Ministerial Responsibility

… a core term in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100


Lorne Sossin (reference below, p. 9) describes the principle of ministerial responsibility:

“Where civil servants carry out the minister’s orders, or act in accordance with his policy, it is for him and not for them to take any blame.”

Sossin writes (p. 9), citing Kernaghan (reference below):

“Traditionally, ministerial responsibility has been viewed as the ‘most important and most contentious’ of these conventions. As Kernaghan has observed, ministerial responsibility is rarely defined, and this lack of a shared understanding of its requirements ‘permits confusing, creative, and misleading interpretations of its meaning.'”

Sossin writes (p. 8), citing Geoffrey Marshall (reference below, p. 210):

“The constitutional convention of a politically neutral civil service is part of what is sometimes referred to in the public administration literature as the ‘iron triangle’ of conventions consisting of political neutrality, ministerial responsibility, and public service anonymity.’ The fact that these duties are not part of the written constitution does not detract from their centrality to Canada’s constitutional system.”

See also Political Neutrality and Public Service Anonymity.

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Institutional Dynamics within Government (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.


Lorne Sossin (2005), “Speaking Truth to Power? The Search for Bureaucratic Independence in Canada.” University of Toronto Law Journal 55(1): 1-59.

Kenneth Kernaghan, The Future Role of a Professional Non Partisan Public Service in Ontario (Panel on the Role of Government, Research Paper Series No. 13, 2003) note 9 at 3.

Geoffrey Marshall (1984), Constitutional Conventions: The Rules and Forms of Political Accountability (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 28 August 2016.