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Secondary IV • 2yr.


Can someone explain to me what a “responsible government” is, please?

Thank you ! :)


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Explanations (1)

  • Explanation from Alloprof

    Explanation from Alloprof

    This Explanation was submitted by a member of the Alloprof team.

    Team Alloprof • 2yr.

    Hello TomateSupra7536,

    Thank you for your question! :)

    • Obtaining the Responsible Government (reformist alliance):

    Responsible government was obtained in United Canada in 1848 following the efforts of the Reformist Alliance of Robert Baldwin (Upper Canada) and Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine (Lower Canada). 

    • The functioning of the Responsible government :

    Prior to obtaining responsible government, the Governor General appointed members of the Legislative Council (responsible for passing laws proposed by the House of Assembly) and members of the Executive Council (responsible for administering laws, managing the budget and the territory of the Province of Canada). The governor therefore had almost total power over the colony.

    With the passage of Responsible Government, it is now the House of Assembly (elected by the people) that has the role of appointing the members of the Executive Council, thus giving greater autonomy to the Province of Canada in matters of its organization (taxes, education, etc.). Regarding the colony's foreign policies, however, the king retains a lot of power (army, international relations, international trade, etc.).

    To learn more about responsible government, I invite you to consult our fact sheet on the subject.

    • Consequence - Ministerial instability : 

    In 1851, the reformist alliance broke up following the divergence of interests between the deputies of the former Upper and Lower Canada. The most radicals demanded more changes in the administration of the Province of Canada while the most moderates were satisfied with the obtention of the responsible government. Therefore, it was the establishment of a two-party government in which both parties alternated in power. In Lower Canada, the most radicals (minority) formed the Red Party (Liberal), while the most moderate (majority) formed the Liberal Conservative Party (Blue Party). In Upper Canada, it was the opposite phenomenon. The radicals were in majority with the Clear Grits Party (liberal), while the moderates were in minority with the Liberal-Conservative Party (Tories).

    At the time, for the first time, the population of Upper Canada exceeded that of Lower Canada. Upper Canada therefore wanted to obtain proportional representation (or representation by the population Rep by pop) in order to obtain more deputies in the House of Assembly. Ironically, this representation based on demographic weight had been desired by Lower Canada years earlier, when its population was greater than that of Upper Canada. At the time, however, Upper Canada fiercely defended itself against this type of representation.

    On the one hand, there were moderates in majority in Lower Canada and radicals in majority in Upper Canada, which generated ministerial instability because of this opposition. In fact, to be elected with a majority, the parties must obtain a double majority (i.e. the majority of seats in both Upper and Lower Canada). Thus, the parties that were elected were almost always in minority since their opponent was in majority in the other region. Decisions were therefore constantly contested by the opposing party, which led to the dismantling of the government in place. Therefore, for 10 years, there have been 10 successive governments. In 1864, the political leaders decided to form the Grand Coalition in order to find a solution to this political crisis which always led to an impasse. There was a desire to form a new union between Upper and Lower Canada and include other British colonies, including New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.

    To learn more about the Grand Coalition, I invite you to consult our fact sheet on the conferences that led to the formation of the Canadian federation of 1867. Finally, to learn more about ministerial instability after the Act of Union, I invite you to consult our file on the subject.

    Do not hesitate to write to us if you have any other questions! :)

    - Noémie

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