why do we need a governor general
Canada has achieved much in creating a compassionate, just and harmonious society. However, it needs to go a step further and appoint an indigenous person as Governor General in September, to heal the wounds in its relations with indigenous peoples. This would be the best sesquicentennial celebration of all, a powerful signal on the road to becoming a truly inclusive society. The English and French settlers in Canada occupied the Governor General s office by alternating it between themselves: appointing an English-origin Canadian followed by a French-Canadian, and so on, until 1989, when then prime minister Brian Mulroney broke the tradition by appointing Ray Hnatyshyn, of Ukrainian origin. Mulroney also appointed Lincoln Alexander as Lieutenant Governor of Ontario in 1985, the first black Canadian to occupy the post, and Hong Kong-born David Lam as Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia in 1988, the first person of Chinese origin in that job. Jean Chr tien appointed Adrienne Clarkson Governor General, in 1999. She had come to Canada as a refugee from Hong Kong in 1941. Clarkson was followed by Haitian-born Micha lle Jean in 2005. The symbolism of all these non European-origin appointments has played a significant role in the evolution of Canada as a welcoming, tolerant and all-inclusive society. Similarly, the appointment of an indigenous person would send a very powerful signal to all Canadians of the respect and regard that we owe Indigenous Peoples. The visits by these high-profile public office holders to schools have a profound, positive and lasting impact on young Canadians, symbolizing the kind of country Canada is or that we are trying to build in which everyone is equal and treated with respect. As well, the appointment of an indigenous person would help dispel the negative, stereotypical images embedded in our history. Canada, unfortunately, has some nasty history.
For instance, no indigenous person was invited to the three constitutional conferences, which culminated in Canada becoming a Confederation, although they had been here long before the European settlers. In fact, while women were granted the right to vote in 1918, Indigenous Peoples were not allowed to vote in a federal election without losing their treaty status until 1960. Most white Canadians (for lack of any other term) are geared up to celebrate 150 Years of Confederation on July 1. Indigenous Peoples, however, consider it a continuation of colonialism, as they were forced off resource-rich, arable land and herded off onto reservations. According to one Manitoba indigenous leader, Derek Nepinak: We don t have a lot to celebrate when it comes to 150 years of assimilation and genocide and marginalization. Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin has acknowledged Canada attempted to commit cultural genocide against Indigenous Peoples, in what she calls the worst stain on Canada s human rights record. Canada, to its credit, has acknowledged wrongs of the past. Former prime minister Stephen Harper offered a public apology in Parliament to Indigenous Peoples for historic wrongs. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently removed the name Langevin from the building housing the Prime Minister s Office. The reason: Sir Hector-Louis Langevin was associated with the forced removal of indigenous children from their families and sending them to Christian residential schools. Progressive and thoughtful moves such as Trudeau s are bound to encourage reconciliation and harmony. There is much to celebrate about 150 years of Canada s existence as a confederation. It is a country populated by immigrants, who come seeking refuge from all forms of persecution, economic opportunities and a promise of a better life.
It has become an experiment on how diverse communities can play an equal role in shaping and developing a country. Happy celebrations Canada for what you have overcome and achieved, and for the promise you hold for many in the future! Bhupinder S. Liddar
is a retired Canadian diplomat and former editor/publisher of БDiplomat International CanadaБ magazine. Twitter: Pohir The Crown plays a key role in Canada s parliamentary system of government. All executive authority is understood to derive from the Sovereign, who is Canada s formal head of state. The state is embodied in the Sovereign; therefore every one of Canada s Members of Parliament is required to swear allegiance to the Queen. This is also why the state, in Canada, is often referred to simply as the Crown. Canada is, however, a constitutional monarchy, founded on the rule of law and respect for rights and freedoms. Therefore the Sovereign actually has very few powers and prerogatives. The authority of the Crown is delegated to the various branches of government according to the provisions of the Constitution. Elections are called and laws are enacted in the name of the Crown. No bill may become law without Royal Assent. Formally, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet are the Crown s council of advisers. They govern in the name and with the consent of the Crown. The Sovereign is represented in Canada by the Governor General. Today, with few exceptions, no act of the Crown (or of the Governor General as the Crown s representative) is carried out without the formal advice and consent of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The Governor General does, however, have the right to be consulted and to advise. He or she meets regularly with the Prime Minister and senior government officials. The Governor General is responsible for the appointment of the Prime Minister. In practice, he or she must appoint the leader of the party winning the most seats in the House of Commons in a general election.
The Governor General does, however, have some discretion when the governing party is in a minority position in Parliament and loses the confidence of the House. The Governor General is also responsible for dissolving Parliament before elections and for opening and closing parliamentary sessions. Again, these actions are taken on the advice of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. At the beginning of each parliamentary session, the Governor General reads the Speech from the Throne (prepared by the Prime Minister) outlining the Government s objectives for the upcoming session. In the name of the Sovereign, the Governor General gives Royal Assent to bills passed in the Senate and the House of Commons. Although officially the Sovereign is the head of state, almost all of the Sovereign s powers over Canada have been assigned to the Governor General. As the Sovereign s representative, the Governor General is the Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Armed Forces. He or she also performs a number of ceremonial functions, and represents Canada in state visits and in other international events. The Governor General is responsible for appointments to many official positions (e. g. , judicial and diplomatic) on the advice of the Privy Council. These are usually referred to as Governor in Council or Order in Council appointments. The Governor General also appoints the Lieutenant Governors, who are the Queen s representatives at the provincial level. Their role in each of the provinces is similar to the role of the Governor General at the federal level. The Governor General is appointed by the Queen on the recommendation of the Prime Minister and usually holds office for five years, although terms have been extended to as long as seven years.
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