The current constitution of the office of Governor General is laid out in letters patent of George VI issued in 1947. By the Constitution Act, 1982, any constitutional amendment that affects the Crown, including the Office of Governor General, requires the unanimous consent of the provincial legislatures as well as the federal parliament. The 1904 Militia Act granted the Governor General permission to use the title of Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian military, in the name of the sovereign.
Michaëlle Jean, the current Governor General, has served since September 27, 2005; then Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin recommended her to replace Adrienne Clarkson. Jean's husband, the vice-regal consort, is Jean-Daniel Lafond.
France gave up most of its North American territories, including Canada, to Great Britain via the Treaty of Paris, following the Seven Years' War (1756–1763). The Royal Proclamation of 1763 established the Office of Governor of Quebec to preside over the then named Province of Quebec. 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 province of Nova Scotia remained separate with its own colonial governor.
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 position of Governor General greatly changed 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 that Governor General Lord Byng of Vimy dissolve parliament. The Governor General however, used his reserve power to refuse the request, citing both the fact that King actually held the minority of seats, and 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 within their respective dominions, and not as an agent of the British government. Instead, the latter function would be taken over by high commissioners akin to ambassadors. The principle of the equality of the Dominions was further extended by the Statute of Westminster, 1931. The declaration abandoned the idea that the British Crown owned the territory of the entire empire, instead granting the status of a kingdom to each Dominion and separating the King's status as monarch of one realm from another. Though the declaration officially recognized the independence of the Dominion of Canada and its equality to the United Kingdom, persons born outside Canada continued to serve as Governor General until the appointment of Vincent Massey in 1952.
During the First and Second World Wars, the Governor General's role turned from one of cultural patron and state ceremony to one of military inspector and morale booster. Starting in 1914, Governor General Prince Arthur donned his Field Marshal's uniform and put his efforts into raising contingents, inspecting army camps, and seeing troops off before their voyage to Europe. These actions led to conflict with the Prince's prime minister at the time, Robert Borden; though the latter placed blame on the military secretary Edward Stanton, he also opined that the Duke "laboured under the handicap of his position as a member of the Royal Family and never realized his limitations as Governor General." Prince Arthur's successor, the Duke of Devonshire, faced the Conscription Crisis of 1917. Though the Governor General remained a representative of the British government, Cavendish still held discussions with his Canadian Prime Minister as well as His Majesty's Loyal Opposition members on the matter. Once the government implemented conscription, Cavendish, after consulting with Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Vincent Massey, Henri Bourassa, Archbishop of Montreal Paul Bruchési, Duncan Campbell Scott, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, and Stephen Leacock on the pulse of the nation, made efforts to conciliate Quebec, though he had little real success.
Though the Governor General had been venturing to Washington to meet informally with the president of the United States since the time of Lord Monck, the first official visit was of Lord Willingdon at the invitation of Calvin Coolidge. Willingdon was accorded the full honours of representative of the head of state, at the insistence of Vincent Massey. During the Great Depression, Lord Bessborough voluntarily cut his salary by ten percent.
Thereafter, the next period of important change for the office came around the time of Roland Michener's tenure (1967–1974). In light of changing attitudes towards Canadian identity and the rise of the Quebec sovereignty movement, the images and role of the monarchy were cautiously downplayed. Paralleling the earlier changes in constitutional law, the cultural role of the Canadian monarchy, including that of the Governor General, altered accordingly. The federal and provincial governments began to recognize and promote the fact of the Queen's role as monarch of Canada being separate to her position as monarch of the United Kingdom. Additionally, with the creation of the distinct Canadian honours system, an increase of state visits coming with Canada's growing role on the world stage, and the more prevalent use of television to visually broadcast ceremonial state affairs, the governor general became more publicly active in national life. Michener also relaxed protocols and formalities surrounding the office; for instance, the long-standing custom of bowing or curtsying before the governor general was abandoned. Michener did retain the traditional military uniform associated with the office, becoming the last governor general to do so.
Georges Vanier, who as Governor General always fostered unity and biculturalism, found himself the target of Quebec sovereigntists in Montreal, on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, 1964, wherein a group of separatists held placards reading "Vanier vendu" ("Vanier sold out") and "Vanier fou de la Reine" ("Vanier Queen's jester").
Since the early 1980s, controversy has emerged from Rideau Hall relating to the Governor General's position and status in relation to the monarch. During the tenure of Jeanne Sauvé, the staff of Government House organized national tours for the federal viceroy, and, while in Saskatchewan, meddled in the Lietuenant Governor's plans as host to the Governor General, and attempted to ban the singing of the Royal Anthem and the toast to the Queen, demanding instead a toast to Sauvé, thus raising the ire of municipal event organizers. After the turn of the second millennium, problems of a similar nature transpired during Clarkson's tenure: Rideau Hall staff stated that the Governor General would be attending the ceremony for the 60th anniversary of D-Day as Canada's head of state; a statement that was later retracted, however, during the ceremony in France it became evident that the Queen was treated as a foreign representative, with the Governor General as the prime dignitary in attendance. Beginning January 1 of the following year, the Letters of Credence that foreign diplomats present when beginning an assignment in Canada were altered so as to be addressed solely to the Governor General, without making any reference to the Queen; the same case was applied to Letters of Recall presented when a diplomat finishes a sojourn in Canada. This change in protocol was criticised by Canadian monarchists as an example of the government reducing the Queen's role, and was welcomed by republicans for the same reason. This trend continued later in the year, when, during the Queen's tour of Alberta and Saskatchewan to celebrate those provinces' centennials of entry into confederation, the government of Alberta wished to have the Queen sign a provincial bill into law, but this was not done. In theory, this was because the constitutionality of the Queen doing so was questioned; however, Rideau Hall also stated it would conflict with the federal government's policy of the "Canadianization" of Canada's institutions. After Clarkson left the vice-regal post, she revealed her opinions on her role in relation to her superior during an interview with Don Newman on CBC Newsworld in October, 2006. In that interview, Clarkson stated she felt that while the Queen remained popular with Canadians, the Governor General was the direct representative of the Crown, but not of the Queen, and was therefore Canada's legal head of state; a theory contrary to Eugene Forsey, the government of Canada itself, and numerous others, but in line with Edward McWhinney.
This elevation did not just occur in relation to the monarch, but also in regards to the relationship between the Governor General and her provincial counterparts. Echoing the attitude of Government House staff during the 1980s, those in Clarkson's office saw the Governor General as the holder of the highest position of precedence, even when at a provincial event. Provincial authorities attempted to point out that the Lieutenant Govenror, as representative of the monarch in the province, took precedence over all except the Queen, were met with denial from Clarkson's staff, which sometimes resulted in precedence battles.
Spending also became an issue for Adrienne Clarkson during her time as viceroy; under her governor generalcy the budget for her office doubled to $41 million, which included renovations to Rideau Hall and La Citadelle's visitor centres, as well as upgrades of the public facilities and barrier-free access, and restoration work. What garnered the most attention, however, was a nineteen day circumpolar "northern identity" tour comprising state visits to Russia, Finland, and Iceland, with her husband and fifty other Canadians prominent in various fields, in 2003, which cost in excess of $5 million. The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade commissioned and paid for the trip but Clarkson's office controlled the general itinerary. The overall spending by the Office of the Governor General led to a parliamentary committee review in 2004, resulting in a cut back of 10% for the Governor General's budget for that year; a decision which was said by McWhinney to have been based on "common misconceptions" and a "simple failure to undertake elementary research.
Clarkson's successor, Michaëlle Jean, after clearing up speculations about her being a supporter of Quebec sovereignty just prior to her appointment as Governor General, faced another backlash when it was revealed that staff at Rideau Hall were removing portraits of Canada's sovereigns and other members of the Canadian Royal Family from the walls of the palace in order to give "a strong image of Canada"; a move which was viewed by the editorial board of the National Post as one meant to "siphon off the great symbolic power of the monarchy, to further their particular tastes and agendas. Jean caused trouble again at the end of November, 2007, when the Chancellery of Government House refused to process the application for Constable Chris Garrett, who was killed in the line of duty in Cobourg, Ontario, to posthumously receive the Cross of Valour; the application was submitted eight months after the deadline. This resulted in condemnation from the Premier of Ontario and a public outcry from members of the police forces across Canada, with many officers sending their 20 year service medals to Rideau Hall in protest; Julian Fantino, Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, began organizing a delegation to appeal directly to Queen Elizabeth II. The Governor General, in response, expressed recommendations to the ministry as to how to resolve the issue. This move was a first in that it was done publicly, via a press release from Rideau Hall, as opposed to in confidence, as is usually the case with communications between the viceroy and prime minister.
The group Citizens for a Canadian Republic advocate codifying the office in preparation for what they see as the eventual transformation into some form of presidency, thus completely replacing the monarchy. On the other hand, organizations such as the Monarchist League of Canada support the retention of the Governor General as the representative of the reigning Canadian monarch. Since the failure of the Meech Lake Accord in 1987 and the Charlottetown Accord in 1992, Canadian politicians have shown little appetite for opening discussions on constitutional matters; previous proposals made by the federal government to alter the status and power of the Governor General were met with wide disapproval from the provinces and elsewhere.
The Canadian monarch appoints the Governor General on the advice of her Canadian Prime Minister. Letters patent of George VI issued in 1947 state: "We do hereby constitute, order, and declare that there shall be a Governor General and Commander-in-Chief in and over Canada, and appointments to the Office of Governor General and Commander-in-Chief in and over Canada shall be made by Commission under Our Great Seal of Canada."
Upon taking office, the governor general-designate must take the Oath of Allegiance:
From 1867 to 1952 every Governor General was born beyond Canada's borders, and was a member of the Peerage. Though these viceroys spent a relatively limited time in Canada, their travel schedules were so extensive that they could "learn more about Canada in five years than many Canadian in a lifetime. It was at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference that Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden consulted Prime Minister of South Africa, Louis Botha, on the topic of appointments of governors general; the two agreed that the appointee should be a resident of their respective Dominion. However, it was not until Vincent Massey's appointment by Queen Elizabeth II in 1952 that the position was filled by a Canadian resident; though, it should be remembered that prior to 1947 all residents of Canada were as equally British subjects as their British counterparts. This continued until the practice of appointing non-Canadian-born persons was revived with the calling of Adrienne Clarkson, born in Hong Kong, to serve as Governor General. Moreover, by tradition, the post has been held alternately by anglophone Canadians and francophone Canadians. Beginning in 1967, the Prime Minister has forwarded the Queen a single name when proposing a vice-regal appointment; previously a list of several names had been given to the monarch. In general, the sovereign is bound by constitutional convention to almost always follow the advice of his or her prime minister, as long as the Prime Minister maintains the confidence of the House of Commons and acts within constitutional limits, though she retains the right to encourage, advise, and warn.
Although non-partisan while in office, Governors General are often former politicians. Since 1952, individuals who previously served as diplomats, cabinet members, or Speakers of the House of Commons have been appointed to the post. Former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson was previously an author and television anchor; she was the first Governor General in Canadian history without either a political or military background. She was also the first Asian-Canadian and the second woman to serve in the position. The first female governor general of Canada was Jeanne Sauvé, who served from 1984 to 1990. The third woman to hold this position, Michaëlle Jean, who took office on September 27, 2005, is also the first black Canadian Governor General.
It is traditional that an appointed individual act as the Queen's representative for a minimum of five years, but in truth the viceroy serves at Her Majesty's pleasure, and the Prime Minister may advise the Queen to retain the Governor General's in her service for longer. For instance, Adrienne Clarkson had been in office for five years as of 2004, but her appointment as Governor General was extended by the Queen on the advice of Prime Minister Paul Martin, who argued that it was preferable to have an experienced Governor General in place while a minority government remained in power. The tenures of other Governors General, including Georges Vanier and Roland Michener, have been extended beyond five years in previous circumstances. Governors General may resign from office, as, for instance, Roméo 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 the government 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).
The Governor General is the representative of the Canadian monarch, and may exercise most powers vested in the Crown. The Queen does retain all executive power and her Royal Prerogative, but she has never personally intervened in Canadian politics; most of her duties being exercised by the Governor General, though she does alone hold the power to appoint a governor general, and, as required by the Canadian constitution, to add seats to the Senate, but does so only on the advice of the Canadian Prime Minister. Although the person who is monarch of Canada is also monarch of the United Kingdom, Canada being a sovereign nation, the British government cannot advise the Queen or her Governor General on Canadian matters, or otherwise interfere in Canadian affairs.
The Governor General's powers are legally extensive, however they are in practise very limited. The Governor General is a symbolic and nominal chief executive, acting within the constraints of constitutional convention and precedent. Most political power is exercised by the Prime Minister and Cabinet, who advise the Governor General, and who are, in turn, accountable to the democratically elected House of Commons, and through it, to the people. Still, part of the Royal Prerogative, known as the reserve powers, however, remain as the Crown's final check against a government's power; as Senator and constitutional expert Eugene Forsey stated: "A Governor General must take all steps necessary to thwart the will of a ruthless prime minister." This power was used by Governor General Lord Byng against Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King in what is known as the King-Byng Affair of 1926. Some, such as the CBC's Larry Zolf, also speculated whether Governor General Adrienne Clarkson would refuse a recommendation from Prime Minister Jean Chrétien to dissolve Parliament in 2002.
Through the Constitution Act, 1867, the Governor General is specifically granted the power to appoint, in the Queen's name, the lieutenant governors of the provinces, members of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, senators, the speaker of the Senate, Supreme Court justices, and superior and county court judges in each province, except those of the courts of probate in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Effectively, however, the appointees are chosen by the prime minister or other ministers, with the premiers of the provinces concerned playing an advisory role in the appointment of lieutenant governors. The same act states that the governor general alone may summon the House of Commons. Beyond that, the Governor General exercises the other powers that conventionally belong to the monarch.
All laws are enacted in the monarch's name; before a bill can become law, 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 Royal Assent (making the bill law), withhold 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 Royal Assent, the sovereign may, within two years, "disallow" the bill, thereby annulling the law in question. No modern Governor General has disallowed a bill, however provincial lieutenant governors have. A lieutenant governor may, instead of granting the Royal Assent to a bill, reserve the bill for the Governor General. This practice was last 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.
Should the monarch be in Canada to undertake affairs of state, the Governor General removes him or herself from the scene. Governor General Lord Tweedsmuir stated, in relation to King George VI granting Royal Assent to Canadian law in the Canadian Senate in 1939, that when the King of Canada was present "I cease to exist as Viceroy, and retain only a shadowy legal existence as Governor General in Council." However, the presence of the monarch does not undermine the Governor General's ability to perform governmental roles.
By the Letters Patent issued by George VI in 1947, the Governor General must seek the permission of the monarch, via the Prime Minister, before leaving Canada.
The Governor General's functions are primarily ceremonial. As representative of the sovereign, the Governor General performs some of the ritual functions normally associated with heads of state. He or she makes state visits abroad, hosts foreign heads of state, receives ambassadors and high commissioners, meets ceremonial groups, and awards medals, decorations, and prizes (including the Governor General's Literary Awards). During an election, the governor general will curtail their public duties, so as not to seem as though they're involving themselves in political affairs. It has become a tradition for every outgoing governor general to establish a trophy or award, usually in sport, to be named after him or her, as well as for the Governor General to tour the country, meeting with Canadians at various types of events. The latter was begun by former Governor General John Young, in 1869.
He or she serves the primarily symbolic role as the Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Forces. Symbolically, the Governor General fills this position, in the name of the Queen, as the allegiance of Armed Forces members is to the Canadian Crown, and not to the sitting, and transient, government. In practise, it is not clear whether the commanders of the Armed Forces could, in reality, turn to the Governor General if they thought that the orders they were receiving from the Prime Minister and Minister of National Defence were illegal or unethical, or whether the Governor General would be justified in issuing new orders directly. The Governor General is also the colonel of the regiment of Canada's three household regiments: the Governor General's Horse Guards, Governor General's Foot Guards and Canadian Grenadier Guards. This ceremonial position is directly under the position of colonel-in-chief, which is held by the Queen.
In the order of precedence, the Governor General outranks all individuals except the monarch; as direct representative of the sovereign, the Governor General even outranks other members of the Royal Family. The Governor General is said to be Primus inter pares (first amongst equals) with other 10 representatives of the Crown in Canada.
While in office the Governor General and 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. However, once they vacate the position the term "Excellency" is dropped. The Governor General is the only Canadian entitled to use the term "Excellency" while in Canada but visiting heads of state are also referred to as "Excellency." 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, the Chancellor of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces, and Knight/Dame of Justice, Prior, and Chief Officer of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem in Canada, and wearing the white cross of the order. As commander-in-chief of the Canadian Forces the governor general is automatically invested with the Canadian Forces Decoration by the Chief of the De fence Staff a matter of days after his or her investiture. Hence, the Governor General is entitled to wear the badges or insignia of these orders along with any other decorations. At his or her installation ceremony the Governor General is presented with the collars of the Order of Canada, the Order of Military Merit, the Order of Merit of the Police Forces, and the Canadian Heraldic Authority.
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 Queen's personal Canadian 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 Canadian royal anthem ("God Save the Queen"), and the first four and last four bars of "O Canada," the Canadian national anthem. On state visits abroad "O Canada" alone is used to salute the Governor General.
The Governor General receives an annual salary of $110,126, and under the Constitution Act, payment of that salary is the first claim on the revenue of the federal government. The official residence of the Governor General is Rideau Hall in Ottawa. A Governor General's wife is known as the chatelaine of Rideau Hall, but there is no equivalent term or title for a Governor General's husband. 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).
The Governor General and his/her staff also had a suite of offices on Parliament Hill in the East Block until well into World War II. The offices were subsequently incorporated into the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), but have been restored to their 19th century appearance after the PMO moved to the Langevin Block in the 1970s, and are now preserved as a tourist attraction along with other historic offices in the East Block.
There are several examples from the era of British Governors General of Canada where former viceroys returned to a political career in Britain by sitting with party affiliations in the House of Lords and, in some cases, taking positions in the British cabinet. In 1952, Lord Alexander of Tunis resigned as Governor General of Canada to accept an appointment as Sir Winston Churchill's Minister of Defence. Lord Lansdowne and the Duke of Devonshire both served in British cabinets following their vice-regal careers. Lansdowne also went on to serve as leader of the Conservative Party in the House of Lords for over a decade.