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Photograph of the Marquis of Lorne taking the governor general's oath of office, 1878
Group of small photographs of the governors general of Canada and their wives, 1867-1927
Canada is a constitutional monarchy, where the governor general serves as the head of state, representing the Crown. Canada is also a parliamentary democracy, where the prime minister serves as the head of government, representing the political majority in Parliament. The governor general is appointed by the Crown, on the recommendation of the prime minister, usually for a five-year term of office. Unlike the prime minister, the governor general is considered to be "above politics" and is given a special mandate to promote Canadian sovereignty, unity and cultural achievement.
The role of the governor general is described in both the Constitution Act, 1867 and the Letters Patent of 1947. As head of state, the governor general holds formal executive power within the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, and signs orders-in-council. He or she is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, swears in cabinet ministers and senior government officials, authorizes treaties and accredits ambassadors. On the advice of Cabinet, the governor general summons, prorogues and dissolves Parliament and gives royal assent, or legal sanction, to parliamentary bills.
Constitutional convention provides that the basic obligation of the governor general, as representative of the Crown, is to ensure that there is a government in office that has the confidence of the legislature. In exceptional circumstances, the governor general may appoint or dismiss a prime minister. The governor general also administers the Canadian system of honours and is chancellor of both the Order of Canada and the Order of Military Merit. He or she may represent Canada in state visits abroad or host visiting heads of state. In these important symbolic duties, the governor general represents Canada's heritage, traditional values and political stability.