Frequently Asked Questions
The Governor General of Canada is the representative of the monarchy in Canada. The reigning monarch (King or Queen) of the United Kingdom is the official head of state of Canada, but since the monarch does not live in Canada, the Governor General takes the monarch’s place. The Governor General is supposed to be non-partisan. That means they do not belong to or favour any particular political party while carrying out their duties. The Governor General is appointed directly by the reigning monarch. The monarch can appoint anyone as Governor General, but usually they will follow the Prime Minister’s recommendation.
Many of the roles the Governor General performs are ceremonial. However, the Governor General has other important responsibilities as well. The Governor General appoints the Prime Minister, the members of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet, senators, Supreme Court justices, and the Lieutenant Governors of each province. Traditionally, the Governor General follows long-established conventions—such as choosing the leader of the party that has the most seats in the House of Commons after an election to be Prime Minister, and appointing to the Prime Minister’s Cabinet the Members of Parliament that the Prime Minister has selected.
The Governor General has the power to prorogue (end the current term of) Parliament, and to dissolve Parliament altogether (forcing a new election). This is usually also done at the request of the Prime Minister. The Governor General also gives Royal Assent to new bills passed by the Federal government, which makes them law.
As the representative of the monarch, the Governor General has the same reserve powers as the monarch—for example, they can remove a Prime Minister from office or refuse to assent to a bill that has been passed by the House of Commons and Senate, preventing it from becoming law. This has never been done in Canada’s history. However, other reserve powers have been used on rare occasions in the past, such as in 1926, when the Governor General refused to dissolve Parliament when asked to do so by the Prime Minister.
When Parliament is dissolved, all Parliamentary business before the House of Commons and the Senate ends, and an election must be held.
Parliament is dissolved by the Governor General. The Governor General issues three proclamations to dissolve government, which appear in the Canada Gazette (the Government of Canada’s official newspaper):
Under the Constitution, Parliament expires every 5 years, unless the House of Commons extends it (for example, in times of war, invasion, or insurrection). This means that if the Governor General does not dissolve Parliament within 5 years, Parliament automatically dissolves. The Canada Elections Act restricts this even further, so that elections must normally be held every 4 years.
The Governor General has the power to dissolve Parliament at any time. This might happen, for example, if Members of Parliament agree that the Prime Minister is no longer fit to lead, or if the government’s budget does not pass in Parliament. Normally, however, the Governor General dissolves Parliament at the Prime Minister’s request.
Prorogation is when Parliament is put on hold. It is not the same as dissolution, and an election does not need to be held. Instead, the same elected Members of Parliament will return to their duties at a later date. The time between prorogations (when Parliament is actually sitting) is called a session. There is no limit to the length or number of sessions, as long as Parliament sits at least once every 12 months, and as long as Parliament is dissolved and an election is called when required by law.
When Parliament is prorogued, any matters in progress—such as bills being debated or studied—are ended. This means that bills can “die” before being enacted, and would need to be reintroduced in a later Parliamentary session to be passed.
Like dissolution, Parliament is prorogued by the Governor General, usually at the Prime Minister’s request.
Section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms says that the rights and freedoms mentioned in the Charter are only guaranteed within reasonable limits that can be justified in a free and democratic society. This means that no right in the Charter is absolute, and governments are allowed to put laws into place that limit these rights. Every person’s Charter rights and freedoms must be balanced with the rights and freedoms of everyone else, and no right in the Charter is more important than any of the others.
When someone claims that a law has infringed one of their Charter rights, it is up to the courts to decide if that right was infringed, and if so, whether the infringement is allowable under section 1. When the courts make these decisions, some of the things they must consider include: