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Photograph of Cabinet in session in the Privy Council Chamber, April 1953
Group of small photographs of members of the House of Commons of Canada, Fourteenth Parliament, elected December 6, 1921
Ministers are accountable to Parliament for a diverse range of national interests, such as Aboriginal affairs, transportation and defence. However, all ministers share such responsibilities as managing government finances and developing public legislation. In order to carry out these responsibilities, ministers are assisted and advised by senior public servants, including deputy ministers and directors.
Deputy ministers and other chief executive officers are responsible for the hands-on management of federal departments and other organizations with ministerial oversight. Unlike the deputy minister and public servants who staff a federal department, a newly appointed minister does not necessarily have specialized knowledge of the department's day-to-day administration. Such knowledge is the deputy minister's key strength, as a manager of the departmental machinery and as an adviser to the minister on matters of policy. The minister has a similar advisory role in relation to Cabinet and to Parliament itself.
The principle of "ministerial responsibility," instilled with responsible government in the mid-nineteenth century, holds Cabinet ministers individually responsible to Parliament for their portfolios. Ministers must obtain approval in Parliament for their department's fiscal estimates, and respond to criticism in the House of Commons. By extension, the executive branch of government is held responsible to the legislature for the conduct of its representative ministers.