect remove control of certain parts of the bureaucracy from the executive.
  17. Although formally accountable only to the president, they appear freely before congressional committees to explain the president's policy and actions. To the extent that such appearances constitute de facto accountability to congressional committees, secretaries and deputy secretaries share accountability for actions they have taken on behalf of the president.
  18. For some interesting thoughts on the differences and similarities in the nature of the "executive" in parliamentary and congressional systems, see Richard Neustadt, "White House and Whitehall" in The British Prime Minister ed. by Anthony King, (London, 1969) pp. 131-147.
  19. See Bridges "Ministers and the Permanent Departmental Head", page 277.
  20. Royal Commission on Government Organization vol. i, page 60.
  21. Jennings, Cabinet Government page 97. A former Secretary to the Cabinet has observed that it is the duty of a deputy minister to advise the minister and " try to keep him out of trouble. But once the minister decides upon a course of action or new policy, it is the duty of the public servant to further it loyally, except in the rare case where it may be unlawful. When that happens and all else fails, the public servant has no choice but to resign." See J.W. Pickersgill, "Bureaucrats and Politicians" Canadian Public Administration vol. xv, no. 3, 1972.