Going Queen-less easier said than done

Bling: Some rapper thinks he invented it?“The majority of us in this country are not merely British only by naturalization, but British by pride,” the Canadian Jewish Chronicle wrote on May 19, 1944. “Though we are Canadians first, the love and hope of the most of us is with the British connection, the British Commonwealth of Nations — the widest system of organized human freedom that has ever existed.”

These words might seem strange today. Though Canada and Britain share a common language, the former colonial ties have long since faded away, having been replaced with a mutually respectful but business-like and unsentimental relationship.

This changed relationship has, from time to time, raised the question of whether or not Canada should cut its ties with the British monarchy. To this day, whoever happens to be the British monarch automatically assumes the title of Queen (or King) of Canada by law. A June 2010 Harris-Decima poll of 1,000 Canadians found the population evenly divided on the question of whether or not Canada should maintain its links to the monarchy.

By comparison, an October 1977 Gallup poll of 1,034 Canadians found supporters of the monarchy outnumbering critics by a two-to-one margin — 59 percent to 28 percent.

Questions about the monarchy’s future in Canada were raised again this week when Australian prime minister Julia Gillard, in her final days on the campaign trail before Australians go to the polls this Saturday, announced her hope that Queen Elizabeth II would be the final British monarch to act as Australia’s official head of state.

This is a familiar debate for Australians. In November 1999, voters there turned down a proposed constitutional change that would have turned Australia into a republic. The vote split — 55% “no” versus 45% “yes” — was close enough, however, to ensure that the question would arise again.

What would have to happen for such a vote to be held in Canada?

First of all, there would have to be an instigating factor. Britain and Australia have had a tempestuous relationship for years whereas Anglo-Canadian relations can be characterized more as a polite acquaintanceship.

The downloading of the Queen’s responsibilities to the Governor-General — though unpopular with hardcore Canadian monarchists — has also prevented anything from happening that might come across as outside interference in our internal affairs.

That lack of an instigating factor makes it difficult to argue for change.

Let’s say, however, that Parliament did introduce legislation to officially abolish the monarchy in Canada.

That would be a major change to our entire system of government — we’re not talking about a three-page private members’ bill here.

The monarchy is so embedded into the Constitution — “the Queen” gets 40 or so mentions in the British North America Act alone, which is just one of several constitutional documents — that it would be less complicated to write a new constitution from scratch than to edit what’s there now.

The reason why it would be less complicated: The Queen and the Governor-General have far more powers than most people realize.

The Queen can, if she were sufficiently deranged or prankish, order a Canadian invasion of Luxembourg (she is commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces under Sec. 15 of the British North America Act) and then move the nation’s capital to Reindeer Island in the middle of Lake Winnipeg (under Sec. 16, which reads, “Until the Queen otherwise directs the Seat of Government of Canada shall be Ottawa.”) (Italics are mine.)

The Governor-General also has wide-ranging powers. Governor-General Michaelle Jean, if she were inclined to go out with a bang later this year, could exercise her right to fill Senate vacancies with random people chosen out of the phone book (Sec. 24), dissolve the House of Commons and call an election (Sec. 50), veto a few bills (Sec. 55) and appoint a few judges (Sec. 96).

Reopen the constitution, and you have a tricky problem on your hands. Try to install a figurehead president who will defer to the will of the prime minister — as Australia tried to do in 1999 — and the public will revolt at this attempt to make the head of state into the PM’s puppet. (This, and not a deep and abiding love for the House of Windsor, was likely what led to the Australian republican movement’s 1999 defeat.)

Try to install an elected figurehead president, however, and you have to tread very carefully to ensure that you don’t end up with a two-headed government led by warring camps at Rideau Hall and 24 Sussex Drive, or at least ensure that the constitution places very strict limits on how and when the president can use his/her powers.

The provinces — which must unanimously approve any constitutional changes affecting the monarchy — would also have to be brought into the loop. With all ten provincial governments having a veto, it would be virtually impossible for a federal government to get a new constitution in place without having to make massive — and, at times, contradictory — concessions to the provinces.

Just ask former prime minister Brian Mulroney — who famously rolled the dice on the Meech Lake Accord 20 years ago and lost big time — how easy it would be to secure a deal.

Then it would have to go to the public in a referendum. Sort of. There is no legal requirement that the government hold referendums on constitutional changes, but the 1992 vote on the Charlottetown Accord — another calamitous Mulroney-led attempt at constitution writing that met the same fate as Meech — effectively set the precedent that voters would have the final say on any future major constitutional changes.

That might be easy to pull off if a 50-percent-plus-one vote is needed for victory, or difficult if the feds and the provinces agree that there will be no change unless the “yes” side wins a majority in all 10 provinces.

As much as having a person living here in Canada as our head of state makes sense, given all the complications it might just be easier to wait for Britain to dump the monarchy and become a republic first.

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About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

One Response to Going Queen-less easier said than done

  1. Richard Fallis says:

    The monarchy is not the problem.

    The problem is the way the country is governed by top-down think-alike know-betters.

    Canada needs to be reconfigured along the Swiss model, or if Quebec can be persuaded to finally go, a de-centralized republic would do just as well.

    Ridding Canada of the Queen and her heirs will not a nation make.

    Especially if Canadians insist on repeating the white lies of a bilingual, bi-cultural, multi-cultural yadda yadda yadda country that has no common language, no common culture, and no common protection under the law.

    Grow up. Grow a spine. Demand change. Real change that counts.

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