What of ministerial accountability?

In light of revelations that an aide to Christian Paradis meddled in access to information requests, that aide’s subsequent resignation, and Minister Paradis’ refusal (at least so far) to do likewise, it is likely worth turning again to Jay Hill’s announcement in the House last May of the government’s new doctrine of ministerial accountability.

Ours is a system of responsible government because the government must retain the confidence of the House of Commons and because ministers are responsible to the House for everything that is done under their authority. We ministers are answerable to Parliament and to its committees. It is ministers who decide policy and ministers who must defend it before the House and ultimately before the people of Canada … There is a clear case to be made that the accountability of political staff ought to be satisfied through ministers. Ministers ran for office and accepted the role and responsibility of being a minister. Staff did not.

Mr. Hill specifically cited a statement from the Gomery commission report which read, “Ministers need to understand clearly that they are accountable, responsible and answerable for all the actions of their exempt staff.”

The issue at the time was whether political staff should be testifying for their actions at parliamentary committees. And the question that lingered then was what will now be asked is both simple and difficult: What does this mean? What is to be done, if staff are not to be held so accountable and ministers are to accept full responsibility, with a minister whose staff is found to have transgressed?

(Among the hypotheticals that could follow consider this: if the principle is that the minister is solely and entirely accountable to the House for the actions of his department, if the House passes a motion declaring a loss of confidence in the minister on such grounds, is the minister obligated to resign?)

As it is, here is what Jay Hill’s successor as government house leader, John Baird, had to say to the House when the opposition pressed the matter during QP this morning.

Mr. Speaker, I think the minister has taken the appropriate action. The individual in question has submitted their resignation and the minister has accepted it. The minister has asked the Minister of Public Works and Government Services to transfer the file to the information commissioner so that she can do her important work.