Governor General of Canada

Template:Canadian politics The Governor General of Canada (French: Gouverneur gnral or Gouverneure gnrale) is the representative of the Canadian monarch. Canada is one of sixteen Commonwealth realms, all of which share a single monarch (currently, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II). The Governor General acts as the Queen's viceregal representative in Canada and is often viewed as the de facto head of state. The 1947 Letters Patent granted the Governor General the position of Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian military in the name of the Queen.[1] (

As Canada is a constitutional monarchy, the Governor General's role is almost always limited to ceremonial and non-partisan functions. In practice, most political power is exercised by the Parliament of Canada (which is composed of the Queen, the Senate, and the House of Commons), and by the Prime Minister and Cabinet. By constitutional convention, the Governor General exercises his or her powers, with very few exceptions, solely on the advice of the Prime Minister and other ministers. Although the Queen of Canada is also Queen of the United Kingdom, the British Government does not advise the Governor General or otherwise interfere in Canadian affairs. The Queen does not personally intervene in Canadian politics, either; she does hold the power to appoint a Governor General, but does so only on the advice of the Canadian Prime Minister. Any constitutional amendment that affects the office of Governor General requires the unanimous consent of the provincial legislatures, rather than the two-thirds majority necessary for most other amendments.

The present Governor General is Her Excellency The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, who has served since 7 October 1999. The present Vice Regal Consort is His Excellency John Ralston Saul. In Canada, the title "Governor General" is not hyphenated, even though a hyphen is used in other Commonwealth realms.



French colonization of North America began in 1580s, but the vast colony of New France (composed of Canada, Louisiana, and Acadia) grew only during the early and middle seventeenth century. The explorer Samuel de Champlain became the first unofficial Governor of New France in about 1613; however, in 1636, Charles Huault de Montmagny became the first individual formally appointed to the post. Originally, New France was administered by the French Company of One Hundred Associates; in 1663, however, King Louis XIV took over the control of the colony. After 1663, the head of the French administration in New France was known as the Governor General; the first to hold this position was Augustin de Saffray de Msy.

France lost most of its North American territories, including Canada, to Great Britain during the course of the Seven Years' War (17561763), as confirmed by the Treaty of Paris. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 renamed Canada as the "Province of Quebec"; the office of Governor of Quebec was also established. Lieutenant-General Sir Jeffrey Amherst governed the province during the last years of the Seven Years' War, but the first civilian to hold the position was James Murray (appointed 1764). The provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick remained separate, with their own colonial Governors. In the 1780s, the British Government of Prime Minister William Pitt accepted the idea that the provinces of Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick should share a single Governor-in-Chief (afterwards termed the Governor General). The first individual to occupy this office was Lord Dorchester (appointed 1786). However, the Governor-in-Chief or Governor General only directly governed the Province of Lower Canada; Upper Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia were instead headed by their own Lieutenant Governors. In 1840, Upper and Lower Canada were united into the Province of Canada, which remained under the Governor General's authority.

The role of the Governor General changed greatly after the Rebellions of 1837. Soon after the rebellions, the British Government agreed to grant the Canadian provinces responsible government. As a result, the Governor General and Lieutenant Governors became largely nominal heads, while authority was really held by democratically elected legislatures and by provincial premiers. This arrangement continued after the establishment of the Dominion of Canada in 1867; the Governor General and Lieutenant Governors remained symbolic representatives of the Crown and of the British Government, while actual political power was vested in the Prime Minister of Canada and in the premiers, at the federal and provincial levels respectively.

The position of Governor General experienced great change during the late 1920s and early 1930s, in the aftermath of the King-Byng Affair. In 1926, the Liberal Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King requested Governor General Lord Byng of Vimy to dissolve Parliament; the Governor General, however, used his reserve power to refuse the request, citing the general election that had been held only months earlier. Accordingly, King resigned, and Lord Byng appointed Arthur Meighen to replace him. Within a week, however, Meighen's Conservative government lost a no-confidence vote in the House of Commons, forcing the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and call elections. After Mackenzie King returned to power with a clear parliamentary majority, he sought to redefine the role of the Governor General.

At an Imperial Conference held later in 1926, the United Kingdom, Canada, and other Dominions all accepted the Balfour Declaration. The Declaration acknowledged that the Dominions were equal in status to the United Kingdom, and that each Governor General would henceforth function solely as a representative of the Crown in their respective Dominions, and not as an agent of the British Government. Instead, the latter function would be taken over by High Commissioners (who are akin to ambassadors). The principle of the equality of the Dominions was further extended by the Statute of Westminster 1931. The concept that the entire Empire was the territory that belonged to the British Crown was abandoned; instead, it was held that each Dominion was a kingdom in its own right, so that the monarch was separately King of the United Kingdom, King of Canada, King of Australia, and so forth. Even though the Dominion of Canada was recognised as independent of and equal to the United Kingdom, it remained customary for Governors General to be British, and not Canadian. The first Canadian Governor General, Vincent Massey, was not appointed until 1952.

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Until the 1970s, Governors General wore military uniforms, as depicted in the above photograph of the Duke of Devonshire.

Thereafter, the next period of important change for the office came during the tenure of Roland Michener (19671974). Michener relaxed the protocols and formalities surrounding the office; for instance, the longstanding custom of bowing or curtseying before the Governor General was abandoned. Michener did retain the traditional military uniform associated with the office, but he was the last Governor General to do so. In 1971, Michener visited Trinidad and Tobago, thereby becoming the first Governor General to make a state visit to another country. This visit was initially the source of some controversy, as many commented that the monarch, not the Governor General, was technically Canada's head of state. Nevertheless, the controversy did not last long; it is now quite common for the Governor General to make state visits.

The office of Governor General has historically been a controversial subject in Canada. Movements such as Citizens for a Canadian Republic advocate "democratizing" and codifying the office in preparation for what the group sees as the eventual transformation into a presidency similar to the parliamentary republics of Ireland or India, thus completely replacing the monarchy. On the other hand, organizations such as the Monarchist League of Canada support its retention as the representative of the reigning monarch. However, since the failure of the Meech Lake Accord in 1987 and the Charlottetown Accord in 1992, Canadian politicians have shown little apettite for opening discussions on constitutional matters, especially on a polarizing topic such as the monarchy. There has been little public debate on the abolition of the monarchy, especially because many Canadians find the conflict over Quebec sovereignty more pressing. Hence, the republican movement in Canada is not as strong as similar movements in some other Commonwealth realms such as Australia.


The monarch appoints the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister of Canada. From 1867 to 1952, every Governor General was a citizen of the United Kingdom and a member of the aristocracy. The last British Governor General was Harold Alexander, 1st Viscount Alexander of Tunis, who served from 1946 to 1952. Since Vincent Massey's appointment in 1952, the position has been held only by Canadians. Moreover, by tradition, the post has been held alternately by English-Canadians and French-Canadians.

Although non-partisan while in office, Governors General are typically former politicians. Since 1952, individuals who previously served as diplomats, as Cabinet members, or as Speakers of the House of Commons have been appointed to the post. The present Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson, was previously an author and television anchor; she is the first Governor General in Canadian history without either a political or military background. She is also the first Asian-Canadian and the second woman to serve in the position. (The first female Governor General was Jeanne Sauv, who served from 1984 to 1990.)

The Governor General holds office for a five year term, but the Canadian Prime Minister may advise the Queen to extend the term. For instance, Adrienne Clarkson's five year term would have expired in 2004, but was extended by the Queen on the advice of Prime Minister Paul Martin, who deemed that it was preferable to have an experienced Governor General in place while a minority government remained in power. The terms of previous Governors General, including Georges Vanier and Roland Michener, have been extended in previous circumstances. Governors General may resign from office, as, for instance, Romo LeBlanc did in 1999 due to health concerns.

If the Governor General dies or leaves the country for more than one month, the Chief Justice of Canada (or, if that position is vacant, the senior Puisne Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada) serves as Administrator of Canada, and exercises all powers of the Governor General. The only individuals to serve as Administrators due to the deaths of Governors General were Chief Justice Sir Lyman Poore Duff (1940) and Chief Justice Robert Taschereau (1967).

Political role

Although the Governor General's powers are in theory extensive, they are in practice very limited. The Governor General is a symbolic and nominal chief executive, acting within the constraints of constitutional convention and precedent. Should the Governor General of Canada attempt to exercise any powers without reference to constitutional convention and solely at his or her own personal discretion, the action would likely result in a constitutional crisis and in public outrage. Almost always, the Governor General exercises the Royal Prerogative on the advice of the Prime Minister and other ministers. The Prime Minister and ministers are, in turn, accountable to the democratically elected House of Commons, and through it, to the people.

Whenever necessary, the Governor General is responsible for appointing a new Prime Minister. In accordance with unwritten constitutional conventions, the Governor General must appoint the individual most likely to maintain the support of the House of Commons: usually, the leader of the party which has a majority in that House. If no party has a majority, two or more groups may form a coalition, whose agreed leader is then appointed Prime Minister. Such coalition governments are actually very rare in Canada. In a Parliament in which no party or coalition holds a majority, the Governor General is required by convention to appoint the individual most likely to command the support of the House of Commons, usually, but not necessarily, the leader of the largest party. Thus, for example, Paul Martin has remained Prime Minister after the 2004 election, even though his party did not command a majority in the Commons.

The Governor General appoints and dismisses Cabinet ministers and other ministers, but exercises such a function only on the Prime Minister's advice. Thus, in practice, the Prime Minister, and not the Governor General, exercises complete control over the composition of the Cabinet. The Governor General may, in theory, unilaterally dismiss a Prime Minister, but convention and precedent bar such an action.


The Governor General is the representative of the Canadian monarch, and may exercise most powers vested in the Crown. If the monarch is present in Canada, however, he or she may exercise such powers personally. Furthermore, some powers (such as the power to authorise an increase in the size of the Senate) may be exercised by the monarch alone, as required by the Canadian constitution.

The Governor General summons, prorogues, and dissolves Parliament. Each parliamentary session begins with the Governor General's summons. The new parliamentary session is marked by the opening of Parliament, during which the Governor General reads the Speech from the Throne in the Chamber of the Senate, outlining the Government's legislative agenda. Prorogation usually occurs about one year after a session begins, and formally concludes the session. Dissolution ends a parliamentary term (which lasts a maximum of five years), and is followed by general elections for all seats in the House of Commons. These powers, however, are always exercised on the Prime Minister's advice. The timing of a dissolution is affected by a variety of factors; the Prime Minister normally chooses the most politically opportune moment for his or her party. The Governor General may theoretically refuse a dissolution, but the circumstances under which such an action would be warranted are unclear. The last case of a Governor General rejecting the Prime Minister's advice to dissolve Parliament came in 1926 (see King-Byng Affair).

All laws are enacted in the monarch's name. Before a bill can become law, the Royal Assent (the monarch's approval) is required. The Governor General acts on the monarch's behalf; in theory, he or she has three options: he or she may grant the Royal Assent (making the bill law), withhold the Royal Assent (vetoing the bill), or reserve the bill for the Signification of the Queen's Pleasure (allowing the Sovereign to personally grant or withhold Assent). If the Governor General does grant the Royal Assent, the Sovereign may, within two years, "disallow" the bill, thereby annulling the law in question. By modern constitutional convention, however, the Royal Assent is always granted, and bills are never disallowed.

The Governor General also has the power to appoint federal ministers, Senators, judges, and other officials. Effectively, however, the appointees are chosen by the Prime Minister or other ministers. Furthermore, the Governor General is responsible for appointing, in the Queen's name, the Lieutenant Governors of the provinces. Once again, the Prime Minister chooses the appointees, although the premiers of the provinces concerned also play an advisory role. A Lieutenant Governor may, instead of granting the Royal Assent to a bill, reserve the bill for the Governor General. This practice, however, has fallen into disuse, having last been invoked by the Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan in 1961. The Commissioners of the Canadian territories are not appointed by the Governor General; nor do they act as representatives of the Crown.

Furthermore, the Governor General performs some of the functions normally associated with heads of state. He or she makes state visits abroad, hosts foreign heads of state, and receives ambassadors and high commissioners. Formerly, Letters of Credence and Recall were addressed to the Queen; since the beginning of 2005, however, they have been addressed to the Governor General, without direct reference to the monarch. This decision has caused some controversy, drawing the ire of several monarchists.

The Governor General's functions are primarily ceremonial. He or she serves a symbolic role as the Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Armed Forces. The Governor General attends state banquets and functions, makes and hosts state visits, and awards medals, decorations, and prizes (including the Governor General's Literary Awards).

Precedence and privileges

In the order of precedence, the Governor General outranks all individuals except the monarch. While in office Governor General, as well as his or her spouse (the Viceregal Consort), is styled "His Excellency" or "Her Excellency." Moreover, Governors General are appointed to the Queen's Privy Council for Canada upon retirement (unless they are already members), and are entitled to the style "The Right Honourable" for life. During his or her term in office, the Governor General is also the Chancellor and Principal Companion of the Order of Canada, the Chancellor of the Order of Military Merit, and the Chancellor of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces. Hence, the Governor General is entitled to wear the badges or insignia of these orders along with any other decorations.

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The present flag of the Governor General was adopted in 1981. It features a crowned lion holding a red maple leaf.

The Governor General's flag is a blue flag bearing a crowned lion holding a red maple leaf in its paw; the design was adopted in 1981. The flag takes precedence over all other flags, save only the Royal Standard (the monarch's flag). The flag may be flown from a vehicle in which the Governor General is travelling, or from a building in which the Governor General is present or is residing. On state visits abroad, however, the Governor General typically uses the national flag, which is a more recognizable Canadian symbol.

The Vice-Regal Salute is the anthem used to greet the Governor General. The Salute comprises the first six bars of the royal anthem (God Save the Queen) and the first four and last four bars of the national anthem (O Canada). On state visits abroad, O Canada alone is used to salute the Governor General.

The Governor General receives an annual salary of $110,126. His or her official residence is Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Ontario. A Governor General's wife is known as the Chatelaine of Rideau Hall; however, no equivalent exists for husbands of Governors General. Since 1872, Governors-General have also resided in the Citadel (La Citadelle) in Quebec City, Quebec for a part of each year (normally several weeks).

See also


Template:GGes:Gobernador General de Canad fr:Gouverneur gnral du Canada ko:캐나다 총독 pl:Gubernator Generalny Kanady zh:加拿大總督


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