Selecting Canada’s Head of State

Most developed countries have a president or head of state who is appointed or elected as well as elected representatives who coalesce in parties and form governments with a prime minister. Canada has an appointed head of state, the Governor General, who is the Queen’s representative in Canada, and political parties whose members are elected including someone who becomes the prime minister, usually the leader of the party with the most seats in the House of Commons. If a coalition government is formed, the prime minister emerges from agreement among the parties forming the coalition.

This situation may change when there is a successor to Queen Elizabeth and some argue for a replacement for the Governor General’s position. The issue then becomes how will a Canadian head of state be chosen. Those advocating change seldom discuss what the alternative would be.

An appointed head of state would require setting up a process. If it is similar to Senate appointments it will attract little respect. If the process requires agreement from all the major political groupings, it will become another venue for gender, ethnic, religious and other forms of cultural horse trading.

An elected head of state might make more sense but would give the person elected political power gained from the ballot box, and thereby alter the governmental process. Elected MPs would dislike this outcome and would probably prefer that the person be elected by the MPs rather than the electorate. This is how the referendum failed in Australia where the proposal was for the head of state, replacing the Governor General, to be elected by the sitting MPs. The Australian voters, who have little respect for their politicians, turned down the proposal. If the option had been worded for an elected head of state, it would likely have passed, but the Aussie MPs did not want to see their power diluted and chose the appointment process.

If the time comes, how would a Canadian head of state be chosen? I don’t know but would be interested in the views of others.


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