The Head of State in Canada

Queen Elizabeth, Canadian Head of State. Chris Jackson / Getty Images

The head of state in Canada is the sovereign or Queen of Canada, currently, Queen Elizabeth II. Before her, the Canadian head of state was her father, King George VI. The Queen's powers as head of state are exercised by the Governor General of Canada except when the Queen is in Canada. The governor general, like the sovereign or Queen, remains outside of politics as the role of head of state in Canada is largely ceremonial.

Governors general and lieutenant governors are considered representatives of, and therefore subordinate to, the head of state as opposed to the head of government, or the Canadian prime minister.

What the Head of State Does

In contrast to the head of state in a presidential system like the U.S., the Queen of Canada is considered the personification of the state rather than having an active political role. Technically speaking, the Queen doesn’t “do” as much as she serves a symbolic purpose, remaining neutral on political matters. As outlined by the Canadian Constitution, the governor general (working on behalf of the Queen) has a variety of important responsibilities from signing all bills into law to calling elections to inaugurating the elected prime minister and his or her cabinet. In reality, the governor general performs these duties symbolically as he generally gives his or her royal assent to every law, appointment, and proposal of the prime minister.

The Canadian head of state does, however, hold constitutional powers known as emergency "reserve powers," which separate the head of state and the head of government to ensure the proper functioning of Canada's parliamentary government. In practice, these powers are very rarely exercised.

While ministers, legislators, police, public servants and members of the armed forces, swear allegiance to the Queen, she doesn’t directly govern them.

Canadian passports are issued “in the name of the Queen.” The primary exception to the Queen’s symbolic, non-political role as head of state is her ability to grant immunity from prosecution and pardon offenses before or after a trial.

Canada’s Current Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II

Elizabeth II, coronated Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand in 1952, is the "longest-reigning sovereign in Canada's modern era.” She is Head of the Commonwealth and is the monarch of 12 countries that have become independent during her reign. She acceded to the throne in place of her father, King George VI. In 2015, she surpassed her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, as the longest-reigning British monarch and the longest-reigning queen and female head of state in history.

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Munroe, Susan. "The Head of State in Canada." ThoughtCo, Jul. 30, 2017, Munroe, Susan. (2017, July 30). The Head of State in Canada. Retrieved from Munroe, Susan. "The Head of State in Canada." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 18, 2018).