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Canada’s Constitutional Monarchy

Canada is a constitutional monarchy. The Monarch (the King or Queen) is the Head of State, whose powers are defined by the Constitution and constitutional conventions. These responsibilities are carried out by the Governor General (the Monarch’s representative in Canada).

The Monarchy in Canada

The positions of Head of State and Head of Government are held by separate people. The Prime Minister is the Head of Government, and the Monarch – currently His Majesty King Charles III – is the Head of State.

The Monarch’s powers and responsibilities are established and limited by the Canadian Constitution and several other laws.

Canada shares its Monarch with several other Commonwealth nations such as Australia, India and the United Kingdom. The Monarch’s role within each country is unique and independent from the others.


Head of State vs. Head of Government

In some countries, such as the United States and Mexico, the Head of State and the Head of Government are the same person.

In Canada, the Head of State has important constitutional responsibilities but no political role. They are strictly non-partisan (not affiliated with any political party or platform).

The Head of Government is a political figure who leads Cabinet.

The Role of the Governor General

The Governor General is the Monarch’s representative in Canada. They are appointed by the Monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister. Although the Constitution does not assign a fixed term to the position, a new Governor General is usually appointed every five years.

The Governor General has four main areas of responsibility: constitutional duties, presentation of honours, military duties and ceremonies.

Constitutional Duties

The Governor General performs the position’s constitutional responsibilities in a non-partisan way, guided by the Constitution, by convention and by the advice of the Prime Minister.

These responsibilities include:

  • proroguing Parliament (ending a session)
  • dissolving Parliament and calling an election
  • summoning a new Parliament after an election
  • swearing the Prime Minister and Cabinet into office
  • reading the Speech from the Throne, which sets out the government’s agenda at the beginning of each session of Parliament
  • granting Royal Assent, which is the final step in the legislative process, when a bill becomes law
The Monarch’s throne in the Senate chamber

Presentation of Honours

The Governor General travels widely to encourage and acknowledge individuals and groups who have made substantial contributions to Canada. They also present honours and awards to people who have demonstrated excellence.

Military Duties

As Commander-in-Chief of Canada, the Governor General plays an important role in recognizing the contribution of the Canadian Armed Forces and their families. The Governor General visits Canadian military members posted overseas, attends ceremonies for fallen members and honours veterans on Remembrance Day.

Ceremonies

The Governor General welcomes visiting heads of state and other important visitors to Canada. They also accept the credentials (official documents) of new ambassadors and high commissioners who represent their respective countries in Canada. During state visits abroad, they lead delegations and meet with other prominent officials to promote Canada on the international stage.

The Governor General is also the head of the Canadian Heraldic Authority, which grants coats of arms and other heraldic emblems to Canadian individuals and organizations.

Reserved Powers of the Monarch

The Governor General exercises all the powers and responsibilities of the Monarch, except for some that can only be performed directly by the Monarch, including the following:

  • Naming the Governor General: This can be done only by the Monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister. Governors General cannot choose their own successor.
  • Appointing additional senators: In the case of potential political deadlock, the Prime Minister can request the appointment of four or eight additional senators (equally divided by Canada’s regions). If the Monarch approves, the Governor General will appoint the new senators.

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