Governor General of Canada
Roles and Duties of the Office
The Governor General of Canada (in French, Gouverneur général if male or Gouverneure générale if female) is the representative in Canada of the monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II, who is Queen of Canada and the country's head of state. (The Prime Minister of Canada is the head of government.) The full title of the office is The Governor General and Commander-in-Chief in and over Canada.
The Governor General is named by the monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister. 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 Armed 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 is a figurehead, who only performs symbolic formal, ceremonial, and cultural duties.
The Governor General's job is primarily focused around attending state banquets and functions for visiting world leaders, and giving awards and medals at special awards ceremonies. 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 70's 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 Citadelle 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 Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister. In recent years the provincial premiers have also played an advisory role, however.
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 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. The practice of curtseying before the Governor General, for example, ended.
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.
Recent Spending Crisis and Future of the Office
While the roles, duties, and status of the office have long been questioned, it has been under heavy fire in recent months from critics who believe Clarkson is overspending. Reports have stated that the Governor General's office spending had increased by over 200% under the present Governor General, largely due to extra security due to fear of terrorism. In the summer of 2004 it was released, to the outrage of many Canadians, that the budget for 2004 had been set at $42 million.
The future of the office of the Governor General of Canada is in question. Traditionally the office is expected, and even encouraged to be a largely unseen figurehead, and Governor Generals who display a more activist attitude are usually unpopular. Monarchist supporters of the office argue the position could play a more meaningful role in Canadian society than it does now, a belief apparently shared by Adrienne Clarskson. However some Monarchists have expressed concern that Clarkson has gone too far by trying to project herself as Canada's full fledged head of state.
Reactions to the spending crisis have ranged from calls to end the office, to scaling back the Governor General's duties and travels. It is clear, however, that many believe the office should be reformed and the Governor General's duties be scaled down. Moreover, many Canadians believe they should have more of a say on who should become Governor General. One possibility for reform would be for the Governor General to be elected by parliament, as occurs in some other Commonwealth realms.
The present Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson, will reach five years in office on October 7, 2004. While in recent times Governors General have usually served five year terms the government of Paul Martin has announced that Clarkson's term has been extended until October 2005 as it is preferable to have an experienced Governor General in place during the first session of a minority parliament. This situation has arisen a few times in the past.
Tradition calls for Clarkson to be eventually succeeded by a French-Canadian. Marc Garneau, the first Canadian in space, has been floated as a possible successor. There is also speculation that the next appointee may be an Aboriginal Canadian as none from that community have yet served in the office.
Unlike in some other countries, the title of the Governor General of Canada has no hyphen.
- List of Canadian Governors General
- Governor General's Award
- Monarchy in Canada
- Canadian Vice Regal Consort
- Governor General of Canada (official site)