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 1997 to close the 1st session of the 36th Parliament of Ontario.

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.

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 of 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 King’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 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.