Who can dismiss the Governor General? A look at protocols and possibilities

The Governor General is appointed by the Queen, on the advice of the prime minister

With Gov. Gen. Julie Payette finding herself the focus of intensifying public scrutiny following reports about expensive personal renovations at Rideau Hall and alleged mistreatment of current and former staff, renewed interest has been sparked into the role of the Governor General in Canada — and what happens if the person holding this office requires discipline or dismissal.

1. Who has the authority to fire the Governor General?

The Governor General is appointed by the Queen, on the advice of the prime minister, and, as such, only the Queen could fire her, if it ever came to that. But, there are nuances to the situation.

If the desire existed to see Payette leave her office, it would be more likely that a private conversation between her and the prime minister would lead to a letter of resignation. If she disagreed or refused to leave when asked, the prime minister could call the Queen and request that she be dismissed.

But that would be an option of last resort, says Philippe Lagasse, a Carleton University expert on the Westminster system and the Crown.

“You basically have to weigh, from the prime minister’s point of view, is it worth the aggravation to have this buzzing around if it continues as a controversy in the coming months?” he said.

“In an ideal situation, you would want this to be solved in a way that allows both parties to save face, which is something that both groups can agree to mutually without bringing in the palace.”

2. Why is public confidence in the governor general important, especially when there’s a minority Parliament?

Technically, the Governor General is the second-highest office in Canada, after the Queen. That makes her one step higher than the prime minister in the hierarchy of Canada’s Westminster system of democracy.

The reason for this is because she can be called upon to make several decisions regarding the formation of government. It would be her decision, for example, to prorogue Parliament, ending a parliamentary session, or to dissolve Parliament on the advice of the prime minister, triggering an election.

In a minority situation, which is what we have now, the possibility of a government losing the confidence of the House of Commons is more likely than in a majority, and governor general therefore becomes a key player.

This happened in 2008, when former prime minister Stephen Harper asked then-governor general Michaelle Jean to prorogue Parliament to avoid a non-confidence vote he was expected to lose — a decision that was controversial at the time.

“Every decision the governor general might make around prorogations, dissolutions are going to be put under a very strong, critical eye, and if you have somebody whose judgment or standing vis-a-vis the government is suspect in any way, that undermines the underlying order of things … you would want to avoid to the extent possible,” Lagasse said.

Since the Governor General is appointed on the advice of the prime minister, if questions arise about her fitness for office, things can become even more tricky when questions of dissolving parliament come into play, he added.

“What you certainly don’t want is any perception that this person is worried about their job and therefore will align themselves with whichever political party is more likely to keep them in office,” Lagasse said.

“There has to be no doubt that she’s either in or out, otherwise we don’t want there to be the perception that somehow the prime minister can wield the possibility of dismissal to get their way with the Governor General.”

3. How tenable is the current situation with Payette for the Trudeau government?

“It can’t help but be damaging, you don’t want the Governor General to be making news in this way,” says Barbara Messamore, a history professor at the University of Fraser Valley.

Past governors general have faced controversy about spending and other issues, but the fact Payette has faced questions about her role in office throughout her three-year tenure to date has had a compiling effect, she said.

The CBC reported last week that hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on designs and renovations Rideau Hall, some allegedly at Payette’s personal request, for privacy, accessibility and security reasons.

This comes on the heels of another CBC report last month, citing anonymous sources, that Payette had yelled at, belittled and publicly humiliated employees, reducing some to tears or prompting them to quit.

The Privy Council Office, a bureaucratic operation that supports the prime minister and cabinet, said last month it was launching an independent review of the allegations. Payette said she welcomed the probe.

And though she has been in office since 2017, Payette has not lived at Rideau Hall, the official residence of Canada’s Governor General, and has faced criticism for taking a lower profile in the job.

“(There’s been) a steady drip of allegations and also, from the beginning, she seems to have been an uneasy fit for the role,” Messamore says.

“Nobody could deny that Madame Payette is a remarkable, accomplished person. But those accomplishments don’t necessarily translate. You can be really accomplished in one sphere and just not be an ideal fit for this job.”

Lagasse agreed, saying he believes three years of negative headlines are turning up the heat for Trudeau and Payette.

“I think there’s enough discussion and enough damage being done to the office that I think it would be incumbent upon the (Prime Minister’s Office), (Privy Council Office), if they haven’t already, and I presume they already are … considering whether or not its wise to have her stay in the position at this point.”

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

federal government

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Williams Lake Courthouse (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Charges laid following high-speed chase, arrest near Williams Lake Sunday

Tyrell Giroux appeared in Williams Lake Provincial Court on Monday, Oct. 26

There has been COVID-19 exposures at two elementary schools in District 42. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 24 additional COVID-19 cases

This includes three school exposures in Kelowna

Youth across B.C. took part in the Student Vote. In Cariboo Chilcotin BC Green Party David Laing got the most votes and in Cariboo North BC NDP Party Scott Elliott emerged the winner.  (Student Vote photo)
BC Student Vote 2020: Green Party wins Cariboo Chilcotin, NDP wins Cariboo North

Student vote for Cariboo ridings has different outcomes than general voting

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. records 217 more COVID-19 cases, mask use urged

Infection spike continues, 21 senior facilities affected

Seven-year-old Aaliyah Rosa was found dead in an apartment in Langley in July. (Langley Advance Times files)
Child’s body cold, no pulse: Off-duty cop testifies in Langley mother’s murder trial

The seven-year-old girl’s mother faces a first-degree murder charge

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Tyrell Giroux was arrested by Williams Lake RCMP on Sunday, Oct. 25. (Facebook video screenshot)
Tsilhqot’in leaders call for suspension of officers seen in controversial Williams Lake arrest

Disturbing video demands an immediate, independent investigation, says TNG

People march during a climate strike in Montreal, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Judge rejects 15 youths’ climate change lawsuit against Canadian government

Justice Michael Manson has granted the government’s motion to strike the plaintiffs’ claim

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A woman walks through check in at WestJet at Pearson International airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Strong support for pre-flight COVID testing ahead of upcoming WestJet trial: YVR

Airport is partnering with UBC, which is helping choose the method of pre-flight testing

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau says pandemic ‘really sucks,’ and that Christmas gatherings are up in the air

The prime minister encouraged residents to continue to follow the advice of local health authorities

The Williams Lake Indian Band is stipulating no-go zones for mushroom picking in areas burned by last summer’s wildfires. 100 Mile Free Press photo
Who controls mushroom harvesting on Indigenous lands?

‘We don’t necessarily know where the mushrooms grow, how old the stands need to be, those types of things.’

Most Read