Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday June 10, 2022
Easier to use than lose the monarchy
The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations have come and gone in this country without a lot of the Canadian public even realizing they were ever even here. In the United Kingdom, a four-day feel-good holiday saw 2,000 street parties, rock concerts and thousands of jubilant Brits cheering the monarch outside Buckingham Palace. Our Commonwealth cousins, the Australians, enthusiastically kicked up their heels in four days of festivities, too, as landmarks across their antipodean nation were bathed in royal-purple lights, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese lit a special Commonwealth beacon and an island was renamed in Elizabeth’s honour. But in Canada, the loudest sounds came from crickets.
The best you can say about the federal government’s underwhelming response is that it was a foolproof cure for insomnia. Yes, there was a three-day whirlwind tour in May of Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, that saw them stop in Newfoundland and Labrador, Ottawa and the Northwest Territories but, strangely, get nowhere near any of the country’s very biggest cities. Ho hum. If the government had deliberately set out to stage a mainly invisible non-event, it could not have succeeded better, something John Fraser, of the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada called “embarrassing.”
Fraser may be in the minority. An Angus Reid poll from April reported that 51 per cent of respondents oppose this country continuing as a constitutional monarchy, though most by far personally admired the Queen. Yet despite such ambivalent views, there are strong reasons to conclude Canada just missed out on several nationally-unifying opportunities. First — and whatever the future holds for the Canadian Crown — we squandered the chance to properly commemorate Elizabeth’s extraordinary achievement of being the longest reigning monarch in not just British but Canadian history. It was an ungenerous move on Ottawa’s part.
The beating heart of this jubilee is a woman who has committed her life to public service since 1952 and continues to make a few public appearances at the age of 96. As Canada’s head of state, she has done everything this country has asked of her for 70 years, ever since Louis St. Laurent was prime minister. To be sure, Canada has changed phenomenally since she ascended the throne; but she remains a living symbol of our shared traditions and values as well as a cornerstone of Canadian democracy.
That brings us to Point 2: Had Ottawa marked this jubilee with more than indifference it could have reminded Canadians that we remain a constitutional monarchy. The Crown is embedded in the warp and woof of our political fabric and speaks to the deliberate division between our Head of State (the Queen) and the head of government (Justin Trudeau). Power, legally speaking, resides in the Crown even though the Queen and her representative, the Governor General, use it rarely and only in urgent situations. But while the PM and his government wield the power, they do so only with House of Commons majority support. They are ephemeral. The Crown is permanent, or at least it has been throughout the 155 years of Canadian Confederation.
Time, of course, frays many traditional bonds. And with the ongoing reckoning with a colonial past that too often devastated Indigenous Peoples, the old bonds, symbols and ways are increasingly being questioned and, in some cases, tossed. But those who would criticize the monarchy in this country face an uphill slog if they want to dump it. For starters, we’d have to decide what should replace the monarchy. Do we elect a governor general in a nationwide vote? Sounds complicated. How about a republic, with an all-powerful president as head of state — someone who might turn out to be a Donald Trump? Oops.
And even if someone came up with a reasonable alternative, divesting ourselves of the Crown could never happen without the approval of the House of Commons, Senate, and every provincial legislature. That constitutional bar’s almost impossible to clear. And remember: When the changes proposed in the Meech Lake accord failed to achieve this in the 1990s, the result was a national unity crisis, a near-miss for Quebec separation and the destruction of the old Progressive Conservative party. Want to dance through this mine field again?
As a respected and, in some quarters, beloved monarch heads into her final years, perhaps we should have these discussions. But people should speak up with their eyes wide open. A little clear foresight might convince us to find new ways to use the Canadian monarchy rather than try to lose it. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)