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Governor General of Canada
The Governor General and Commander-in-Chief in and over Canada, normally simply known as the Governor General of Canada in French, Gouverneur(e) général(e) is the Canadian representative of the monarch (presently Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II). Unlike in some other countries, the title of the Governor General of Canada has no hyphen.
Roles and duties of the office
The Governor General is named by the monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister of Canada. It would cause a major constitutional crisis if the monarch did not accept such "advice." Since the 1950s, the post has alternated between an English-Canadian and a French-Canadian. The governor general serves a five year term (though, some Governors General had their terms extended by the monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister).
The current Governor General of Canada is Adrienne Clarkson, who is a Hong Kong-born former CBC television host. She was appointed by the Queen on the advice of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien in 1999 and is the second woman and first person of Asian origin to hold the position.
Although state power rests legally with the Queen, the Governor General performs the Queen's duties in Canada on a day to day basis. Parliament sits at "his or her pleasure", Royal Assent is necessary for all laws passed by Parliament, and as the Queen's representative in Canada, the Governor General acts as commander-in-chief of the Canadian Forces. Real political power, however, rests with the Prime Minister, Cabinet, Parliament, and the provincial governments. Should the Governor General of Canada attempt to exercise any of these powers at her own personal discretion, it would likely result in a constitutional crisis and public outrage. The Governor General generally functions as a figurehead, who performs symbolic formal, ceremonial, and cultural duties.
The Governor General has the prime responsibility of ensuring that there is always a Prime Minister. After the resignation of a Prime Minister (which would take place, for example, after the Prime Minister's party had lost an election), the Governor General calls upon the leader of the party holding the majority of the seats in the House of Commons to become Prime Minister and to form a government. If no party holds a clear majority of the seats, then the Governor General must call upon an elected member who he or she believes would be able to command a majority in the House of Commons.
If a minority government is in office and is defeated in the House of Commons on a clear non-confidence motion, thus no longer commanding the confidence of the House, the Governor General may dissolve the House and call for a new election; or alternatively may call on someone else from the House or Assembly to be Prime Minister and to form a government, if he or she is of the opinion that this person would be able to command a majority of the members. (This second alternative was followed in Saskatchewan in 1929 and in Ontario in 1985.) The duty of calling upon someone to be Prime Minister and form a government also falls on the Governor General if a Prime Minister resigns, dies, or becomes incompetent while in office.
It should be noted that when there is a change of Prime Minister, the new nominee is Prime Minister designate (and not "elect") until he or she assumes office, because the Prime Minister is designated by the Governor General and not directly elected. Under the Canadian system there is continuity of government; apart from the death of an incumbent, a Prime Minister remains in office until a successor is named -- and sworn in by the Crown's representative, the Governor General.
In addition, there are some reserve or emergency powers held by the Crown. The Queen's Governor General can theoretically dismiss ministers, even entire governments, if he or she believes there is a sufficient emergency. (The Governor General did in fact dismiss the Prime Minister and government in Australia in 1975 and called on the Leader of the Opposition to form a new administration.) The Governor General or Lieutenant Governor can also dissolve the Parliament or Legislature, but this is almost invariably done "on advice." The last time a Governor General rejected advice to dissolve the Canadian Parliament was in 1926. Theoretically, a Governor General or Lieutenant Governor can withhold Royal Assent to a bill.
The reserve or emergency powers of the Crown are very rarely exercised. Their value is considered to be as a guarantee of democratic freedoms and as an act of last resort. "The mere existence of the power will, in fact, tend to prevent the need for its exercise arising" (Ward). "The Queen, the Governor General and the Lieutenant Governors are the custodians of the constitution. Their responsibility is to see that the rules are followed, both the written and the unwritten" (Monet). "
The Governor General's job is primarily focused around attending state banquets and functions for visiting world leaders, giving awards and medals at special awards ceremonies, and acting, on behalf of Her Majesty, as Commander in Chief of the Canadian Armed Forces. The Governor General is the Principal Companion of the Order of Canada, and therefore the Governor General often wears the red-and-white insignia of the Order at public events. As stated above, the Governor General acts as Commander in Chief of the Canadian Armed Forces on the Queen's behalf. Previously, the Governor General also wore an elaborate black military uniform with silver epaulettes, but since the '70s the outfit has largely been retired. The wearing of certain medals indicating high military rank has persisted, however.
The Governor General of Canada is perhaps best known for delivering the speech from the throne at the beginning of each parliamentary session. The speech is written by the Prime Minister and outlines the government's political agenda for the coming session. Unlike the Governors General of many other Commonwealth Realms, the Governor General of Canada no longer refers to the Government of Canada as "My government" in speeches.
Current and past Governors General use the style "Right Honourable" (très honorable), like the Prime Minister. However, Governors General in office also use the style "His Excellency" or "Her Excellency". The Governor General's official residence is Rideau Hall; by tradition, he or she also spends several weeks a year at the Citadel in Quebec City.
The Governor General and the Lieutenant Governors
At one point in Canada's history the Lieutenant Governors of the provinces were the representatives of the Governor General and not the Monarch. Today, however, the Lieutenant Governors are the direct representative of the monarch in the provinces. Lieutenant Governors are federal appointees: they are appointed by the Governor General, in the name of the Queen, on the advice of the Prime Minister. In recent years the provincial premiers have also played an advisory role, however.
Lieutenant Governors can "reserve" Royal Assent to a bill passed by the provincial legislature and refer it to the Governor General for consideration. This power of "reservation," however, has fallen into disuse; its last use in Canada was in 1961 in Saskatchewan.
Canada's northern territories of Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut are not provinces and do not have lieutenant governors but Commissioners. The Commissioner is appointed by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. However, with the granting of responsible government to the territories in recent years the position of commissioner has become analogous to that of a lieutenant-governor and while commissioners do not constitutionally have the role of representing the Queen the role of de facto representative of the crown has accrued to the position over recent years.
Evolution of the office
The office has changed dramatically since the 1950s. Before then, the Governor General was always British. In 1952 Vincent Massey became the first Canadian appointed to the role of Governor General, though he was not the first Canadian to perform the role of Governor General. Sir Lyman Poore Duff, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, became the interim Governor General in 1940 when Lord Tweedsmuir died in office. Since Massey's appointment however, a Canadian has always held the office and now it rotates between English-Canadians and French-Canadians.
It was during the tenure of Roland Michener, 1967-1974, that the roles and duties of the Governor General were expanded the most. Michener relaxed protocol surrounding the Governor General. Longstanding traditions such as curtseying before the Governor General and referring to his spouse as "Lady" ended. Michener was also the last Governor General to wear the ceremonial military costume of office, which, once abandoned, greatly "civilianized" the perception of the post.
In 1971 Michener visited Trinidad and Tobago and became the first Governor General to go on a State visit to another country. This was initially the source of some controversy among Ottawa insiders, who considered state visits inappropriate for a Governor General, considering he was not technically Canada's head of state. However the successes of the visits helped end the controversy and established a precedent which is followed to this day. It is now customary that the Governor General takes state visits abroad, and in doing so is usually treated as Canada's Head of State.
Beginning January 1 2005, the Letters of Credence and Letters of Recall which foreign diplomats present when beginning and ending an assignment in Canada are to be addressed to the Governor General of Canada without "direct reference to Her Majesty" the Queen. The government made the change "to reflect Canada's status as a fully independent nation". This change in protocol has been criticised by Canadian monarchists as an example of the government reducing the Queen's role and has been welcomed by republicans for the same reason. Some also question why, when Letters of Credence and Recall are meant to be addressed specifically to a country's head of state, in Canada the Letters will now be addressed to the head of state's representative. It is also feared that this change could mean that if Canada were to end all ties to the Crown, the policy of a government appointed head of state would become the norm.
The term of the present Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson, was to end October 7, 2004, but was extended until October 2005 as the prime minister felt it was preferable to have an experienced Governor General in place during the first session of a minority parliament.
Tradition calls for Clarkson to be eventually succeeded by a French-Canadian. Among possible successors are Marc Garneau, the first Canadian in space, and former Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire. There is also speculation that the next appointee may be an Aboriginal Canadian as none from that community have yet served in the office, despite their historical legacy within the borders of Canada.
While the roles, duties, status and cost of the office have long been questioned, another controversy erupted in the summer of 2004 when it was reported that the vice-regal budget had increased significantly, particularly for official visits to foreign countries. In October 2004, Parliament voted to reduce the Governor General's budget by $420,000.00, and the government acknowledged that it had authorized the costly official visits. The present Governor General received a salary of $110,126 in the 2003-2004 fiscal year.
The Future of the Office
With a new Governor General expected to be appointed in fall 2005 and with the recent changes to the protocol surrounding the Letters of Credence and Letters of Recall, there is debate as to what role the Governor General will play in Canadian society in the future.
Ever since Confederation, the office of Governor General has polarized opinion, but it would require a major constitutional restructuring to abolish the office. There are some who object to any idea of a head of state living and travelling lavishly at public expense, and others who believe a head of state must embody the importance of the country. These tensions are unlikely to be resolved. Since the failure of the Meech Lake Accord, Canadian politicians have shown no appetite to open any substantial discussions on the constitution, particularly on one so divisive as the monarchy.
In April of 2004, following the controversy of the Governor General’s operating budget, Parliament’s Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates released a report titled The Governor General of Canada: Role Duties and Funding for Activities which made the following recommendations:
1. That the Parliament of Canada take the necessary measures to conduct a review and initiate a debate on the mandate, constitutional role, responsibilities, and future evolution of the Office of the Governor General of Canada (the Head of State) in which all Canadians be included.
2. That the Parliament of Canada conduct a review of the process for selecting and appointing the Governor General (Head of State) of Canada.
3. That the Parliament of Canada ensure that the necessary measures are taken to improve the financial transparency and accountability of the Office of the Governor General (Head of State).
4. That the Parliament of Canada consider whether it should terminate the constitutional exemption of the Governor General (Head of State) from reporting to Parliament.
5. That the Office of the Governor General report on its annual projected plans and priorities and the anticipated results of its activities. In that report, the Office of the Governor General should state the expenses borne by the federal departments and agencies supporting its activities.
6. That the Office of the Governor General prepare an annual report on its activities, including its financial statements, and that that report be available on its Web site. The report could be based on that of the Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General of Australia.
(Note the incorrect reference to the Governor General as "head of state" throughout the entire report.)
A new election was called shortly after the release of this report and when reintroduced during the following government’s first session in October, 2004, only the aspects that dealt with the budget survived (it was reduced by $417,000 from $19 million).
Nevertheless, the initial recommendations fueled the hopes of republicans that serious debate could exist on the subject of reforming the Governor General’s office in advance of a referendum on transforming it into that of an elected ceremonial president. Since Australian republicans opined that Australia’s 1999 referendum failure was mainly attributed to a division in opinion on a republican formula, not procedure (many wanted their head of state elected popularly while the referendum asked for a parliamentary vote), Canadian republicans favour removing the divisive aspects beforehand since these changes require only parliamentary approval to implement.
Conversely, monarchists felt confident that the reviews recommended by the report would show little to no reform was needed. They also point out that an elected Governor General would politicize the apolitical Crown, and potentially lead to a power struggle between the Prime Minister and the Governor General who could both claim to be 'elected by the people.'
For the near future, however, it seems likely that this debate will continue.
- List of Canadian Governors General
- Governor General's Award
- Monarchy in Canada
- Canadian Vice Regal Consort
- Lieutenant Governor
- Governor General of Canada (official site)
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