The Role of the Administrator

The Role of the Administrator

The Administrator of the Government of Canada is sworn in to fulfil the role and responsibilities of the governor general in the event of their death, incapacity, removal or absence. The administrator can exercise all of the powers and authorities of the governor general, as set out in the Letters Patent Constituting the Office of Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada, 1947 (PDF).

History

The Letters Patent of 1947 is one of the most important documents defining the Crown in Canada. Through this document, King George VI allowed the governor general to exercise all the power of the sovereign, as their representative in Canada. Today, the governor general has a number of responsibilities, one of the most important being to ensure that Canada always has a prime minister and a government in place that has the confidence of Parliament.

To ensure that the role of the governor general is always fulfilled, the Letters Patent of 1947 state that, should the governor general die, become incapacitated, be removed or be absent from the country for a period of more than one month, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada becomes the administrator of the Government of Canada to act with all the powers and authorities of the governor general. If the chief justice is unable to act as administrator, the role would then transfer to the next most senior available justice. The administrator serves until the governor general is able to resume their duties or a new governor general is installed.

[...] in the event of the death, incapacity, removal, or absence of Our Governor General out of Canada, all and, every the powers and authorities herein granted to him shall, until Our further pleasure is signified therein, be vested in Our Chief Justice for the time being of Canada [...]

- excerpt from Letters Patent

The appointment of the chief justice of Canada as administrator was not automatic. The administrator must take the Oath of Office and the Oath of the Keeper of the Great Seal of Canada. The oaths are administered by the clerk of the Privy Council.

The Right Honourable Richard Wagner, P.C., served as the administrator of the Government of Canada from January 23, 2021 to July 26, 2021. 

Activities of the Administrator

While in office, Administrator Wagner fulfilled the following role and responsibilities of the governor general:

  • Granted Royal Assent to acts of Parliament.
  • Signed into effect official documents, such as orders-in-council and proclamations.
  • Officially welcomed to Canada new high commissioners from countries of which Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is not the head of State, as well as new ambassadors.
  • Continued to foster international relations by signing diplomatic letters to heads of State, particularly on the occasion of national days.
  • Connected directly with Canadians by presenting honours to acknowledge extraordinary people who have made a difference in their community and in Canada.

Past Administrators

Since Confederation in 1867, chief justices of Canada have been called upon to serve as administrators of the Government of Canada on multiple occasions. 

Prior to 1952, administrators often were called to serve when a governor general left office to return home to the United Kingdom before their successor was sworn into office. In other cases, administrators have served when governors general fell ill and were unable to complete their duties for a specific period, as was the case when Governor General Tweedsmuir died in 1940, and Chief Justice Lyman Poore Duff stepped in as administrator until Governor General Athlone was sworn in four months later, or when Governor General Léger suffered a stroke in 1974, and Chief Justice Bora Laskin served as the administrator for a period of six months. In addition to signing important documents and commissions, Administrator Laskin swore in the Cabinet, opened Parliament and read the Speech from the Throne, granted Royal Assent to bills, and participated in the Queen Mother’s Royal visit to Canada. 

Administrators have more recently been called to serve on the installation day of a new governor general, to preside over the installation ceremonies until the incumbent has been sworn into office.

Overview of activities of past administrators

Administrator

Dates

Governor General

Reason

Activities

Richard Wagner
Chief Justice

January 23, 2021–July 26, 2021

The Right Honourable Julie Payette

Served following the resignation of Julie Payette on January 22, 2021

Presided over Order of Canada virtual investitures

Signed important documents including Orders-in-Council, commissions, and letters of accreditation for Canadian heads of mission serving abroad

John C. Major
Puisne Justice

September 27, 2005

The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson

Served on behalf of Ms. Clarkson, from the morning of September 27 until the installation of Michaëlle Jean the same day.

Presided over the installation ceremony of Mme Jean

Beverly McLachlin

Chief Justice

July 8–July 22, 2005

Incapacitated

Gave Royal Assent to the Civil Marriage Act (Bill C-38)

Bora Laskin
Chief Justice

May 21, 1980

The Right Honourable Edward Schreyer

Absent from Canada

Presided over an Order of Military Merit Ceremony

July 2 - December 6, 1974 The Right Honourable Jules Léger

Incapacitated

Authorized Wishart F. Spence, Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court, to be his deputy, in accordance with the Letters Patent, 1947 (November 27, 1974)

Granted Royal Assent (October 30, 1974)

Delivered the Speech from the Throne and witnessed the appointment of the Speaker of the Senate (Sept. 30, 1974)

Hosted a luncheon for the Prime Minister of Japan (September 24, 1974)

30th federal general election (July 2, 1974)

Six-day Royal visit from the Queen Mother (June 25–July 1, 1974)

Robert Taschereau

Chief Justice

March 5–April 17, 1967

General The Right Honourable Georges Philias Vanier

Governor General Vanier died on March 5, 1967. Governor General Roland Michener assumed office on April 17, 1967.

 

May 16, 1963

Incapacitated

His proclamation specifies that the chief justice would serve as the administrator for only six hours, “from twelve o’clock noon […] until six o’clock p.m.” to deliver the Speech from the Throne.

Patrick Kerwin
Chief Justice

July 15, 1961- August 1961

Absent from Canada

 

June 29, 1957

The Right Honourable Vincent Massey

Absent from Canada

 

January 10, 1956

Received greetings from new senators

June–July 1955

Granted Royal Assent and closed the parliamentary session (July 28, 1955)

Granted Royal Assent (June 28, 1955)

Proclaimed administrator of the Government (June 16, 1955)

Thibaudeau Rinfret

Chief Justice

January 28–February 28, 1952

Lord Alexander

Served after the appointment of Lord Alexander to the British Cabinet until Vincent Massey was sworn in as governor general on February 28, 1952.

Issued the first Proclamation of the Accession to the Throne of Queen Elizabeth II.

1946

 

 

1944

Lord Athlone

 

 

Thibaudeau Rinfret

Puisne Justice

1942

 

 

Lyman Poore Duff

Chief Justice

1940

Lord Tweedsmuir

Governor General Lord Tweedsmuir died on February 11, 1940. Governor General Lord Athlone assumed office on June 21, 1940

Issued a commission appointing the speaker of the Senate, summoned new senators and delivered the Speech from the Throne (May 16, 1940)

At the request of the government, delayed Parliament’s return following a prorogation (April 11, 1940)

Thibaudeau Rinfret

Puisne Justice

1934

Lord Bessborough

 

 

Lyman Poore Duff

Puisne Justice

January 16 – April 4, 1931

Lord Willingdon

Governor General Lord Wellington retired in January 1931. The Earl of Bessborough assumed office in Canada on April 4, 1931

Delivered the Speech from the Throne (March 12, 1931)

At the request of the government, delayed Parliament’s return through proclamation (February 9, 1931)

Louis Henry Davies

Chief Justice

1922

Lord Byng

 

 

Francis Alexander Anglin

Puisne Justice

Unknown

 

 

Louis Henry Davies

Chief Justice

March – April 1920

Duke of Devonshire

 

Granted Royal Assent (April 13, 1920)

Lyman Poore Duff

Puisne Justice

1917

 

 

Louis Henry Davies

Chief Justice

July 15, 1915

H.R.H. The Duke of Connaught

 

 

Charles Fitzpatrick

Chief Justice

August 19, 1913
September 27, 1913
November 6, 1913

 

At the request of the government, delayed Parliament's return through Proclamation each time

Unknown
(likely
Charles Fitzpatrick,  Chief Justice or Louis Henry Davies, Puisne Justice)

June 6, 1913

 

Granted Royal Assent and prorogued Parliament

May 27, 1913

 

Summoned new senators to the Senate.

Louis Henry Davies

Puisne Justice

May 16, 1913

Absent from Canada

Granted Royal Assent

Charles Fitzpatrick

Chief Justice

April 2, 1913

 

Granted Royal Assent

Notes:

  1. This is not a full list of the activities of past administrators as some of the historical information appears not to have been documented.
  2. Prior to the issuance of the Letters Patent of 1947, it appears that each time a chief justice acted as the administrator of the Government of Canada, separate Letters Patent were issued on each occasion. In this era, the relevant letters patent were included in the Senate journals. During this period, the term “Administrator of the Government” was not regularly used, but the role and the powers being conferred were described.

Deputy Governor General

According to the Letters Patent of 1947, governors general can also commission individuals to act as their deputies if they are unable to exercise specific functions or activities, due to unforeseen circumstances, when the function or activity cannot be postponed without posing unreasonable hardship on those involved. 

The commissioning of deputy governors general has evolved as a result of certain constitutional conventions to facilitate the flow of work when a governor general was unable to fulfill all their obligations, for short periods of less than 30 days. Each commission details which of the powers, authorities and functions of the governor general will be delegated to the deputy and for which period. Certain powers cannot be delegated to deputy governors general, such as the power to dissolve Parliament; this can only be done by the governor general, or, in absence of a governor general, by the administrator.

The chief justice and justices of the Supreme Court can be appointed as deputies, as can other individuals, at the discretion of the governor general. The secretary to the governor general and senior officials in the governor general’s office are often commissioned to act as deputy governors general for specific functions, such as the signing of certain documents, with the knowledge and approval of the governor general.