The state of the head of state debate -

The state of the head of state debate


It’s not clear at all to me why the Governor General cannot be called Canada’s head of state in some contexts.

(Monarchists please direct your hate mail to my correspondence secretary, Nigel. Please use a fountain pen, or if you prefer, quill.)

Not that I’m claiming to be an expert on matters vice-regal. In fact, all I know for sure about Rideau Hall is that when a cricket match is being played on the grounds, it’s good manners to start your tea with the cucumber sandwichs, but if they’re playing crochet, etiquette and tradition demand that you begin with cheddar and chutney on a triangle of crustless bread.

Be that as it may, in 1947, King George VI signed so-called “letters patent,” which gave the Canadian GG the main duties of a ceremonial head of state. And starting in Governor General Roland Michener’s time, GGs traveling abroad on Canada’s behalf began to be greeted by foreign governments as Canadian head of state.

So the GG has the duties of a ceremonial head of state. The GG gets treated like a ceremonial head of state. If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, and wears a lot of brocade on its epaulets…

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The state of the head of state debate

  1. Our GG made the first use of the reserve powers of the office in living memory. She IS the Head of State because it was as a result of her decision that our country went without government for the greater part of a year. Who else, but the Head of State, could call the whole thing off, without so much as one media confererance, one speech to Canadians, without official memo or letter to the public? She acted like a Monarch. We accepted it, the journalists at Macleans had no problems with her authority to use the reserve powers of the office. Because she exercised that muscle, her role is not ceremonial.

    • "it was as a result of her decision that our country went without government for the greater part of a year"

      What country did that happen in?

      As I've had to remind the delusionally spun before:
      It was only six days of paliament which were cancelled last Christmas break.
      Get over it.

      Where the hell did you get ,"better part of a year", from?
      You are too far down the rabbit hole.
      I cannot follow.

      • Sorry, lets keep on the main topic. I am no constitutional expert, but the Governor General is the head of state, as the representative of the Queen. When the Queen chooses to be in Canada she is the head of state, when she is not, the Governor General takes over that role.
        I don't understand why people, including the PM, have a problem with this.
        The Governor General is the one who decides the most important moments of our government. Whether we should have elections, and who should form the government.
        The very fact that she exercised the power to progue Parliament for 6 days (maybe next time it will be 1 year as is her right) shows she weilds the most power in Canada. It is just VERY rare that such power is required.
        This is not a ceremonial role, it is just that the role is normally all ceremony as there are no major reasons to use her powers (we have mostly had majority governments in Canada). A good example would be our soldiers, unless there is a war the most civilians see of them is marching during ceremonial parades.

        • I don't understand why people, including the PM, have a problem with this.

          Maybe because it's not true? Fulfilling the duties of a Head of State and BEING the Head of State are two entirely different things. The Governor General does indeed have many powers and a very important role in our governance. There are also many (and many important) things that she can do without ever needing to bother her majesty.

          None of which does anything to change the fact that she's not our Head of State.

  2. Oh maybe John Geddes can rush to my defence here and explain what happened when parliament was pro-rogued early into session. I’m never participating on this comment board again. Good-bye Macleans.

  3. Canada is a federation, not a unitary state.

    If the GG were to be the head of state, then what would that make the Lieutenant Governors in each province–the head of province??

    It a deliberate curb on their self-aggrandizement that the GG and the LGs are merely the queen's 11 representatives and no more.

    If you let them think themselves more than that, they start getting delusions of grandeur–exactly like Clarkson and Jean. Thankfully they have 5-year term limits!

    The chief virtue of Monarchy is not who is keeps in, but what it keeps out.

  4. The representative of the head of state cannot simultaneously be head of state. Our constitution already identitifies the Queen as Sovereign, Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief a.k.a. head of state.

    The Governor General as representative of our head of state, the Queen of Canada, cannot call herself head of state for the same reasons that the Vice President of the United States of America cannot call himself America's head of state just because he carries out the duties of the President of the United State of America in his absence or in his name.

    Or for a simpler comparison: the Deputy Sheriff does not become Sheriff just because the Sheriff is out of town.