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Constitutional role

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The office of Lieutenant Governor is provided for in the Constitution Act, 1867:

58. For each Province there shall be an Officer, styled the Lieutenant Governor, appointed by the Governor General in Council by Instrument under the Great Seal of Canada.

Representing the Crown

Canada is a constitutional monarchy with The Queen as Sovereign and head of state. In Ontario, the Lieutenant Governor is The Queen’s representative while the Premier is the head of government. In Canada’s system of parliamentary democracy, the head of state (commonly called the Crown) holds supreme power on behalf of the people and lends it to be exercised by the Government of the day.


Responsible government

The foundation of Ontario’s democracy is “responsible government”, which simply means that:

  • The Crown acts upon formal advice
  • The Executive (Government) is responsible to the Legislature for its advice

The Government (Premier and Cabinet ministers) is formally appointed by the Lieutenant Governor and advises on the use of the Crown’s authority according to law and is accountable to the elected Legislative Assembly for its decisions and actions while in office.

Provided the Government enjoys the “confidence” of the Legislative Assembly, its advice is invariably accepted and legitimized by the Crown. If the Government loses a confidence question raised in the Legislative Assembly, then it must either resign, making way for a new Government to be appointed, or submit to the will of citizens in a general election.

The Lieutenant Governor holds regular meetings with the Premier, during which she has the right to be consulted, to encourage, and to warn on government matters. If either the Lieutenant Governor or the Premier is not available to meet, they may speak by phone. These meetings, as with all communications between the Lieutenant Governor and the Government, remain confidential in order to promote an open and productive exchange of views.

Powers and responsibilities

In Ontario, the Lieutenant Governor exercises the powers of the Crown, which derive from the written constitution, constitutional convention (political rules of the constitution), and statute law. These powers are similar to those of The Queen and Governor General with regard to Parliament and the federal government.

The Lieutenant Governor:

  • Ensures that Ontario always has a Premier who commands the confidence of the Legislative Assembly
  • Appoints members of the Executive Council (Cabinet ministers) on the advice of the Premier
  • Summons, prorogues, and dissolves the Legislature on the advice of the Premier
  • Reads the Speech from the Throne at the beginning of a parliamentary session
  • Grants Royal Assent, the final step of the legislative process, to bills passed by the Legislative Assembly
  • Orders elections to the Legislative Assembly on the advice of Cabinet, in accordance with the Election Act
  • Approves government business such as regulations and public appointments by signing Orders-in-Council on the advice of Cabinet

The Lieutenant Governor remains strictly nonpartisan in carrying out her constitutional duties. In doing so, the Lieutenant Governor ensures that the democratic will of Ontarians and their elected representatives is upheld and that the constitutional conventions of responsible government are respected.

Administrator

If the Lieutenant Governor is temporarily absent, ill, or unable to perform constitutional duties, the Administrator of the Government of Ontario may fulfil the functions of the Lieutenant Governor.

The Chief Justice of Ontario holds a standing appointment as Administrator of the Government. If the Chief Justice is not available, another judge from the courts of Ontario is temporarily appointed by the Governor General-in-Council to act as Administrator.

The Lieutenant Governor and the Legislature

The Constitution Act, 1867 provides that:

69. There shall be a Legislature for Ontario consisting of the Lieutenant Governor and of One House, styled the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

As an integral part of Ontario’s Legislature, the Lieutenant Governor performs important legislative functions, including:

  • Summoning the Legislature
  • Proroguing and dissolving the Legislature
  • Granting Royal Assent to bills passed by the Legislative Assembly

The Lieutenant Governor summons, prorogues, and dissolves the Legislature on the advice of the Premier.

The Lieutenant Governor grants Royal Assent on the advice of the Legislative Assembly.​​​

Summoning the Legislature

The Legislature can only meet once it has been summoned by the Crown. In Ontario, the Premier advises the Lieutenant Governor to issue a proclamation convening a session of the Legislature.

Following an election, the first order of business is the election of a Speaker by members of the Legislative Assembly. Subsequent legislative sessions proceed directly without this step.

Once a Speaker has been elected, and before any parliamentary business may be conducted, the Lieutenant Governor must formally announce the reasons for the meeting of the Legislature by reading the Speech from the Throne. The speech is written by the Government. It outlines the Government’s policy for the new session and indicates forthcoming legislation.

Proroguing the Legislature

The Premier may advise the Lieutenant Governor to prorogue the Legislature.

What is prorogation?

Prorogation ends the current legislative session. Members of the Legislative Assembly are released from their parliamentary duties. All unfinished business is terminated and committees cease to sit, although the Legislative Assembly may adopt a motion in a new session allowing business and committees to continue uninterrupted.

Prorogation should not be confused with recesses, adjournments, constituency weeks, or holiday breaks, after which parliamentary proceedings resume where they left off.

While the Legislature is prorogued, members of the Legislative Assembly remain in office and carry on their representational work.

The Premier determines when the Legislature is prorogued and when a new session is to begin. However, the Legislative Assembly Act requires that the Legislature meet yearly:

4. There shall be a session of the Legislature once at least in every year, so that twelve months do not intervene between the last sitting of the Legislature in one session and its first sitting in the next.

How does prorogation work in Ontario?

The Premier may advise that prorogation occur in two possible ways:

  • Proclamation: The Lieutenant Governor issues a proclamation proroguing the Legislature.
  • Prorogation ceremony: The Lieutenant Governor delivers a Prorogation Speech in the Legislative Chamber, similar to the Speech from the Throne at the start of the parliamentary session. The Government House Leader then announces on the Lieutenant Governor’s behalf that the Legislature has been prorogued. The last prorogation ceremony in Ontario took place in 1998.

Dissolving the Legislature

The Premier may advise the Lieutenant Governor to dissolve the Legislature.

What is dissolution?

Dissolution ends the Legislature so that a general election can take place. Members of the Legislative Assembly cease to hold office and all parliamentary business is terminated.

While the Legislature is dissolved, arrangements are made to ensure the continued operation of constituency offices.

After dissolution, no parliamentary business can take place until:

  • A general election is held
  • A new Legislature is summoned and a Speaker elected
  • The Lieutenant Governor reads the Speech from the Throne

When does dissolution occur?

The Legislature is dissolved to enable the calling of a general election.

The Election Act provides that a general election in Ontario must be held every four years on the first Thursday in June (with some flexibility to accommodate for days of cultural or religious significance).

However, according to the Election Act:

9(1). Nothing in this section affects the powers of the Lieutenant Governor, including the power to dissolve the Legislature, by proclamation in Her Majesty’s name, when the Lieutenant Governor sees fit.

The Lieutenant Governor may therefore dissolve the Legislature on the advice the Premier outside the fixed-date election timeline, such as if:

  • The Government loses a vote of confidence in the Legislative Assembly
  • The Premier is of the opinion that circumstances warrant the calling of a general election

How is dissolution advised?

It is customary for the Premier to visit the Lieutenant Governor in person to advise the dissolution of the Legislature and the calling of a general election. This is true even within the context of fixed-date elections.

The Premier then announces that the Legislature has been dissolved and that a general election will be held.

How does dissolution occur?

Once the Lieutenant Governor accepts the Premier’s advice to dissolve the Legislature, the Lieutenant Governor is advised to issue a proclamation covering four elements:

  1. Dissolving the Legislature, effective immediately, and summoning a new Legislature following a general election
  2. Ordering that writs for a general election be issued
  3. Setting the dates for the close of candidate nominations
  4. Setting the date of the general election

The Lieutenant Governor signs writs of election addressed to the returning officer in each electoral district. The Chief Electoral Officer then countersigns each writ and applies the Great Seal of Ontario.

What happens after an election?

As soon as possible after Election Day, the Premier will formally notify the Lieutenant Governor of the results of the general election and of his or her intentions for the Government. The Premier may choose to meet the Legislative Assembly. The Premier may also resign, in which case the Lieutenant Governor would invite a new Premier to form a government​.

Granting Royal Assent

The Lieutenant Governor grants Royal Assent to bills passed by the Legislative Assembly.

What is Royal Assent?

Royal Assent is the final step of the legislative process​. Royal Assent transforms bills​ into acts​, which are the primary source of law of Ontario.

Royal Assent has strong symbolic significance: It is the moment when the two constituent elements of the Legislature, the Lieutenant Governor and the members of the Legislative Assembly, join together to conclude the lawmaking process.

How is Royal Assent given in Ontario?

Royal Assent is given by the Lieutenant Governor in The Queen’s name in two possible ways:

  • In the Legislative Chamber during parliamentary proceedings
  • Elsewhere in the presence of a minister and the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly (the Speaker notifies the Legislative Assembly at its next sitting that Royal Assent has been granted)

The Lieutenant Governor usually grants Royal Assent in her office at Queen’s Park.

When does Royal Assent take place?

The Government determines the timing of Royal Assent and advises whether it is to be granted in the Legislative Chamber or elsewhere.

When is Royal Assent effective?

Royal Assent takes effect immediately. Unless otherwise provided, an act comes into force on the day it receives Royal Assent. The Legislative Research Service has published “When do Ontario Acts and Regulations Come into Force?”, which covers in detail the coming into force of legislation.

It is the responsibility of the Government to announce when legislation comes into force.

Can Royal Assent be withheld?

There is now undoubtedly a constitutional convention that the Lieutenant Governor will grant Royal Assent to bills that have been passed by the Legislative Assembly.

What is reservation?

According to the Constitution Act, 1867, the Lieutenant Governor may reserve bills instead of granting Royal Assent. Reserved bills may be assented to by the Governor General in Council (the Governor General acting on the advice of the federal Cabinet) within one year, or else they do not become law.

With the full establishment of responsible government and the development of the court system, there is now a constitutional convention that reservation will not be exercised.

Only two bills have ever been reserved in Ontario. The Hon. Sir William Howland, second Lieutenant Governor of Ontario (1868-1873), reserved two bills in 1873 on advice of the Premier. Ultimately, these bills were not given Royal Assent by the Governor General in Council and did not become law.

The Lieutenant Governor and the Government

The Lieutenant Governor has many duties related to the Executive Council (Premier and Cabinet ministers).

These include:

  • Ensuring there is always a Premier
  • Appointing members of the Executive Council
  • Approving government decisions

Appointing the Premier

The Lieutenant Governor’s foremost responsibility is ensuring that Ontario alw​ays has a Premier who can command the confidence of the elected Legislative Assembly. The appointment of a Premier is a Royal Prerogative power that the Lieutenant Governor exercises personally in accordance with constitutional convention.

When a Premier decides to leave office, he or she notifies the Lieutenant Governor of his or her intention to resign. The outgoing Premier may identify a possible successor based upon whom he or she believes will be able to command the confidence of the Legislative Assembly. The Lieutenant Governor then invites a successor to form a government.

Once the incoming Premier has accepted the Lieutenant Governor’s invitation, a time and a date are agreed upon for the swearing-in of the new Government.

In order to ensure a smooth transition, the Government continues in office until the outgoing Premier tenders his or her formal resignation, very shortly before the swearing-in of the new Premier.

In the unfortunate case of a Premier dying in office, the Lieutenant Governor may exercise discretion in the selection of a new Premier. In any case, the Lieutenant Governor is guided by constitutional convention. The main requirement is to find someone, almost certainly a party leader, who can command the confidence of the Legislative Assembly.

Appointing Executive Councillors (Ministers)

The Lieutenant Governor appoints members of the Executive Council on the advice of the Premier.

Swearing in a new government

Upon taking office, the new Premier presents the Lieutenant Governor with his or her formal recommendations for appointments to the Executive Council and ministerial portfolios.

Once the Lieutenant Governor has approved the recommendations, the new ministers must take the oath of allegiance and the Executive Councillor’s oath. Following that, each minister must take his or her individual oath of office.

Once minsters have taken the necessary oaths, the Lieutenant Governor entrusts the Great Seal of Ontario to the Minister of Government and Consumer Services.

The swearing-in ceremony for members of the Executive Council usually takes place in the Lieutenant Governor’s Suite or the Legislative Chamber.

According to the Table of Titles to be used in Canada, members of the Executive Council may use the style “Honourable” while in office.

Once appointed, ministers remain in office until:

  • The Lieutenant Governor accepts their resignation (on the advice of the Premier)
  • The Premier advises a change in ministerial portfolios or a change in the composition of the Executive Council (often called a Cabinet shuffle)
  • The minister dies

Cabinet shuffles

From time to time, the Premier may wish to change the composition of the Executive Council.

The Premier presents the Lieutenant Governor with his or her formal recommendations for changes to the Executive Council and ministerial portfolios. Once the Lieutenant Governor has approved the recommendations, new members of the Executive Council swear the oath of allegiance and the Executive Councillor’s oath. Existing members switching portfolios only swear the necessary oath of office.

If a new Minister of Government and Consumer Services has been appointed, the Lieutenant Governor presents him or her with the Great Seal of Ontario.

Depending on the circumstances and extent of the Cabinet shuffle, the swearing-in ceremony may take place in public or private.

Approving government decisions

Many government decisions require the Lieutenant Governor’s formal approval before receiving the force of law.

Decisions are frequently set out in an Order-in-Council​, a document signed by the Lieutenant Governor on the recommendedation of the Premier or another member of the Executive Council (hence the term “Order-in-Council”). Orders have a wide variety of uses and most frequently used to:

Most Orders-in-Council are made under specific laws granting the “Lieutenant Governor in Council” the power to make orders. They may also be made under the Royal Prerogative, powers that exist by constitutional convention and remain with the Crown. Both types of orders are made on ministerial advice and are subject to judicial review.

Appointment and installation of the Lieutenant Governor

In accordance with the Constitution Act, 1867, the Lieutenant Governor serves a non-fixed term of at least five years:

59. A Lieutenant Governor shall hold Office during the Pleasure of the Governor General; but any Lieutenant Governor appointed after the Commencement of the First Session of the Parliament of Canada shall not be removeable within Five Years from his Appointment, except for Cause assigned, which shall be communicated to him in Writing within One Month after the Order for his Removal is made, and shall be communicated by Message to the Senate and to the House of Commons within One Week thereafter if the Parliament is then sitting, and if not then within One Week after the Commencement of the next Session of the Parliament.

A Lieutenant Governor remains in office until his or her successor is sworn in.

Selection and appointment

The appointment of the Lieutenant Governor is the prerogative of the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister proposes a nominee to the federal Cabinet, which passes an Order-in-Council to be subsequently approved by the Governor General. The actual appointment of the new Lieutenant Governor is made by commission under the Great Seal of Canada signed by the Governor General.

Transition period

Once appointed, the nominee is known as the Lieutenant Governor-designate. He or she receives briefing material and usually consults with the outgoing Lieutenant Governor, former Lieutenant Governors, and the Premier in preparation of taking office.

The transition date is determined based on the Lieutenant Governor-designate’s personal circumstances and the schedules of the outgoing Lieutenant Governor and the Premier.

During the transition period, the outgoing Lieutenant Governor remains in office and continues to carry on an activity schedule. The Government of Ontario traditionally offers a farewell dinner during which an official portrait of the outgoing Lieutenant Governor is unveiled.

A farewell ceremony is usually arranged at Queen’s Park on the day of the outgoing Lieutenant Governor’s departure.

Installation ceremony

The installation of a Lieutenant Governor is a significant moment in the political life of Ontario. Hosted by the Government of Ontario, the ceremony is an opportunity to formally welcome the incoming Lieutenant Governor and emphasizes the continuity of government as well as Canada’s institutions, heritage, and traditions.

Location

Since 1974, the installation ceremony for Lieutenant Governors of Ontario has taken place in the Legislative Chamber at Queen’s Park. Throughout history, ceremonies have occurred in the Music Room within the Lieutenant Governor’s Suite, the Executive Council Chamber, the Premier’s office, and Rideau Hall.

Constitutional requirements

During the installation ceremony:

  • The Lieutenant Governor-designate’s commission must be read aloud in the presence of the Chief Justice of Ontario and members of the Executive Council.
  • The Lieutenant Governor-designate swears the oath of allegiance and of oath of office. The new Lieutenant Governor’s commission takes effect once he or she has signed the oaths, which are witnessed by the Premier and Chief Justice.
  • The Great Seal of Ontario is surrendered to the new Lieutenant Governor, who is also the Keeper of the Great Seal. It is then returned it to the responsible minister for safekeeping.
Oath of allegiance

I, [Name], do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her Heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.

Oath of office

I shall well and truly execute the office of Lieutenant Governor of the Province of Ontario and duly and impartially administer justice therein.

I shall well and truly execute the office and trust of Keeper of the Great Seal of Her Majesty’s Province of Ontario according to the best of my knowledge and ability.

Ceremonial elements

The installation ceremony also includes traditional and ceremonial elements, which are organized to reflect the Lieutenant Governor-designate’s wishes.

The usual sequence of events is as follows:

  • Processional and arrival of the Administrator of the Government of Ontario (or outgoing Lieutenant Governor, if attending) and key participants
  • Viceregal Salute to the Administrator (or the outgoing Lieutenant Governor)
  • Arrival of the Lieutenant Governor-designate and family
  • Indigenous greeting
  • Invocation
  • Reading of the Lieutenant Governor-designate’s commission by the Secretary of the Cabinet
  • Swearing of oaths
  • The new Lieutenant Governor assumes office and takes his or her place on the Throne
  • Viceregal Salute (On the grounds of Queen’s Park, a 15-gun salute is fired and the Lieutenant Governor’s flag is raised)
  • Presentation of the Great Seal and its return to the responsible minister for safekeeping
  • Presentation of the insignia of the Order of Ontario to the Lieutenant Governor, who is Chancellor of the order
  • Remarks by a representative of the Government of Canada
  • Remarks by the Premier
  • Lieutenant Governor’s address
  • National anthem
  • Recessional and departure of the Lieutenant Governor

Following the ceremony, the Lieutenant Governor inspects a 100-person guard of honour on the grounds of Queen’s Park, during which another 15-gun salute is fired.

The Government of Ontario hosts a reception in honour of the new Lieutenant Governor.

A new mandate

According to the Table of Titles to be used in Canada, the Lieutenant Governor is entitled to be addressed as “His Honour” or “Her Honour” while in office, and is styled “Honourable” for life. The full title of the current Lieutenant Governor is therefore: Her Honour the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell.

The newly installed Lieutenant Governor begins work immediately, attending public events and discharging constitutional functions. Early in the new mandate, it is usual for various public officials represented on the order of precedence to call upon the Lieutenant Governor.

The Lieutenant Governor may meet with representatives of various charities and community groups to establish working relationships and identify areas of mutual interest.

At a suitable time after the Lieutenant Governor takes office, The Queen will grant an audience to the new Lieutenant Governor (usually at Buckingham Palace).