The Governor General

The office of Governor General is the oldest continuous institution in Canada and is an unbroken link with the early days of our country’s recorded history. Samuel de Champlain was appointed the first governor of New France in 1627 and was followed by seventeen French governors until 1760. From then until 1867, a total of twenty-one British governors and governors general held office in Canada. The Governor General represents Her Majesty The Queen at the federal level in Canada in Her Majesty's absence, and carries out the duties in her name.

Appointed by The Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister, the Governor General usually holds office for five years. Lieutenant Governors fulfill the responsibilities and functions of The Queen in the provinces in the same way that the Governor General does at the national level.

The Role and Responsibilities of the Governor General

In 1947, "Letters Patent Constituting the Office of the Governor General of Canada" (under King George VI), authorized the Governor General to exercise most of the Crown's powers on behalf of the Sovereign.

The Governor General has important parliamentary responsibilities. Some of these include:

  • Summoning, proroguing and dissolving Parliament;
  • Setting out the government’s program by reading the Speech from the Throne; and
  • Giving Royal Assent, which makes acts of Parliament into law.

The Governor General is also Commander-in-Chief of Canada. He visits military bases and honours Canadian military personnel on behalf of The Queen.

The Governor General also fulfills important ceremonial duties, such as:

  • Promoting a sense of identity;
  • Recognizing the achievements of outstanding Canadians;
  • Receiving foreign dignitaries;
  • Travelling overseas as the representative of Canada and
  • Hosting and taking part in official events.

Governor General ceremonies

As Crown representative in Canada, the Governor General acts on The Queen’s behalf. Upon his taking the oaths of office, a 21 gun salute, which is the same amount fired upon The Queen’s arrival in Canada, is fired. The same applies for foreign heads of state and members of foreign reigning royal families.

The Governor General Designate

The Governor General Designate is the person who has been appointed as Governor General, but who has not yet been sworn-in. He will keep this title until the swearing-in or installation ceremony has taken place.

During the transition period, the Governor General Designate undertakes a series of briefings with various members of government, ensuring he will be able to step into the role of Governor General without difficulty.

A Bit of History

A Governor in all but name, Samuel de Champlain fulfilled 400 years ago several duties and responsibilities that would later be carried out by the Governors of New France and after Confederation, by the Governors General of Canada.

The office of the Governor General dates back to 1867. The office of Governor General is the oldest continuous institution in Canada and is an unbroken link with the early days of our country’s recorded history. Samuel de Champlain was appointed the first governor of New France in 1627 and was followed by seventeen French governors until 1760. From then until 1867, a total of twenty-one British governors and governors general held office in Canada. Until 1952, Governors General were British. The 1952 installation of Vincent Massey, the first Canadian to hold the office, reflected Canada's new sense of autonomy and identity in the post-war era and Canadian sense of pride in the Canadian Crown.

Vincent Massey's appointment was important, marking the beginning of the modern institution of the Governor General where a Canadian represents The Queen and carries out the responsibilities at the formal level. Since then, the role of the Governor General has evolved: Canada's Governor General has responsibilities such as managing the Canadian honours system, representing Canada abroad, signing the letters of credence for outgoing Canadian diplomats, signing treaties and declarations of war, and granting Canadian Coats of Arms. All are undertaken in the name of the Queen.

Installation of a Governor General

The installation of a new Governor General is intended to officially mark his or her assumption of office, replacing the outgoing Governor General. It is a historic event which represents the most important state ceremony within Canada's constitutional and ceremonial structure.

Each installation ceremony is unique and reflects the preferences of the individuals involved and the ongoing evolution of the office of the Governor General.

Regardless of the details, the element that cannot change is when the Governor General Designate swears an oath or solemnly affirms his allegiance. The most senior justice of the Supreme Court of Canada administers this oath.

Another key element of the installation is the Governor General's first address to the nation. This speech will set out the Governor General's vision for his term of office in bringing to life the important and ongoing role of the Canadian Crown in the life of our country and its citizens.

As the newly installed Governor General completes his oath, the Governor General's flag is raised on the Senate Chamber on Parliament Hill where the installation occurs. The Governor General, who bears the title “Excellency” during office along with his/her spouse, is appointed by the Queen on the recommendation of the Prime Minister and normally holds office for five years. The Governor General also bears the title “Right Honourable” for life.

Installation of the 28th Governor General

His Excellency delivers his first speech in the Senate Chamber after taking his oath of office

On July 8, 2010, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that Her Majesty The Queen had graciously agreed to the appointment of David Johnston as the 28th Governor General of Canada.

His Excellency delivers his first speech in the Senate Chamber after taking his oath of office. Photo Credit: Sgt Serge Gouin, Rideau Hall

Having been appointed by the Sovereign, Mr. Johnston was sworn into office on October 1, 2010, at a ceremony in the Senate Chamber on Parliament Hill. Beyond taking an oath to become Her Majesty’s representative in Canada, the Governor General Designate became Commander in Chief of Canada. The Governor General Designate was nominated Chancellor and Principal Companion of the Order of Canada and also Chancellor and Commander of the Order of Military Merit, reflecting the important role of the Crown in recognizing Canadian excellence.

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