Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday September 20, 2022
The monarchy, Canada and the future
The world said goodbye to the Queen — and an era — Monday.
A funeral service at Westminster Abbey with heads of government, other dignitaries and family honoured Queen Elizabeth’s remarkable life of service with seven decades on the throne.
The throne has passed to King Charles III, who, at 73, comes into the role after a literal lifetime of watching and learning. He has pledged to carry on the role in his mother’s tradition, following her example of “selfless duty” and promise of “lifelong service.”
And yet he is not his mother.
The Queen’s death almost certainly marks the start of a diminished monarchy. Support for the monarchy was based, for some at least, on personal affection and respect for the Queen rather than full-throated support for the institution itself. That certainly seems to be the case here. Public opinion research by the Angus Reid Institute in April found that 55 per cent of Canadians supported remaining a constitutional monarchy as long as the Queen reigns. That dropped to 34 per cent if Charles was on the throne.
Even before her passing, change was underway. King Charles III takes over a realm much diminished from when his mother assumed the throne in 1952. In nations across the Commonwealth, debates have played out about continued ties to the monarchy.
In a week when most of the tributes to the Queen were glowing and uncritical, these debates are an important reminder of history. For all the attributes the Queen brought to her role, at the end of the day she represented an empire that in its history ruled over and exploited countries around the globe. That exploitation came in the form of violence, racism, slavery, raiding natural resources and robbing local economies, a legacy that is remembered by the citizens of those countries.
Across Africa, India and Caribbean nations among others, the monarchy is viewed with attitudes that range from indifference to anger to passionate demands for reparations and apologies for colonial acts such as enslavement.
Last year, Barbados severed its connections to the Crown and shifted from constitutional monarchy to a republic. Antigua and Barbuda expects to hold a referendum on whether it too should become a republic.
What about Canada? The country’s Indigenous peoples have their own painful history with the Crown, one marked by colonialism and genocide. Black people were enslaved in the colonies of British North America.
Is it worth rethinking therefore whether Canada should have its own head-of-state rather than one who resides an ocean away? We’ve already taken steps over the years to disentangle ourselves from London. In 1965, the maple leaf flag was proclaimed as the national flag, replacing the widely used Canadian Red Ensign. The Constitution was repatriated in 1982.
As a mature nation, we can surely have the discussions that are unfolding in other Commonwealth countries about ties to the Crown.
But know that the hurdles are daunting, perhaps insurmountable to ending Canada’s time as a constitutional monarchy. Such a fundamental change would dictate a national referendum. It would require provincial agreement and constitutional changes.
“Given just the sheer complexity of actually achieving the total unanimity of the provinces plus the federal Parliament, which includes the Senate, just on that technical basis it is impossible,” said University of Ottawa law Prof. Errol Mendes.
There’s also been a reluctance over the last few decades for federal governments to deal with “fundamental constitutional change,” said Andrew McDougall, professor of Canadian politics and public law at the University of Toronto.
Polls suggest Canadians are indifferent to the monarchy, viewing it as not relevant and outdated. But there are no groundswell demands for change. When more pressing issues loom, such as squeezed household budgets and climate change, it’s hard to make the case that ditching the monarchy should be the focus of our collective time and effort.
The better course would be to hold the monarchy accountable for the past and ensure it remains relevant for the present, priorities that now fall to the new King. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)