Role of the Commissioner
The Commissioner’s role is much like that of a Lieutenant Governor of a province.
Nunavut has what is called “responsible government” meaning that the Executive Council holds power only as long as it is supported by a majority of the members of the elected legislative assembly.
Statement from the federal government:
The Government of Canada, consistent with the aspirations of the people of the north, supports the evolution of strong public governments in the territories accountable to their citizens.
A key role of a Commissioner is to ensure that a duly constituted government is always in place and the democratic freedoms of the people are protected.
The Nunavut Act requires the Commissioner to make appointments to the Executive Council on the recommendation of the Legislative Assembly.
Today, members of the Legislative Assembly meet to decide who will be the First Minister (Premier) and Ministers in the Cabinet. This is conveyed formally by the Legislative Assembly to the Commissioner. It is then the First Minister’s responsibility to recommend to the Commissioner which portfolio will go to which elected minister.
Under the Nunavut Act the Commissioner has the power to dissolve the Legislative Assembly following consultation with the Executive Council.
The symbolic role of the Commissioner
The Commissioner exercises power by acting as a symbol of the territory, supporting the values its citizens have agreed to be governed by.
The Governor General personifies the national and federal interests of all the people of Canada, while the Commissioner personifies the interests of the people of the territory. Over them all the Queen is a figurehead symbolizing the unity of these separate interests.
The Commissioner is “Head of State” but not Head of the Government”.
No one but the Commissioner plays the role of flesh-and-blood symbol of the territory, representing the interests of the territory’s people.
Bills passed by the Legislative Assembly do not become law until they receive the Commissioner’s assent. The Commissioner gives assent to the bills on the advice of the First Minister (Premier)
The powers of the commissioner include both statutory and customary responsibilities. Statutory responsibilities include the swearing-in of members of the legislative assembly and executive council, the reading of the speech opening sessions of the legislative assembly and the signing of documents such as orders-in-council, Commissioner’s warrants, statutory appointments and dispositions of Commissioner’s Lands.
Customary responsibilities include the Commissioner’s attendance at official functions and issuing declarations that are not legal in nature.