Stuck with the Monarchy

I’ve never supported having the British monarch as Canada’s head of state. I’ve always wanted our head of state be a Canadian, chosen by Canadians. I posted to this effect three years ago, when Queen Elizabeth’s health was clearly declining.

Our Country, their Realm

I don’t support the monarchy for several reasons. It privileges one of the two imperial powers that ruled Canada. The nation that the monarchy represents has oppressed and exploited its subjects in the Caribbean, in Africa, and in South Asia; many of Canada’s diverse citizens have emigrated from those places and have no love for the British monarchy, and I respect their views. A hereditary monarchy, bestowing enormous wealth and power upon the members of one family, offends my sense of equality. Finally, having the British monarch as our head of state adds an unnecessary level of governance above our governor-general and lieutenant-governors. An Angus Reid Institute survey done last April shows that a majority of Canadians, especially younger generations, favour cutting our ties with the monarchy.

Nonetheless, the passing of the monarchy from Elizabeth to Charles demonstrates how supportive the Trudeau Government is of the monarchy and how entrenched the monarchy is in our constitution and our social fabric.

Prime Minister Trudeau, reflecting his own privileged background, eulogized the Queen as “one of his favourite people.” His Government immediately and enthusiastically proclaimed Charles as King of Canada. The monarch can visit Canada only if invited, and my expectation is that the invitation will come quickly. I think that the Trudeau Government’s political calculus is that showing loyalty to and support for the monarchy will pre-empt criticism by the Conservatives and appeal to Conservative-leaning voters.

I was unfamiliar with the use of the archaic word “realm” to refer to the 14 nations other than the UK for which the British monarchy is head of state. Canada is politically and economically the most significant realm. It also has the closest constitutional ties to the monarchy, as our constitution requires unanimity among the federal government and the governments of the provinces and territories to change the status of the monarchy.

Guy Lombardo and Crown Royal

In addition to its rock-solid constitutional status, the British monarchy is deeply entrenched in the fabric of Canadian life. Think of all the federal institutions that have Royal in their rubric: for example the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal Canadian Navy. Think of terms like Crown Attorney, Crown land, Crown corporation. Think of all the place names that are derived from the monarchy, such as Alberta and Prince Edward Island. And virtually every city or town has a King Street and Queen Street. Numerous products include references to the monarchy, such as Seagram’s iconic Canadian whiskey or Guy Lombardo’s famous band, the Royal Canadians. All of this is to suggest how difficult it would be to change governmental and societal branding concomitant with severing our ties with the British monarchy. Not gonna happen.

Charles the (Un)opinionated

Elizabeth was legendary for her lifelong avoidance of expressing anything that could remotely be considered an opinion about politics, public policy, or social issues. She perfected the art of presenting herself as tabula rasa. Charles, in his long life in the shadow of the monarch, has expressed strong opinions and act on the basis of his opinions. His 2010 book: Harmony: A New Way of Looking at our World (co-authored with Tony Juniper and Ian Skelly) is a comprehensive statement of his world view. I started to read it last night. While I don’t embrace Charles’s aversion to positivism and modernism, I agree with many of his policy positions. Beyond that, it demonstrates that Charles is learned and thoughtful, two traits I admire. His intellectualism certainly sets him apart from the rest of his family. (I was made aware of the book in a column by my academic colleague Ralph Heintzman who goes so far as to argue that Charles is “one of the most thoughtful, energetic, and accomplished public figures in the world today.”)

Charles’s environmentalism will likely be at odds with the policies of the Truss Government, and he will be forced to keep his opinions about the UK’s environmental policies to himself. By assuming the throne, he will have to become a political tabula rasa like his mother.

My Bottom Line

In principle, Canada’s head of state should not be the hereditary monarch of another country. But the person who is the new monarch is learned and thoughtful, indeed intellectual, and reasonably progressive in his views about public policy. If we Canadians are stuck with the British monarchy, then I’m willing to be stuck with this particular monarch. We could do worse. Perhaps in some small way, while respecting his constitutional constraints, he can nudge our policies in a positive direction.

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