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Rideau Hall, in Ottawa, the official home of Canada's Governor General, on Friday, April 9, 2021. A shortlist of potential names for a new governor general is expected to be given to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the coming weeks.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

A shortlist with suggested names for a new governor-general is expected to be shared with the Prime Minister in the coming weeks, setting the stage for Justin Trudeau to name the Queen’s representative in Canada.

Experts say much is at stake to ensure an appropriate person is named to the role following the resignation in January of Julie Payette. Ms. Payette left her position amid allegations of aggressive conduct and public humiliations of staff that were documented in an independent workplace review. The departure was viewed as a major disruption at Rideau Hall during a pandemic, a recession and while the country faces a possible federal election.

“It is critical to get it right,” said John Fraser, the founding president of the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada. “It’s critical for the Office of the Governor-General and it’s critical for this Prime Minister.”

What does the governor-general of Canada’s job involve?

Governors-general represent the Queen, Canada’s head of state, and carry out some of the key ceremonial functions that keep our constitutional monarchy running. Their duties include:

  • Dissolving and opening Parliament: When it’s time for a federal election, the governor-general starts the process. Then, when a new parliament begins, the governor-general reads the Throne Speech setting out the government’s priorities.
  • Political oaths: The governor-general administers the oaths of office to prime ministers, cabinet ministers and chief justices of the Supreme Court.
  • Royal assent: Once bills are approved by the House and Senate, they have to be assented to by the governor-general before they come into force. No governor-general has ever refused such assent.
  • Diplomatic duties: Abroad, governors-general represent Canada at state functions. At home, they play host to visiting foreign leaders and receive official documents from new ambassadors that allow them to take their posts.
  • Military duties: The governor-general is commander-in-chief of the Canadian Armed Forces.

To perform these roles, governors-general have to be strictly non-partisan, though some have had careers in party politics before Rideau Hall (like Manitoba’s NDP premier Ed Schreyer).

Inuk advocate Mary Simon is the newest governor-general, the first Indigenous woman to hold the post, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on July 6. The previous governor-general, Julie Payette, quit before her term was up; read our full explainer to learn why.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc told Global News on Sunday that an advisory panel will soon provide a list of names and has now reached the vetting stage. Mr. LeBlanc also said he hopes the Prime Minister will be given a list in the coming weeks.

Paul Duchesne, a spokesperson for the Privy Council Office, said Monday the government is committed to finding and selecting a candidate to fill the Office of the Governor-General. “Work is ongoing and an announcement will be made in due course,” he said.

In March, Mr. LeBlanc announced the establishment of the advisory group on the selection of the next governor-general to help with identifying potential candidates to fill the vacant office.

The advisory group includes Daniel Jutras, the rector of the Université de Montréal, Judith LaRocque, the former secretary to the governor-general, Natan Obed, the President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and Suromitra Sanatani, the interim chair of the board at Canada Post. The federal government said the panel would be mandated to deliberate and submit a shortlist of “outstanding Canadians for the Prime Minister’s consideration.”

Philippe Lagassé, an associate professor at Carleton University in Ottawa and an expert on the Westminster parliamentary system, said Monday he is not sure what a shortlist accomplishes other than allowing the government to test the waters. He said this strikes him as a bit off-putting for the candidates who are not chosen.

The appointment of the next governor-general is particularly important to reset perceptions of the office and to reaffirm its ceremonial and constitutional roles, Prof. Lagassé added.

The governor-general is a key figure in Canadian parliamentary democracy and is the representative of the country’s head of state, currently Queen Elizabeth II. The viceregal exercises constitutional duties, represents Canada at home and abroad, and provides symbolic leadership to members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

“I suspect the government will also want to use the appointment to emphasize its values and promote significant societal goals,” Prof. Lagassé said.

One of the most significant criticisms of the 2017 process to name Ms. Payette as governor-general was the extent of vetting done on her background.

“I’m willing to bet my bottom dollar that they will have vetted everyone who is on that [current] shortlist,” Mr. Fraser said.

Mr. Fraser said when he was on a committee looking to name the lieutenant-governor of Ontario, they came up with names and each member had a responsibility to do discreet checking so that they did not present someone who was going to be an embarrassment to the government.

“It’s not that complicated to find out about famous people,” he said.

Mr. Fraser also said it is his view that the Trudeau government needs to look at someone who is not controversial but who is recognized as a national figure.

“There’s someone available and I’m just amazed they haven’t gotten her yet,” he said. “That’s Beverley McLachlin, the former chief justice who would make a superb governor-general.”

Following Ms. Payette’s resignation, Richard Wagner, the current Chief Justice of Canada, assumed the additional role of administrator of the Government of Canada. Mr. Wagner will serve in this capacity until a new governor-general is installed.

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