Responsible government means that the ‘upper house’ / Executive Council that advises the head of the government (whether called governor, president, premier, or prime minister) is made up of people appointed from the elected ‘lower house.’ When the majority party in the elected the House of Assembly/ lower house cannot carry a vote of confidence and is defeated by the minority party, then the entire government falls (except where there is an appointed governor — he retains his position until recalled by whomever did the appointing). All lower and upper house positions are lost and a new election must be held to fill them again.
Thus, because the upper house ‘responds’ to the elected lower house, the people/ electorates among the people have responsible government. (Or, think of it this way: ultimately, through their representatives, the people hold the higher levels of government accountable for decisions and the government is therefore responsible to them).
Model 2: Representative and Responsible Government
In the past, attaining responsible government was considered a big deal. In the Canadas (West/ Upper/ Ontario, and East/ Lower/ Quebec), people fought — and died — for the right to have representative and responsible government. [i] A critical moment in Canadian history occurred when Louis-Joseph Papineau and the Parti Patriote strove to see responsible government instituted in Lower Canada. As historian Allan Greer explains, “In 1837–38 Canada came as close to revolution as ever it would. The parliamentary régime had ceased to function in Lower Canada, as a movement the ‘patriots’, pushing in the direction of democracy and independence, ran into a stone wall of British intransigence.” [ii]
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In Assiniboia, the rebellions during 1837–1838 did not go unnoticed. According to local chronicler Alexander Ross,
The Papineau rebellion … broke out in Canada about this time, and the echo of which soon reached us, added fresh fuel to the spirit of disaffection [with Hudson’s Bay Company governance, granted by way of its charter]. The Canadians of Red River sighed for the success of their brethren’s cause. Patriotic songs were chanted on every side in praise of Papineau. In the plains, the half-breeds made a flag, called the Papineau standard, which was waved in triumph for years, and the rebels’ deeds extolled to the skies.[iii]
In 1869, the members of the Comité National des Métis/ Métis National Committee, who were stationed at the barricade on the Pembina road, where it crossed the Rivière Sale/Stinking River, referred to themselves as the “parti Patriote,” and the “Patriot Army.”[iv]
A decade passed before the Patriotes of 1837–1838 realized their goal. Charles William Jefferys, well known to 20th-century Canadian school children for his historical illustrations in textbooks, depicted the achievement as a peoples’ struggle. In 1948, Canada issued a commemorative stamp celebrating the implementation of responsible government one hundred years earlier.