Governor General of Canada

… a core concept in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100

Click for Governor General website

Click for Governor General website

Concept description

The Governor General’s website describes his role and responsibilities as follows:

“The Governor General is the representative of the Queen in Canada.

“The responsibilities of the governor general have evolved over time, along with the evolution of Canada as a sovereign and independent nation. In 1947, letters patent signed by King George VI redefine the powers of the governor general. These letters patent “authorize and empower Our Governor General, with the advice of Our Privy Council for Canada or any members thereof or individually, as the case requires, to exercise all powers and authorities lawfully belonging to Us in respect of Canada”. Since then, the governor general has daily and fully exercised the duties of the Head of State, not only in Canada, but also abroad. As per the letters patent, the governor general is also the commander-in-chief of Canada.

“The governor general represents Canada during State visits abroad and receives Royal visitors, heads of State and foreign ambassadors at Rideau Hall and at the Citadelle of Québec.

“The governor general presents honours and awards to recognize excellence, valour, bravery and exceptional achievements. The governor general is also the head of the Canadian Heraldic Authority.”

Who is Canada’s head of state?

As noted above, the Governor General’s website says that since 1947 the Governor General “has daily and fully exercised the duties of the Head of State.”

However, the Government’s position, as articulated on the Government of Canada’s integrated website (at, accessed 25 August 2016) is that “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is Queen of Canada and Canada’s Head of State” and that the “Governor General’s role and responsibilities consist mainly in carrying out many of the duties on behalf of The Queen.”

Wikipedia (reference below) has an extensive and well documented (drawing on many of the article’s 351 citations!) description of the differences of view about whether Canada’s head of state is The Queen or the Governor General:

“Though it has been argued that the term head of state is a republican one inapplicable in a constitutional monarchy such as Canada, where the monarch is the embodiment of the state and thus cannot be head of it, the sovereign is regarded by official government sources, judges, constitutional scholars, and pollsters as the head of state, while the governor general and lieutenant governors are all only representatives of, and thus equally subordinate to, that figure. Some governors general, their staff, government publications, and constitutional scholars like Edward McWhinney and C. E. S. Franks have, however, referred to the position of governor general as that of Canada’s head of state, though sometimes qualifying the assertion with de facto or effective; Franks has hence recommended that the governor general be named officially as the head of state. Still others view the role of head of state as being shared by both the sovereign and her viceroys. Since 1927, governors general have been received on state visits abroad as though they were heads of state.

“Officials at Rideau Hall have attempted to use the Letters Patent of 1947 as justification for describing the governor general as head of state. However, the document makes no such distinction, nor does it effect an abdication of the sovereign’s powers in favour of the viceroy, as it only allows the governor general to “act on The Queen’s behalf”. Michael D. Jackson, former protocol officer for Saskatchewan, argued that Rideau Hall had been attempting to “recast” the governor general as head of state since the 1970s and doing so preempted both the Queen and all of the lieutenant governors. This caused not only “precedence wars” at provincial events (where the governor general usurped the lieutenant governor’s proper spot as most senior official in attendance) and Governor General Adrienne Clarkson to accord herself precedence before the Queen at a national occasion, but also constitutional issues by “unbalancing … the federalist symmetry”. This has been regarded as both a natural evolution and as a dishonest effort to alter the constitution without public scrutiny.”

[citations removed, for references see Wikipedia reference below]

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Constitutional Framework (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.


Governor General of Canada, Role and Responsibilities, at, accessed 24 August 2016.

Wikipedia, Monarchy of Canada, at, accessed 24 August 2016.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 25 August 2016.

Image: Governor General of Canada, at, accessed 24 August 2016.