An Introduction to the Office of the Governor General of Canada and Some Recent Memories with the Aga Khan


Canada became a country at Confederation in 1867. The system of government is a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is Queen of Canada and Head of State. The Governor General is the representative of the Queen in Canada.

Constitutional Responsibilities

As a constitutional monarchy, where the duties of head of State and head of Government are distinct Canada’s Parliament consists of three parts: the Queen, represented by the governor general; the Senate; and the House of Commons.

The Letters Patent Constituting the Office of the Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada, 1947 authorize the governor general of Canada to exercise powers and responsibilities belonging to the Sovereign, with the advice of members of the Privy Council. The governor general is non-partisan and non-political.

November 19, 2008: Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, the 27th Governor General of Canada, officially welcomed His Highness the Aga Khan when he visited Canada on the occasion of his Golden Jubilee.

The Canadian Constitution places executive power in the Queen. However, in practice this power is exercised by the prime minister and his ministers. The governor general acts on the advice of the prime minister and the government, but has the right to advise, to encourage and to warn. As such, the governor general offers valued counsel to them.

One of the governor general’s most important responsibilities is to ensure that Canada always has a prime minister and a government in place that has the confidence of Parliament. In addition, the governor general holds certain reserve powers, which are exercised at his or her own discretion.

The governor general presides over the swearing-in of the prime minister, the chief justice of Canada and cabinet ministers. It is the governor general who summons, prorogues and dissolves Parliament, delivers the Speech from the Throne, and gives Royal Assent to acts of Parliament. The governor general signs official documents and regularly meets with the prime minister.


The governor general is commander-in-chief of Canada. This role has been expressly conferred on the governor general as per the letters patent of 1947. As such, the governor general plays a major role in recognizing the importance of Canada’s military at home and abroad.

Represent Canada

The governor general promotes Canadian sovereignty at home and represents Canada during state visits abroad. At the request of the prime minister, the governor general receives visiting heads of State and foreign ambassadors at Rideau Hall and at the Citadelle of Québec.

May 19, 2004: His Highness the Aga Khan, Governor General Adrienne Clarkson and Paul Desmarais, Jr, Conference Chair, on their way into the main hall of the Canadian Museum of Civilization where the Aga Khan delivered the key note speech at the leadership conference.

Encourage Excellence

The governor general presents national honours, decorations and awards to recognize people who have demonstrated excellence, valour, bravery or exceptional dedication to service that brings credit to the country.

Since Confederation, Canada’s governors general have fostered a tradition of encouraging excellence by establishing more than 60 awards and trophies in the arts, social sciences, humanities and sports.

In 2004, His Highness the Aga Khan gave a key note speech at the leadership conference sponsored by Her Excellency, Adrienne Clarkson, the 26th Governor General of Canada. 

Bring Canadians Together

The governor general plays a key role in promoting national identity by supporting and promoting Canadian values, diversity, inclusion, culture and heritage.

The governor general travels extensively across Canada, taking part in a variety of events, meeting Canadians in their communities and discussing issues of local and national concern. The governor general encourages Canadians to build a compassionate society and to work together to create strong and generous communities. By meeting with Canadians during visits or activities held at either of the two official residences, taking part in community activities, and listening to the concerns of Canadians, the governor general encourages dialogue, promotes national identity and fosters national unity.

June 6, 2005: His Highness the Aga Khan is presented with the insignia of Companion of the Order of Canada by Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, Governor General of Canada, during a private ceremony that was held at Rideau Hall, on Monday, June 6, 2005. His Highness the Aga Khan was invested as an Honorary Companion of the Order of Canada, for his meaningful contributions to Canada. Photo credit: Sgt Eric Jolin, Rideau Hall

Grant Armorial Bearings

The governor general is also the head of the Canadian Heraldic Authority which was established on June 4, 1988. This was made possible by letters patent, signed by Her Majesty, on the advice of her Canadian Privy Council, which authorized and empowered “the Governor General of Canada to exercise or provide for the exercise of all powers and authorities lawfully belonging to Us as Queen of Canada in respect of the granting of armorial bearings in Canada”. With these brief historic notes, Canada became the first Commonwealth country to patriate the practice of this ancient authority.

The 28th Governor General of Canada: David Johnston

Sworn in on October 1, 2010, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston is the 28th governor general since Confederation. He was born in Sudbury, Ontario, and is married to Sharon Johnston. They have five adult daughters and seven grandchildren.

David Johnston began his professional career as an assistant professor in the Faculty of Law at Queen’s University in 1966, moving to the Law Faculty at the University of Toronto in 1968. He became dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Western Ontario in 1974. In 1979, he was named principal and vice-chancellor of McGill University, and in July 1994, he returned to the McGill Faculty of Law as a full-time professor. In June 1999, he became the fifth president of the University of Waterloo.

David Johnston becomes the 28th Governor General of Canada during the installation ceremony on October 1, 2010. Photo credit: Web site of the Governor General of Canada

Mr. Johnston has served on many provincial and federal task forces and committees. He is the author or co-author of two dozen books, holds honorary doctorates from over a dozen universities, and has been awarded the Order of Canada (Companion). Mr. Johnston holds an LLB from Queen’s University (1966), an LLB from the University of Cambridge (1965), and an AB from Harvard University (1963). While at Harvard, he was twice selected for the All-American hockey team and is a member of Harvard’s Athletic Hall of Fame. His academic specializations include securities regulation, information technology and corporate law.


Material compiled from the official Web site of the Governor General of Canada. Please visit the Web site at  for more information and photos.


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