The Role of the Governor General: Some Lessons from Australia and the Commonwealth

By McWhinney, Edward | Canadian Parliamentary Review, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

The Role of the Governor General: Some Lessons from Australia and the Commonwealth


McWhinney, Edward, Canadian Parliamentary Review


As Canadians wrestle with issues of prorogation, coalitions, fixed elections and even the nomenclature of their head of state it is useful to look at practices in other Commonwealth countries. Of course each country will have its own tradition and conventions but we can better understand Canadian issues by putting them in a comparative perspective. This paper looks at recent developments relating to the role of the Governor General including his/her role in the making or unmaking of Governments.

**********

Canada has an ancient, some would say antique, Constitutional charter, which until the Constitution Act 1982, had no autonomous, self-operating amending machinery, and even today has only a very cumbersome and difficult amending process. Thus there is an ever-increasing gap between the Constitution-as-written, the Law-in-Books, and what actually happens under it. It becomes a burden of the constitutional Conventions and many other sensible tolerated informal governmental practices, to try to help fill the gap.

Ever since the passage of the Second Reform Bill of 1867 in the United Kingdom and the resulting sweeping extension of the electoral franchise to the adult male population, the prime arena for constitutional-legal change and for new law-making in the United Kingdom has been the House of Commons.

Since 1867 the Crown in Great Britain has always deferred to the advice of the Prime Minister as to Dissolution of Parliament and new General Elections. This would not prevent or impede the free and frank private exchange of views as to the merits of particular, proposed actions or policies at any time. It is here, on all the evidence, that the role of the present Queen who, after all, has met with more than a dozen successive Prime Ministers, beginning with Winston Churchill, continues to be effective and persuasive within the British constitutional system.

The effectiveness stems from the pragmatic experience and commonsense and realism, coming from a long life in public service and available in friendly persuasion and not through the invocation or menace of constitutional prerogatives, whatever they may have become through developing custom and Convention today. These are the crucial personal qualities to look for in the quest today for a modern Governor General. One should avoid any unnecessary fixation on Constitutional Law expertise, as such. Governor General Clarkson happened to have it too, but it was the other, personal qualities that guaranteed her success in the exercise of her office.

A Word about Nomenclature

The term Head-of-State is not a constitutional-legal term-of-art in Canada. It is not mentioned in the original British North America Act of 1867 or in any of its subsequent Amendments, including the last major constitutional reform project, the Constitution Act of 1982. Employed, lower case, as "head-of-state", whether with or without the polite prefix of "titular", it is merely a convenient political science term to differentiate the office and its functions and powers from that of head-of-government under the Westminster-model dualist executive system.

By way of comparative Constitutional Law experience under other Westminster-style Constitutional systems which, like Canada and Australia, had past historical, connections with the old British Empire and later Commonwealth, the Republic of Ireland has had its most recent heads-of-state, styled under the Constitution of 1937 as President under a dualist (head-of-state/head-of-government) executive system, directly elected by nation-wide popular vote. The Republic of India, operating also under a Westminster-style dualist executive system, has followed course, with its President, as head-of-state, also elected, though under an indirect electoral system including all the Members of both Houses of the federal parliament, but also Regional bodies.

The Prorogation Debate

Prorogation, an arcane legal process, with English historical roots going back to the Wars of the Roses, that notionally had been "received" in Canadian law with the adoption of the British North America Act of 1867, was hardly known to Party leaders and their MPs generally at the time it became the focus of so much angry public argumentation in the last days of November, 2008. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Role of the Governor General: Some Lessons from Australia and the Commonwealth
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.