Responsible Government (Plain-Language Summary)

Responsible government refers to a government that is responsible to the people. It takes the form of a Cabinet that depends on the support of an elected assembly, rather than a monarch or their representatives. Responsible government first appeared in Canada in the 1830s. It became an important part of Confederation. It is the method by which Canada achieved independence from Britain without revolution.

(This article is a plain-language summary of responsible government If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry Responsible Government.)



Before the arrival of responsible government in British North America, colonial governors followed the advice and policies of ministers in Britain. Advocates of responsible government wanted to reduce the power and influence of the small groups of local elites — the Family Compact and the Château Clique — that controlled the colonial governments. Their abuse of power was causing unrest among the colonists.

The key principle of a responsible government is that it needs the confidence of Parliament to create laws and taxation. The introduction of this system in British North America gave the colonists control of their own affairs. Canadians gradually gained control of their own political concerns. They achieved self-direction without revolution.

At first, only a small group of privileged men and property owners could vote for the elected assemblies. The franchise, or right to vote, was expanded slowly. In 1918, women received the right to vote in federal elections. By 1940, all Canadian women had the right to vote provincially. In 1960, Indigenous peoples in Canada won the right to vote in federal elections without giving up their treaty rights.