Goodbye, Queen?

January 11th, 2012  -  C. P.

Some would argue that Stephen Harper has been taking Canada further into the dim, candle-lit bedroom of Queen Elizabeth to strengthen the historic ties between the two lovers. During Harper's reign, Canada has issued a special coin to commemorate the royal wedding, promoted the married couple's royal honeymoon visit, and revived the heritage of Canada's military by adding “royal” back into the land and maritime divisions of the army. Some critics have said that Harper himself is responsible for this post-election Conservative shift toward royalty and that the purpose may be to undermine Quebec.

While reviving British (English) culture and history, the Tories may be looking to undercut bilingualism, French-Canadian culture, and Quebec as a whole by focusing on Canada's English roots. However, none of this can really be proven.

Meanwhile, the Liberals have played with the very opposite idea. Most popular amongst younger Liberals is the idea of disavowing the Queen and cutting Canada's ties with the monarchy. Along with the legalization of marijuana and higher funding for education, disowning the monarchy is on the decision list at this year's Liberal convention.

Until 1982, Canada had to make specific requests to the British parliament to make any official changes to its own constitution. It was The Constitution Act that eliminated the “request and consent” provision from Canada's constitution and it was passed on Liberal time, while Pierre Trudeau was Prime Minister. Since then, not much more has come between Canada and the Queen.

The Queen and her Royal Family are, essentially, The United Kingdom. Separating the Britons from their Queen is not only blasphemous, it's impossible. Although the Royals have become mere symbolic talking heads with no purpose, they are still a significant part of British culture. In 2011, an ICM survey conducted for The Guardian found that 63% of Brits believe that their country would be worse off without a monarchy. The same poll also found that 47% of Brits find the Royal Family “unifying”. This unsurprising statistic suggests that cutting ties with the Royal Family could be the same as cutting ties with a majority of Britain.

Today it seems that Canada has been trying to strengthen the relationship, rather than create further distance between Canada and the Royal Family. However, if some Liberals were to get their way, this rekindled love affair wouldn't last.

Critics and pundits have analyzed the possibilities of separation of queen and state for quite some time. In fact, it's not a very new idea. But, we won't spend any time on making this a history lesson.

Eliminating the Queen from Canadian culture would likely only involve removing her from our currency, removing her framed photos from court rooms, re-wording laws and terminologies, and ridding ourselves of the tax-hungry Governor General. It would be very unlikely that any such changes would drastically effect Canada's procedures and values. However, further distancing or severing our ties with the Commonwealth may be more harmful. The Commonwealth nations are interconnected in more ways than through annual meetings. The relationship between the Commonwealth nations is strong and stable and it is unified by a common belief in democracy and human rights. Separating the Queen from Canadian politics, culture, and heritage could create a perception of snobbery amongst some of our valued Commonwealth friends. Surely, the Commonwealth relationship is one that most Canadians would not want to compromise. Canada's lack of military strength may also mean that our national security depends on a continuum of well managed, international rapport.

Many Canadians also see more benefits in firing the Queen than they do in keeping her. This idea isn't just rampant amongst young Liberals, it has also been suggested by conservatives, libertarians, and socialists alike. It is an idea that spreads across many fields. The idea is based on a sense of stronger Canadian independence, not only economically or militarily, but culturally. Canada's sense of cultural independence is a strong catalyst for many anti-monarchist agendas.

One of these ideas spreading in Canada is called “Republicanism”. There is a group of four organized movements within the Commonwealth called Common Cause. The Canadian version is known as Citizens For A Canadian Republic. Its counterparts include Republic in the UK, The Australian Republican Movement, and The Republican Movement Of Aotearoa New Zealand. These movements seek to convert their nations from constitutional monarchies to constitutional republics. Rather than having a representative of the Queen as their head of state, these organizations seek to have a democratically elected person to replace the Governor General. This would be similar, but not identical, to the U.S. system in which the President is the official head of state.

“We're not bees, so why do we need a queen?” is a phrase often spouted by supporters of Canada's republican movement. What separates CCR from other anti-monarchist organizations is its support of the Commonwealth. The organization seeks to keep us in the Commonwealth but wants us to be recognized as an official Commonwealth republic, rather than a constitutional monarchy. Some unrecognized and sparse anti-monarchist groups in Canada continue to support Canada's annexation by the United States. One such group was Quebec's Parti 51. The United States is not a member of the Commonwealth.

Separatism in Canada has also contained elements of anti-monarchy and pro-republican ideals. Separatism in Quebec has had some influence from those advocating Quebec's independence from the British monarchy, given that Quebec's history is rooted more in French culture and has few ties to English heritage. The province once known as New France has less in common with the Royal Family than any of Canada's provinces, making Quebec's anti-monarchist sentiments more understandable. In provinces like Alberta, however, separatism is caused more by the actions of the Federal Government than by cultural history, but some of Alberta's separatist parties have had propositions for new governments that do not include the monarchy.

Succession from the monarchy could, in some minds, create a new era of Canadian independence. We could have our own president, a restructured executive branch, a new constitution, and a new outlook on global affairs. To some, there is no point in redefining Canada as a republic and eliminating the country's status as a constitutional monarchy. Some would say that we are just fine as we are. Some might see no need to fix something that is not broken. We are, however, still considered a free country. The Queen herself has had no hand in our politics aside from her status as a symbol. Simply removing her from our cultural symbols, traditions, ceremonies, and bank notes would seem futile unless we were to truly restructure our country's legislative processes, constitutional principles, and economic values. The discussions and debates about the monarchy have at times boiled over, simmered, and remained stagnant – largely because there is more division than consensus on the issue of what would replace our constitutional monarchy. Axing the monarchy is a unifying subject for some, but what should come after the monarchy is where the contention will remain.


Related links:  Harper Strengthening Ties To Monarchy (CTV)   Britons Say Monarchy Still Relevant (Guardian)

                           Citizens For A Canadian Republic