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The Citizen's Guide to the Alberta Legislature
Part I: The Foundation (Continued...)


A Constitutional Monarchy

Canada is a constitutional monarchy. Although the formal head of state is a monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II, its supreme law is the Constitution. The constitutional monarchy as a form of government came about when English monarchs, once supreme rulers of their realms, were gradually forced to share power with parliaments, which represented the citizens. The history of the parliamentary system is thus intertwined with the history of the British monarchy. As the powers of Parliament increased, the powers of monarchs diminished. In the British parliamentary system today, monarchs and their representatives have real power but rarely use it. Parliaments make laws and monarchs have to obey them, and although all proposed new laws must have royal approval, that approval often appears to be a formality. However, if they have compelling reasons, Governors General and Lieutenant Governors in Canada can refuse to approve bills. Other examples of constitutional monarchies include Japan, Spain, the Netherlands, and Denmark.

Of course, monarchs did not want to give up their power and often resorted to violent means to keep it. In the 18th century, for example, the United States declared its independence and fought a war against the British Crown. As a result, the American head of state is not a monarch but an elected President, and the United States is a republic.

The Role of the Lieutenant Governor

In Canada the monarch's representatives are the Governor General at the federal level and the Lieutenant Governor at the provincial level. The Governor General in Council (in practice, the Prime Minister) appoints each Lieutenant Governor for a period of five years, and the federal government pays his or her salary. The Lieutenant Governor does not belong to a political party and does not favour one party or its policies over another's.

While their modern role appears to be largely ceremonial, Lieutenant Governors have the power under extraordinary circumstances to force a government to resign and call an election. Thus Lieutenant Governors are an important part of our Constitution. Here is how one writer describes their role.

Lieutenant Governors are constitutional fire extinguishers with a potent mixture of powers for use in great emergencies. Like real extinguishers, they appear in bright colours and are strategically located. While everyone hopes their emergency powers will never be used, the fact that they are not used does not render them useless. (Frank Mackinnon, The Crown in Canada. Calgary: McClelland and Stewart, 1976. p. 122.)

In fact, monarchs and their representatives have from time to time refused bills. In 1937 Alberta's Lieutenant Governor, the Hon. John C. Bowen, refused to grant Royal Assent to three bills passed during William Aberhart's Social Credit government. Two of the bills would have interfered in federalgovernment controlled financial areas, while the third, the Accurate News and Information Act, would have placed restrictions on how media reported the news and was thus considered by many to be unconstitutional.

A Lieutenant Governor's responsibilities may be summarized as follows:

  • Issues the Royal Proclamation which calls the Legislative Assembly into session
  • Reads the Speech from the Throne at the opening of each session
  • Grants Royal Assent to bills which have passed third reading in the Assembly
  • Approves cabinet orders (orders in council)
  • Prorogues, or discontinues, a session of the Legislature o Dissolves the Legislative Assembly when an election is called
  • Ensures that the province always has a Premier who has the confidence of the majority of the elected Members of the Assembly

Canada's Constitution

Canada's Constitution determines the powers and responsibilities of the various governments, the courts, and the Crown and gives its people certain rights. When Prime Minister Trudeau repatriated Canada's Constitution in 1982, he not only brought the Constitution home from the United Kingdom but also modernized it by combining acts and orders dating from 1867..

The British North America Act, 1867 united Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick in Confederation. The act divided powers between the federal Parliament (the House of Commons; the Senate; and the monarch's representative, the Governor General) and provincial Legislatures (the Legislative Assembly and the monarch's representative, the Lieutenant Governor). The BNA Act also gave Parliament the power to make laws “for the peace, order, and good government" of Canada. The BNA Act is the foundation of our modern Constitution.

The Constitution Act, 1871, provided for the creation of new provinces. All acts which created provinces, beginning with the Manitoba Act of 1870, are part of our Constitution.

The Rupert 's Land and North-Western Territory Order of 1870 added the North- West Territories, including what is now Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Nunavut.

The Adjacent Territories Order of 1880 brought into Confederation all remaining British possessions and territories in North America, except Newfoundland, which joined Confederation on March 31, 1949.

The Statute of Westminster 1931 gave Canada full sovereignty over its own affairs, except that the British Parliament retained the power to amend Canada's Constitution. This law marks the point at which Canada became legally independent of Great Britain (now called the United Kingdom).

The Constitution Act, 1982, combined the above acts and orders, gave Canada the power to amend its own Constitution (patriation), and enshrined Canadians' rights and freedoms in a Charter.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms enshrines in Canada's supreme law the rights and freedoms of people living in a democratic country, including rights peculiarly Canadian. The rights and freedoms recognized in the Charter include:

  • freedom of conscience and religion
  • freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of expression
  • freedom of peaceful assembly
  • freedom of association
  • democratic rights (the right to vote, plus other provisions dealing with elections and representation)
  • mobility rights (the right to move about freely in Canada or to leave the country)
  • legal rights (rights people have when brought before the justice system; ( "right to life, liberty and security of the person" )
  • equality rights ( "every individual is equal before and under the law" )
  • official languages (English and French are Canada's official languages and are equal in status)
  • minority language educational rights (English or French speakers who are in the minority in a province have the right to have their children educated in their mother tongue in that province).

Alberta's Lieutenant Governors

Name Dates
Hon. George H.V. Bulyea 1905-15
Hon. Robert G. Brett 1915-25
Hon. William Egbert 1925-31
Hon. William L. Walsh 1931-36
Hon. Philip C.H. Primrose 1936-37
Hon. John C. Bowen 1937-50
Hon. John J. Bowlen 1950-59
Hon. J. Percy Page 1959-66
Hon. J.W. Grant MacEwan 1966-74
Hon. Ralph G. Steinhauer 1974-79
Hon. Frank C. Lynch-Staunton 1979-85
Hon. W. Helen Hunley 1985-91
Hon. T. Gordon Towers 1991-96
Hon. H.A. (Bud) Olson 1996-2000
Hon. Lois E. Hole 2000-2005
Hon. Norman L. Kwong 2005-present

 

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Table of Contents
Part I: The FoundationPart II: Representing the People
Part III: Rules and TraditionsPart IV: Getting the Business Done
Part V: Other Topics of InterestGlossaryStudy Questions


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