The “heavy cold” that Queen Elizabeth is now suffering reminds us of her mortality. For people her age, a heavy cold may turn into pneumonia, and lead quickly to their demise. Because she has chosen to reign until the very end – unlike many other monarchs and a recent pope – as time passes, she will be capable of performing fewer duties and public attention will focus on her health.
A few weeks ago I was at an exhibit about the culture of the Sixties, entitled “You Say You Want a Revolution” at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. One of the elements of the exhibit that surprised, and then delighted me, was to see Canada’s derivative and unimaginative red ensign displayed beside our bold and iconic maple leaf flag. The exhibit remarked on how this change in national symbolism, achieved in 1965, was in very short order recognized by the rest of the world as a powerful statement of a new Canadian identity. It also noted that in the Sixties many other nations changed their flags from colonialist relics to assertions of national identity.
The approaching end of Elizabeth’s reign is an appropriate moment for Canadians to take the last step on the road to complete sovereignty and replace a foreign monarch with a Canadian head of state.
As her horizons contract it is clear that Elizabeth will never again visit Canada nor engage in any meaningful way with Canadian life. She is now a mere figurehead, an elderly face on our currency and an adjective in the title of some of our institutions.
Contrast the British monarch with the Canadian Governor-General, our de facto head of state. The most recent three governors-general – Adrienne Clarkson, Michaelle Jean, and David Johnston – are all non-politicians who while in office have made unique contributions to Canadian life. I think this type of appointment represents a consensus that Canadians will support.
The incumbent should be distinguished. The incumbent should not be from the political world so as to be above politics. The office should provide the scope for the incumbent to make a unique contribution to Canadian life (in ways that the British monarch does not contribute to the life of her nation). The office should be temporary. The title should remain Governor-General, rather than President, so as not to confuse the position with that of an elected president in republican systems. Exactly how the incumbent is chosen – selection by the prime minister, or by a group of prominent citizens such as Companions of the Order of Canada, or even popular election – shouldn’t be too difficult to determine.
Affiliation with the British monarchy no longer represents most Canadians’ values and identity and the inevitable end of Elizabeth’s reign would be a good time for us to end this affiliation and make our self-government complete.