The Governor General and First Nations

Emmett Macfarlane considers the Governor General and his place, or lack thereof, in the current discussion.

The governor general’s role is almost entirely symbolic, in that it reflects the source of sovereign power in the Canadian state. But that power should only be exercised by state institutions, comprising the executive, legislature and judiciary. The governor general plays no political or policy role. He has no autonomous capacity to act in First Nations’ interest. Nor does the Queen, for that matter, and if she tried, it would rightly be regarded as an affront to Canadian constitutionalism.

This does not mean the governor general cannot or should not meet with First Nations. In fact, he was present at last year’s Crown-First Nations “gathering” which was meant to mark renewal in the relationship. But it would be inappropriate for the governor general to attend today’s meeting, which was the product of political protest and which is supposed to focus on policy demands (such as those concerning the government’s omnibus legislation).