What is the Governor General expected to do?

by Aaron Wherry

Theresa Spence repeats her demand that the Governor General be involved in a meeting between the Prime Minister and First Nations leaders. And the Assembly of First Nations are apparently going to demand his presence at a meeting on Thursday.

For what it’s worth, David Johnston was part of the Crown-First Nations gathering a year ago, but he was not part of the working sessions that took place as part of that gathering. According to Rideau Hall, he participated in the opening ceremony, witnessed the smudging ceremony and honour songs, exchanged gifts with National Chief Shawn Atleo, delivered opening remarks and then departed.




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What is the Governor General expected to do?

  1. His job.

    It’s what we’re paying him for.

    • And it’s why he was elected to represent Canada in real treaty negotiations and determine government policy.

      Oh wait.

      • Though the monarch retains all executive, legislative, and judicial power in and over Canada,[54][55]the governor general is permitted to exercise most of this, including the Royal Prerogative, in the sovereign’s name; some as outlined in the Constitution Act, 1867, and some through various letters patent issued over the decades, particularly those from 1947 that constitute the Office of
        Governor General of Canada.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Governor_General_of_Canada#Constitutional_role

        • According to Wikipedia, he’s also the head of the Scouts. You don’t see him telling them how to run their affairs, either. CEREMONIAL and UNELECTED.

          • No one is asking him how to run their affairs….he represents the Queen, and acts in her place in Canada.

          • So what is it? Does he have power or doesn’t he? If he does have power, it’s illegitimate. If he doesn’t, there’s no reason for him to be there. You can’t have it both ways.

          • Of course he has power, as does the Queen….who is also unelected. I have no idea what the ‘both ways’ means….we’ve been doing this for 145 years.

          • Maybe we should stop. (See my original post.)

          • Maybe we should. But we haven’t.

            We are a monarchy, he has the power of the monarch within Canada…..and them’s the current rules.

          • In prickly situations such as these, the current rules certainly do come up wanting.

          • Well everytime the question has been raised about keeping the monarchy…..people shove it aside, and say we don’t have time for that right now.

            So here we are.

        • That’s the irony of a democratic constitutional monarchy: the monarch has all the power and none. The monarch (or her representative) can sign bills into law, dissolve and prorogue Parliament, etc. but has no power to overrule Parliament.

          (Of course, Harper has demonstrated that appointed senators have the power to kill bills passed in the democratically-elected House of Commons. Which is one reason among many why the senate should be abolished.)

          • That’s in Britain and those are extraordinary and controversial circumstances. In a democracy, the people have the final say (unless you live in Canada; then a minority party often has the final say.)

          • The Queen has the same powers everywhere. And they aren’t ‘extraordinary’ circumstances….you just don’t read about it normally.

            Stop trying to use this story to promote PR.

    • His job is ceremonial. I think the protesters are trying to appeal to a higher power than Harper. But the unfortunate reality is that Canada is a democracy and so all the power remains in his hands. (The British monarch or her representative can’t overrule the PM on policy.)

      Of course, if Canada implemented the literal interpretation of democracy (a majority of voters being represented in government — like the rest of the developed world,) we wouldn’t be in this ugly predicament. (The tyranny of a minority…)

      • He has all the powers the Queen does. I don’t know where people got the idea the GG is a rubber stamp.

        • The British monarch is a figure-head of state. So yes, her representative amounts to nothing more than an ornamental rubber stamp. The only thing that can overrule the PM on requests to call an election or prorogue Parliament, etc. is precedent and constitutional law.

          E.g., if Harper wins a minority in 2015 and he loses a confidence vote soon after, he can request that another election be called. But the precedent here is that the GG will grant the official opposition the opportunity to form the government.

          A terrible precedent related to this is the King/Byng affair. Here the GG overruled a minority PM’s request for an election. King ran a campaign against the GG’s interference and won a 40% fake majority. So now relatively short-lived minority governments always end unnecessary elections. (It would be better to allow an alternative government to form midstream of an election term.)

          It would be much better if these monarch’s powers defaulted to a vote in the House of Commons rather than defaulting to a minority PM (who has no real democratic authority.)

          • That newspaper article has absolutely nothing relating to the points I made. There are some odd circumstances where the English monarch can interfere in
            England’s democracy. But that doesn’t apply to Canada.

          • Powers of the Queen….and yes it applies to us.

          • Doesn’t your very example show that the GG *does* have power.. just that it has a cost for its use.

          • The GGs have the power to interpret precedent and constitutional law, but if Harper’s and McGuinty’s abuses of prorogation are any indication, they prefer not to get involved.

            I think an interesting question is, what would happen if a government passed a law requiring that prorogation can only be granted by a majority vote in the House of Commons. (As opposed to a constitutional amendment which would be binding.) Now if a minority PM (or premier) later tried to prorogue for opportunistic reasons, would this be a great enough precedent the GG to refuse the request?

          • Without an “out” in it similar to Harper’s fixed election law, which made it useless, I believe the constitutional prerogative given to the GG would certainly trump any HoC law trying to proscribe the powers of the GG.

            No, I’ve said it before, the only way to handle these things without running afoul of constitutional privilege is to attach them to the PM personally. “No Prime Minister may seek prorogation of the House without the passage of a motion by two-thirds of the House of Commons. Penalty for violating is a fine not to exceed $0.01/canadian citizen, and house arrest for the duration of the prorogation so sought”

            You could do a similar type of thing for fixed elections. The key is to limit the Prime Minister’s ability to “advise” the GG, not to try to limit or usurp the GG’s abilities.

            That said, none of this affects the over-all point: The GG *does* have power. Whether or not a GG would choose to exercise that power is an entirely different question.

          • wont’ work – you see the GG and both of our Houses are bound by ‘ Convention ‘ – check it out it is a long story – more involved than you think – the rules aint wriiten down :)

          • You might want to check it out yourself. Specifically any conventions that suggest the PM may not be bound by legislation.

            Hint: There aren’t any.

          • When a decision is to be made by the GG and actually in the Privy Council as well they are bound by the ‘ convention ‘ tradition say – now let us say parliament tries to change something that is in the constitution let us say the Supreme Court rules no you can’t do it PM – but they try anyways the GG can say so sorry convention says this or that and if precedent exists using said convention the GG could turf the PM – all sorts of weird things like this in our system just not written down any where hahaha!!!!

  2. Interesting question(s): What would happen if Canada severed its ties to the Crown and got rid of the Governor General post? Where would that leave First Nations?

    (The reason why I ask is because this whole G-G controversy is really making me question the value of the position. He’s powerless and purely ceremonial — and now, through no fault of his own, he’s even an unwitting stumbling block to progress. Seems like a waste of time and money, doesn’t it?)

    • Spence is simply wrong trying to appeal to a higher authority than Harper. Of course it would be better if the First Nations were negotiating with a democratic government representing a majority of voters, rather than a minority party that was awarded unwarranted absolute power.

      Canada can democratize its existing (Westminster-style) system by simply requiring that MPs are elected with a majority of the vote by using preferential (ranked) ballots. This is the method all parties use to elect their leaders.

      (Harper was elected using the preferential ballot. While in opposition, he said First-Past-the-Post produced a “benign dictatorship” — something’s he’s perfectly Ok with as long as he’s the “dictator.”)

    • …except that the head of state in any alternative model of government would undoubtedly be equally “powerless and purely ceremonial”.

      To paraphrase Churchill, the monarchy is the worst form of government except for all the rest.

      • The U.S. and France get around it alright…

        • Apparently, you haven’t noticed the state of perpetual gridlock in the American model of governance lately.

          • Would a monarch solve it?

          • Actually, given the tripartite division of powers in the American system, a monarchy might solve it, although I didn’t suggest it would.

            I thought the implication of your point was that the American model was better. I merely suggested it comes with its own set of issues.

          • True. Plus, if you don’t have a royal decree in your problem-solving arsenal, you’ve got to make up for it with a trillion dollar coin.

    • It would make no difference, because, as you say, he is powerless and purely ceremonial. Nothing would happen to FN if the GG disappeared. They appear to be unaware of that fact.

      GGs tend to find ways to make themselves useful.

      And of course, because of the current charter, they are still needed to say yes to the PM when parliament is dissolved.

  3. For what it’s worth, David Johnston was part of the Crown-First Nations gathering
    a year ago, but he was not part of the working sessions that took place
    as part of that gathering. According to Rideau Hall, he participated in
    the opening ceremony, witnessed the smudging ceremony and honour songs,
    exchanged gifts with National Chief Shawn Atleo, delivered opening remarks and then departed.

    ***

    Probably the best way to handle it.

    • The best way to handle it? You think the natives are demanding his presence because they want to exchange gifts with him or have an opening ceremony to the meeting?

  4. She just released another communique, this time demanding that Yoda attend.

  5. I think they should take advice from Quebec,they handled the Indains here pretty well we have no problems here anymore.we dont tolarate breaking laws here!.”Period”

  6. Who does Chief Spence think she is? Who is she to tell the GG what to do? And who do the Natives think they are? Why should they have the power to tell the GG what to do?

    I’m sure the GG can make up his own mind.

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