Julie Payette and the Governor General’s Role

Julie Payette and the Governor General’s Role

UPDATED July 13, 2017 3:38pmET

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed that former astronaut Julie Payette will serve as Canada’s next Governor General, replacing David Johnston.

Watch the full announcement and news conference:

Also hear from the 53-year-old Montreal native via the CPAC Video Archive. And learn more about the constitutional role she would fill over the next five years.

Julie Payette spoke in Montreal on Apr. 11 as part of The Walrus Talks:

Watch an extended 2015 interview with Payette for Beyond Politics:

CPAC’s Pierre Donais also spoke to Julie Payette in 2014, for this episode of Tête à Tête:

Julie Payette was the second Canadian woman to fly in space and the first Canadian to board the International Space Station.

As a child, Payette was part of the generation captivated by the Apollo missions to the Moon. She earned a master’s degree in engineering from the University of Toronto and was employed with Bell Northern Research when she applied to the space program. In 1992 her name was one of four among 5,300 applicants chosen to be a part of the next generation of Canadian astronauts. She was 28 years old.

Payette flew in space twice, on STS-96 and STS-127, and worked as Capsule Communicator (or CAPCOM) at NASA’s Mission Control Centre In Houston, Texas. In 2013, Payette moved back to Montreal where she became chief operating officer at the Montreal Science Centre.


Role of the Governor General

  • The Governor General represents Queen Elizabeth in Canada, performing duties and responsibilities on behalf of the head of state. These include the Speech from the Throne and giving Royal Assent to bills.
  • The Governor General is commander-in-chief of Canada’s armed forces.
  • The office of the Governor General is the highest and oldest public position in Canada, with a lineage dating back in various forms to Samuel de Champlain in the 1630s.
  • Though largely a social and ceremonial role, one of the Governor General’s most important responsibilities is ensuring that Canada always has a prime minister and a government holding the confidence of the House of Commons. A basic rule of Westminster democracy dictates that no government can continue in office once they lose the support of a majority of elected MPs.
  • Most of the time a Governor General takes the prime minister’s advice, as Michaelle Jean did amidst the political turmoil of late 2008, granting Stephen Harper’s prorogation request. But in a time of a great political deadlock, the vice-regal representative can act independently. The 1926 King-Byng affair provided the most memorable example.
  • The Governor General is not elected. He or she is appointed by the Queen, on the personal recommendation of the Canadian prime minister.
  • In 1947 virtually all the roles and responsibilities of the Crown were transferred from the monarch to the Governor General – without having to refer matters to London.
  • Former prime minister Stephen Harper created the Advisory Committee on Vice-Regal Appointments in 2012 to provide him with recommendations when selecting a Governor General, provincial Lieutenant Governor, or Territorial Commissioner.

CPAC’s Danielle Young outlined more on the Governor General’s function in 2010:

Patrick Monahan, now an Ontario judge, spoke about the role of the Governor General in 2010 while an Osgoode Hall law professor at York University:

Also watch this 2009 Law and Parliament Conference session on the appointment and removal of the Governor General:


Naming a Governor General: 2010

Here’s how the announcement looked when current Governor General David Johnston came to Parliament Hill in July 2010:

-Andrew Thomson

Top Photo: Julie Payette prepares to board the space shuttle Endeavour on July 15, 2009 at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Chris O’Meara/CP/AP