July 1, 1931 (17th Parliament, 2nd Session)


William Lyon Mackenzie King (Leader of the Official Opposition)



Hon. members laugh, but I wyuld like to know if this is not true where ministerial responsibility begins and where it ends. If a government appoints a commission which proves unworthy of the confidence of the government, or of parliament, the government must take the responsibility for its own act. That is one of the responsibilities of a ministry which appoints a commission. When hon. members laugh they simply disclose the fact that they do not appreciate the elementary principles of ministerial responsibility. The government cannot get away from full responsibility for any executive act. The appointment of a royal commission is an executive act and the ministry must take responsibility for every act of the commission. The government may not be satisfied with the actions of a commission, they may if they so desire dismiss it, but in that event they must come to parliament and take the responsibility for the dismissal. If a secretary or any other officer of a commission makes a mistake, the ministry cannot escape full responsibility for the consequences of the mistake. That is why I say it is the duty of the ministry, before presenting a report to parliament, to make sure of what appears in the document. If the ministry are not to be responsible for what is contained in reports, it would be open to any member of the public service if he so desired to libel any citizen in the report he might make. A report when laid before parliament thereby receives publicity which it would not otherwise receive. One of the many obligations resting upon a ministry is to make sure of everything which in connection with the administration of public affairs is made public. They are at the same time obliged to give to the country all documents requested by members of parliament, unless there is some good and sufficient reason for not doing so in which event they must take full responsibility for their refusal. I submit that if a commission makes a report in connection with which there is a slip on the part of some officer, that slip should be detected or the ministery that has appointed the commission becomes responsible for the consequences of publicity. The ministry would be justified in case of a slip, and it is the one thing which they cannot be justified in not doing, in withholding a report until the slip is rectified, and the document put in such shape that its accuracy would be beyond question when presented to the public through parliament. I do not say that the ministry must necessarily agree with the particular views expressed by a commission or anything of that kind; they may repudiate the views, but they cannot repudiate full responsibility for the appointment of the commission which was expressed therein and all acts in connection therewith. They have no right to shield themselves from the results of errors by bringing into public discussion on the floor of parliament the names of members of the public service who are not here to speak for themselves.


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