Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Guide to Alberta Politics:The Lieutenant Governor

In my previous guides I talked about the democratic process in Alberta. Democracy exists so that the will of the people can be carried out in government. However, under the Canadian Constitution, we are a constitutional monarchy. The Queen is our head of state. Serving "at her Majesty's pleasure" are representatives who play a largely ceremonial role in government.

Canada is a federal constitutional monarchy. The Queen is our head of state. Elected official swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen and so do new citizens.
I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.
The Queen's representative in Canada is the Governor General and in Alberta, the Lieutenant Governor (typically pronounced "leftenant" in British fashion as my friend Glenn likes to remind me). Their roles are a legacy of Canada's history as a colony of Great Britain. 

The Queen, the Governor General and the Lieutenant Governor have power on paper but their role is primarily ceremonial. As unelected leaders, their job is generally to ensure that the will of the people is carried out through the decisions made by elected representatives.

Every province has a Lieutenant Governor who is appointed by the federal equivalent, the Governor General, who is appointed upon the advice of the Prime Minister upon recommendation from the Queen's Privy Council.


Alberta's Lieutenant Governor, the Honourable Lois Mitchell, was sworn in on June 14, 2015. Like all Lieutenant Governors, she was chosen based on her record of service to her province and community. She is a successful business woman with a history of volunteerism, especially in amateur sport.

What does she do? The position of the Lieutenant Governor is apolitical. This means that the Lieutenant Governor does not get involved in any political activity, intervene in day-to-day issues and decisions made by Alberta government ministries, or advocate for groups or individuals seeking to change government. She does not belong to any political party and cannot show favour to one party over another. If you contact her to ask her to act on your behalf, she will forward your concerns to the elected government.

She has two primary roles.

Constitutional She ensures the constitution is upheld. She summons and ends the sitting of the Legislature, reads the Speech from the Throne, and dissolves the Legislature when an election is called. If there are irregularities in how an election is conducted, she She ensures the province has a Premier and swears in the cabinet. She gives Royal Assent to bills passed by the the Legislative Assembly. She also signs Orders-in-Council and other official documents.
  1. Royal Assent:  The Lieutenant Governor can use something called "royal prerogative" against the elected government if she feels a bill contravenes the constitution or infringes on fundamental rights and freedoms. This only happens if the bill violates the constitution or gives the province powers that  belong to the federal government.  Historically, this occurred three times in 1937 when the Social Credit government was in power. Two of the bills passed in the house would have put banks under provincial control.The third limited freedom of the press. The decision to refuse to give assent to all three bills was later upheld by the Supreme Court. While these three bills never became law, the Premier of Alberta William Aberhart had a little hissy fit, closed his house and took away his official car.  Yet the Lieutenant Governor remained in his position for another 23 years and the Social Credit party with its majority government remained in power for another 34 years.

    in 2000, Lieutenant Governor Lois Hole wanted to discuss a private health care bill with then Premier Ralph Klein. It was suspected she might withhold Royal Assent to a bill that was protested by thousands of Albertans. However, she was unable to discuss the bill with the Premier and she did eventually give Royal Assent.
  2. Ceremonial  She presides over many ceremonies, including the presentation of awards to Albertans who have shown bravery and dedication. She hosts the Royal Family when they visit Alberta and represents the Queen at numerous functions including meeting visiting dignitaries.
What does "Lieutenant Governor in Council" mean? This term can be found on many legal documents. It refers to the actions the Lieutenant Governor makes with the advice of the elected government. It does not refer to actions she might theoretically take against the government.

The Lieutenant Governor is a lovely lady. She does a wonderful job representing the Queen.  She does her best to embody the words spoken by the Queen decades ago: 
I want the Crown in Canada to represent everything that is best and most admired in the Canadian ideal. I will continue to do my best to make it so during my lifetime, and I hope you will all continue to give me your help in this task.” I would like to repeat those words today as together we continue to build a country that remains the envy of the world.
The Lieutenant Governor is not elected by Albertans. She will not intervene in the daily workings of democracy in our province and I don' think we would want her to. 

You can read more on the official page.