Commissioner is in principle the title given to a member of a commission or to an individual who has been given a commission (official charge or authority to do something, the noun's second meaning).

In practice, the title of commissioner has evolved to include a variety of senior officials, often sitting on a specific commission. In particular, commissioner frequently refers to senior police or government officials. A High Commissioner is equivalent to an ambassador, originally between the United Kingdom and the Dominions sharing the British Monarch as head of state and now between all Commonwealth states whether Commonwealth Realms, Commonwealth Republics or Commonwealth states having their own monarchs. The title is also sometimes given to senior officials in the private sector, for instance many North American sports leagues.


Domestic public official

A Commissioner within a modern state generally holds his office by virtue of a commission from the head of state or a council of elected representatives (or appointed by non-elected officials in the case of dictatorships).

Imperial China

Senior Public Servants, Commissioners and other high ranking bureaucrats referred to collectively as Mandarins.

Canadian territories

Commissioners are the formal head of the territories in Canada (i.e. those areas under the formal jurisdiction of the federal government and without separate constitutional status of a province). Unlike the Governor General or a Lieutenant Governor, who are representative of the Queen of Canada, Commissioners are not vice-regal representatives, although they perform similar duties including; reading the Speech from the Throne at the opening of the territorial Legislature. They are appointed by the federal government as delegates of cabinet. Under federal statutes[1][2][3] governing the territories, Commissioners act in accordance with written instructions from cabinet or the minister responsible (currently the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development). While commissioners formally had direct day-to-day role in administration and government and chaired the Executive Council, today they are under instruction to act more like provincial Lieutenant-Governors, as territorial assemblies have taken on more responsibility.

Commissioners are eligible to present a Vice-Regal Commendation to any Canadian Forces Members as any Lieutenant-Governors for long-term or outstanding service to the Office of a Lieutenant-Governor or Commissioner.[4]

Current Canadian commissioners

Symbol of Office Territory Current commissioner Commissioner since Website
Coat of arms of Northwest Territories.svg Northwest Territories The Honourable George Tuccaro May 28, 2010 Website
Crest of the Commissioner of Nunavut.svg Nunavut The Honourable Edna Elias May 21, 2010 Website
Commissioner crest.jpg Yukon The Honourable Doug Phillips December 1, 2010 Website


In police services in the Commonwealth and USA, the title of commissioner typically designates the head of an entire police force (e.g., Australian Federal Police, the New South Wales Police Force, New York City Police Department, St. Louis Police Department, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Ontario Provincial Police, the London Metropolitan Police or the California Highway Patrol). In some countries, such as in many Latin American countries and in France and in Italy, the title of commissioner refers to the head of a single police station.


Prior to the Acts of Union 1707, an elected member of the Estates (parliament) of Scotland held the office of Commissioner, representing a constituency (the equivalent of a Member of Parliament in the contemporaneous Parliament of England). There were Burgh Commissioners and Shire or Stewartry Commissioners.

Isle of Man

In the local government system of the Isle of Man, a Commissioner is an elected representative equivalent to a Councillor. All town, village, district and parish local government bodies consist of commissioners, with the exception of Douglas, which has a council and councillors.


Malawi's position of District Commissioner refers to the person that in appointed by the President of Malawi to oversea the administration of any of its 28 districts. One commissioner is appointed per district. The position was created during the colonial era, sustained during the Kamuzu Banda era and continues as a prominent position in democratic era in Malawi.

Soviet Union

From the October Revolution in 1917 until the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1991, the Soviet government as well as the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and its predecessors used commissioner (in Russian комиссар or commissar) as a term for multiple positions. From 1917 until 1946 ministers of government were called people's commissars (and ministries were called "people's commissariats"). In workplaces a commissar was appointed to assure that communist political doctrine was observed. In military units such commissars were also called the политрук (politruk, meaning "political director") or замполит (zampolit, or deputy commander for political affairs). By contrast, a военный комиссар (voyennyy komissar), or military commissar, was merely a local military official in charge of supervising the induction of military draftees.

United States

In many U.S. states, the legislative and executive decision-making bodies of counties are called the board of commissioners or county commission. In Minnesota, Alaska, New York and Tennessee, the heads of statewide cabinet-level departments are called "commissioners". In California, commissioners are subordinate judicial officers.

Historically, the U.S. government appointed special commissioners for a variety of tasks. For example, the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1862 to 1889 was a commissioner, not a Cabinet secretary.[5]

International public and colonial context

British and Commonwealth overseas possessions

The title of Commissioner, as such, was used by the (gubernatorial) chief British official in:

  • British India, now composed of four independent countries (Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh), where the Divisional Commissioner was the head of one of the few Divisions of a province, and was higher than a Deputy Commissioner and lower than a Secretary (now Principal Secretary) in the provincial capital.
  • British Central Africa
  • Territories of Zambesia and Rhodesia, administered under charter by the British South Africa Company
  • the Oil Rivers Protectorate (from 5 June 1885 under a consul-general; soon renamed Niger Coast Protectorate), from 3 August 1891 till 1 January 1900 when it became the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, hence under a High Commissioner
  • the Caribbean Turks and Caicos Islands, 1874 - 4 July 1959, as a dependency under the Governor of Jamaica colony
  • the Weihaiwei concession territory (held from China) from 1902 to 1938
  • Kamaran Island, in June 1915 taken from the Ottoman Empire and subordinated to the Aden Settlement, but not incorporated, till on 30 November 1967 it became part of the newly independent People's Republic of South Yemen.
  • the UN trust territory of British Cameroons, only two incumbents, from 1 October 1954 (the only Special Resident succeeding himself till 1956) to 1 October 1961 when Southern British Cameroons is incorporated into the independent Republic of Cameroon (former French mandate of Cameroun), after the northern part united with Nigeria on 1 June 1961.


Canada calls its government officials in charge of export promotion "trade commissioners". There are 150 offices of the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service in Canada and abroad, and they "assist with export advice and guidance to help [Canadians] achieve [their] international business goals." The website devoted to the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service uses the Internet domain[6]

European Union

The European Commissioners are the members of the European Commission, the highest executive organ of the European Union, which is the closest EU equivalent to a government. Each Commissioner is assigned a portfolio, but they make most important decisions collegially, often subject to approval by the European Parliament and/or the Council of the European Union.

French colonies

The French equivalent, Commissaire, was used for various officials employed at different levels of the colonial administration in several French-ruled countries.

Russian Empire

After on 17 April 1914 Tannu Tuva (ethnically Mongolian) was declared a Russian 'protected' area (Uryanhay [Urjanhaj] kray), two subsequent Russian Commissioners for the Affairs of Urjanhai Kray (1914 - 1915 A.P. Cererin (Tsererin) and 1915 - 1917 Yu.V. Grigoryev) were appointed, alongside the last native tribal Paramount chief (title Ambyn-noyon), followed by a single Commissar of the Provisional Government (October 1917 - 16 March 1918 Aleksey Aleksandrovich Turchaninov) until czarist rule collapsed for good, giving way to the Soviet regime

United Nations administration

A UN Commissioner appointed in 1949 supervised the transition of the UN Trust territory of Libya (a former Italian colony; actually Tripolitania and Cyrenaica each were under a British Administrator, in 1949 restyled Resident, Fezzan under a French Military Governor, in 1950 also restyled Résident) to independence as a united monarchy in 1951.

United States

From the mid-19th century until 1939, two U.S. Government cabinet departments used the title "commissioner" for officials posted abroad who did not enjoy diplomatic status. U.S. federal agencies have not titled officials posted abroad as commissioners since 1939.

U.S. Department of Agriculture

During the 19th century, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) began sending employees, called "agricultural commissioners", abroad to investigate foreign agriculture. These appointments were of a roving nature, as the officials were not assigned to a particular country or city. In 1919 USDA posted to London an agricultural commissioner without diplomatic status, Edward Foley, to report on British agriculture. Additional commissioners were posted through the 1920s to Buenos Aires, Berlin, and Shanghai. The title began to be phased out in 1930 with passage of the Foreign Agricultural Service Act, which granted USDA authority to use the diplomatic title "attaché". The last USDA employee to bear the title "agricultural commissioner" was Owen Dawson, agricultural commissioner at the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai, who received diplomatic status and the title agricultural attaché in 1939 when USDA's overseas officers were transferred to the Department of State.[7][8][9][10]

Noted American author Mark Twain recounted meeting one of the 19th-century roving agricultural commissioners in Innocents Abroad:

I was proud to observe that among our excursionists were three ministers of the gospel, eight doctors, sixteen or eighteen ladies, several military and naval chieftains with sounding titles, an ample crop of "Professors" of various kinds, and a gentleman who had "COMMISSIONER OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA TO EUROPE, ASIA, AND AFRICA" thundering after his name in one awful blast! I had carefully prepared myself to take rather a back seat in that ship because of the uncommonly select material that would alone be permitted to pass through the camel's eye of that committee on credentials; I had schooled myself to expect an imposing array of military and naval heroes and to have to set that back seat still further back in consequence of it maybe; but I state frankly that I was all unprepared for this crusher.

I fell under that titular avalanche a torn and blighted thing. I said that if that potentate must go over in our ship, why, I supposed he must -- but that to my thinking, when the United States considered it necessary to send a dignitary of that tonnage across the ocean, it would be in better taste, and safer, to take him apart and cart him over in sections in several ships.

Ah, if I had only known then that he was only a common mortal, and that his mission had nothing more overpowering about it than the collecting of seeds and uncommon yams and extraordinary cabbages and peculiar bullfrogs for that poor, useless, innocent, mildewed old fossil the Smithsonian Institute, I would have felt so much relieved.[11]

U.S. Department of Commerce

Following unification of the U.S. Foreign Service under the Rogers Act in 1924, overseas trade promotion shifted from consuls of the United States to "trade commissioners" employed by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Most but not all trade commissioners were retitled commercial attachés upon creation of the Foreign Commerce Service (viz.) in 1927. The title "trade commissioner" went out of use in the United States when Commerce's overseas officials were transferred to the Department of State and all three U.S. foreign services (of the Departments of State, Agriculture and Commerce) were merged in 1939 under Reorganization Plan No. II.[5][12]

Non-public entities

The Salvation Army

In The Salvation Army the rank of Commissioner is the second-highest attainable rank and the highest rank by appointment,[13] as the rank of General is by election. It is one of the original ranks of the Army and has been in use since 1880, the first Commissioner was George Scott Railton.


Within the Scout Movement, a Commissioner is a senior adult leader who is responsible for the management of an aspect of Scouting and/or the leadership of other adults, as opposed to adult leaders who lead youth members.


In many North American sports leagues, including nearly all professional leagues, the commissioner is the highest executive position. The exact powers of the commissioner depend on the constitution and/or rules of the league. Commissioners are elected by the owners of the league's clubs, and handle matters such as discipline, arbitration of disputes between the clubs, etc.

The title was first used in 1920, when Kenesaw Mountain Landis was appointed Commissioner of Baseball in the aftermath of the Black Sox Scandal. Landis was titled "Commissioner" partly to distinguish his office from that of the "President" of the American and National Leagues. Landis' title derived from the National Commission, the ruling body for baseball established in 1903, which were largely autonomous organizations at the time. Eager to restore public confidence in their sport's integrity, baseball owners gave Landis absolute power and a lifetime contract,[dubious ] which permitted the former judge to assume more power over the sport than a commissioner in any sport has held since.[citation needed]

The other major professional sports leagues of North America followed suit, replacing their positions of league president with that of commissioner. The National Football League appointed its first commissioner in 1941, the National Basketball Association in 1967, and the National Hockey League in 1993. However, the commissioners' powers and responsibilities in these leagues are not substantially different from those of the presidents that preceded them. Although baseball's subsequent commissioners have not had the absolute power that Landis did, current Commissioner Bud Selig has succeeded in centralizing authority over Major League Baseball in the commissioner's office, relegating the position of league president to an honorary title and giving baseball's commissioner competencies similar to those of his colleagues in the other major sports.[citation needed]

Many minor professional and amateur leagues throughout the United States and Canada have also appointed commissioners. The title has not caught on outside North America. In addition to Selig, the other current commissioners of the North American major professional leagues are Roger Goodell in the NFL, David Stern in the NBA, Gary Bettman in the NHL, and Don Garber in MLS.

Compound titles

In many cases the term Commissioner is part of a more specific title, including English renditions of such titles in other languages. Examples (in some cases there are further compounds) include:

See also

External links


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Vice-Regal Commendation
  5. ^ a b Official Register of the United States Government. Washington: USGPO. issues of 1883, 1885, 1889, 1891, 1893, 1899, 1901, 1903, 1905, 1907, 1925-1959. 
  6. ^ "Doing Business Abroad: The Canadian Trade Commissioner Service". Retrieved January 18, 2010. 
  7. ^ Clem, Alan L. (July 1960). The U.S. Agricultural Attaché, His History and His Work, FAS M-91. Washington: USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. 
  8. ^ Mustard, Allan (2003). A study of management doctrines and leadership philosophies of selected organizations with international missions. Arlington, Virginia: Foreign Agricultural Service, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. pp. vi, 85 leaves : col. ill. ; 28 cm.. 
  9. ^ U.S. Department of Agriculture (issues of 1883-1885). Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture. Washington: USGPO. 
  10. ^ U.S. Department of Agriculture (issues of 1893, 1903, 1905, 1920, 1922, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1952, 1953, 1954). Report of the Secretary of Agriculture. Washington: USGPO. 
  11. ^ "Twain, Mark, 1835-1910. Innocents Abroad, Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library". 
  12. ^ U.S. Department of State. Biographic Register. Washington: USGPO. 
  13. ^ Info on TSA ranks and terminology

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Commissioner — Com*mis sion*er, n. 1. A person who has a commission or warrant to perform some office, or execute some business, for the government, corporation, or person employing him; as, a commissioner to take affidavits or to adjust claims. [1913 Webster]… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • commissioner — com·mis·sion·er n: a person with a commission: as a: a member of a commission b often cap: the officer in charge of a government agency a police commissioner Merriam Webster’s Dictionary of Law. Merriam Webster. 1996 …   Law dictionary

  • commissioner — com‧mis‧sion‧er [kəˈmɪʆnə ǁ ər] noun [countable] the head of a commission1 or similar organization, or a member of one * * * commissioner UK US /kəˈmɪʃənər/ noun [C] GOVERNMENT ► an official in charge of a government department or other… …   Financial and business terms

  • Commissioner —   [kə mɪʃənə, englisch] der, s/ s, im angloamerikanischen Recht Regierungs oder Gerichtsbeauftragter, Kommissar, Beamter für Sonderaufgaben und Einzeluntersuchungen; in London der Polizeipräsident; allgemein auch »Urkundsperson«; als Titel High… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • commissioner — early 15c., one appointed by a commission, from Anglo Fr. commissionaire, from M.L. commissionarius, from commissionem (see COMMISSION (Cf. commission)). Meaning member of a commission is from 1530s …   Etymology dictionary

  • commissioner — ► NOUN 1) a person appointed by, or as a member of, a commission. 2) a representative of the supreme authority in an area. 3) the head of the Metropolitan Police in London …   English terms dictionary

  • commissioner — [kə mish′ə nər] n. 1. a person authorized to do certain things by a commission or warrant 2. a member of a COMMISSION (sense 7) 3. an official in charge of a certain government bureau, commission, departmental office, etc. 4. an official… …   English World dictionary

  • commissioner — n. 1) a high commissioner for (the high commissioner for occupied territories) 2) a fire; health; police; water commissioner 3) (GB) the Canadian High Commissioner in London * * * [kə mɪʃ(ə)nə] health police water commissioner (GB) the Canadian… …   Combinatory dictionary

  • commissioner — [[t]kəmɪ̱ʃənə(r)[/t]] ♦♦♦ commissioners also Commissioner N COUNT: usu with supp A commissioner is an important official in a government department or other organization. → See also High Commissioner ...the European Commissioner for External… …   English dictionary

  • commissioner */*/ — UK [kəˈmɪʃ(ə)nə(r)] / US [kəˈmɪʃ(ə)nər] noun [countable] Word forms commissioner : singular commissioner plural commissioners 1) a) commissioner or Commissioner an important official in a government, especially someone who is in charge of a… …   English dictionary

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