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Responsibility (in the Government of Canada)

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PPGPortal > Home > Concept Dictionary > R > Responsibility (in the Government of Canada)

Responsibility (in the Government of Canada) 

Responsibility means empowerment and identifies the field of activity over which an elected or unelected official has the authority to act (or to direct that action be taken).

(Hurley, 2006, p. 127)


The Privy Council Office has stated that within the government, responsibility "identifies the field within which a public office holder (whether elected of unelected) can act: it is defined by the specific authority given to an office holder (by law or delegation).” (Privy Council Office, 2003).

In most circumstances, the term "accountability" can be thought of as enforcing or explaining responsibility. Accountability s often used as a synonym for ‘responsibility’ because both are defined by the office holder’s authority; they cover the same ground” (Tait, 2000).

The term responsibility is often used in respect to the authority of Ministers under a system of parliamentary government and to the duties and obligations that come with this authority. When used in this context, the concept of responsibility is often referred to as "ministerial responsibility.

Collective ministerial responsibility refers to the Power or authority of Cabinet over all matters falling under the jurisdiction of the Government of Canada, and such power or authority is conferred on Cabinet by the conventions of the Constitution. The most significant responsibilities of the Prime Minister are also conferred by the conventions of the Constitution. Either the Prime Minister or a statue assigns individual ministerial responsibility to a Minister. The responsibility of a Deputy Minister is assigned by statute (most notably by the Interpretation Act). The responsibility of other unelected officials in departments is assigned by instrument of delegation.



Hurley, James Ross. "Responsibility, Accountability, and the Role of Deputy Ministers in the Government of Canada." Restoring Accountability: Research Studies Vol. 3. Ottawa: PWGSC, 2006. 115-156.

Privy Council Office. (2003). Guidance for deputy ministers. Available online at

Tait, J. C., chair. (2000). A Strong Foundation: Report of the Task Force on Public Service Values and Ethics. Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Management Development.


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