God save the constitutional Monarchy

Colby Cosh on why he will take his chances with the Royal Baby as head of state

by Colby Cosh

Paul Hackett/Reuters

Of course, of course, you’re obviously quite right: all the hubbub around the Royal Baby is silly. We all go harmlessly mad over a natural event that happens a million times every three days on this planet, and single out one ordinary infant for the imagined unfolding of a bizarre destiny that may in a zillion different ways go awry. And for what? What the hell do we Canadians gain by it?

The question is asked a lot, usually by people whose ancestors could just as easily have been Americans if they had wanted to be. Cranky republicans in the United Kingdom, one supposes, have the right to complain that they might have arranged things otherwise. They are stuck with the constitutional arrangements that prevail in their indigenous home, assuming that is where they wish to remain. But Canada was largely peopled by those who consciously preferred to live under British monarchical institutions, including the silly ones. Even the Québécois, who have poured generations of footloose francophones across the southern border, and the First Nations, who have (alas, increasingly theoretical) legal rights to ignore that border, have been sorted by time in this way.

So: if you don’t like the show, why are you still here? Too lazy to fix your ancestors’ collective mistake, eh? It’s a big world and there are plenty of republics, far more of them than monarchies. I hear parts of Laos are lovely.

I kid. But if you came from the dark side of the moon tomorrow and had no a priori reason to prefer either the “choose a head of state by some ostensibly rational method” system or the “get all het up over a basically random baby” system, surely you would find it at least a little odd that the second system produces such nice places to live, from New Zealand all the way around to the Netherlands. What is it about those damned babies exactly?

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Well, you have probably noticed that dynastic thinking isn’t limited to monarchies: you can ask the Kims of North Korea or the Kennedys of Hyannis Port. The secret of constitutional monarchies is not that they indulge the dynastic impulse, but that they have found a means of circumscribing it without losing the advantages. Chief amongst these, I think, is a sense of historical continuity: we still so clearly remember the new prince’s gin- and horse-loving great-great-grandmother, born in the reign of Victoria, and now comes R.B. himself, unlikely to warm the chair of St. Edward until even the youngest of you reading this are pensioners (if you’re lucky, and if “pensions” are still a thing). It provides a natural, almost enforced occasion for a species of “long now” panoramic, intergenerational thinking that various nerds and hucksters like to profit from.

It’s true that a domestic Canadian dynasty would do that job about as well, and this is the source for much of the odium in which our system is held by republicans. Dammit, Royal Baby isn’t even Canadian Royal Baby! Barring the overthrow of our Constitution, we are never likely to have a “Canadian” head of state who has grown up entirely amongst us. When you are finished having a cry about that, I would suggest reflecting upon the possible benefits: an indigenous Canadian head of state would have to be some particular person, wedded to one of our regions and official languages and political tribes and social classes and, indeed, component nations. Surely there is some merit in having ultimate last-resort legitimacy—an important plus of monarchy, as the Second World War taught—vested in an outsider. Maybe every country should have a king or queen from somewhere else, someone extremely intimate with its constitutional traditions and language but otherwise neutral; rooted, for safety, in other soil.

Or maybe that is the dumbest idea you’ve ever heard. But republicans do need to take the “particularity” factor into account in weighing their long-term chances. Until the debate over the fundamental Constitution gets serious, the choice is “imaginary elected president from my personal fantasies, perhaps a genetic cross between Barack Obama and Justin Timberlake” versus “actual living family that has had various difficulties and embarrassments.” This is inherently good ground for anti-monarchists to fight on, but only when there is no actual fight.

If we had an Australian-style referendum on the monarchy, the republicans would not only have to present an actual alternative system for criticism — which is what befouled the hopes of Australian republicans — undecideds would also be obliged to start imagining a world in which the personal fountainhead of political legitimacy might end up being Don Cherry or Rob Ford or George Stroumboulopoulos. I personally will take my chances with little R.B. God save the Queen.




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God save the constitutional Monarchy

  1. Canada was devised on an assumption that democracy cannot be completely trusted. A scoundrel, or party of them, might be able to dazzle voters, win an extraordinary election by majority, and bully the electorate, deny their rights, and enrich themselves at public expense. Hence, we have a Parliamentary system of government with an appointed Senate with sufficient power and independence to reject legislation passed by an elected lower House. It was logical, dare I say natural, to imagine the Queen or King of England as Head of State. So, Canada became a Constitutional Monarchy, rather than a republic with armed malitia firing guns at each other.

    The Oath to the Queen or King may seem archaic these days, even pointless to some, but it matters. Our civil service should not be loyal to scoundrels in office at any moment, rather it should be loyal to a higher authority, an assumed power to whom the ministers of government bear allegiance. All citizens should take this oath, not just new ones.

    We may have loyalty to our country, certainly we are entitled to it, but a Canadian should have a higher loyalty to the Crown. The distinction has become irrelevant, or academic to many of us, which is particularly sad. There are people who anticipate the crowning of Prince Charles with a disagreeable reflection of Camilla sitting beside her husband on the Throne. Yet, it is our loyalty to the institution of monarchy that matters rather more than the individuals who find themselves thrust into position by a death in the family.

    I was born Canadian. Dad, a farm boy from Grimsby, joined the RAF and served every day of the last Great War. We were not always friends, and our views about conscription and war were certainly divergent, but I understood the meaning of the Oath of Allegiance to the Crown the day I took it in July, 1975.

    It is unfortunate that so many Canadians fail to appreciate our heritage as a Constitutional Monarchy. Now that the new Royal has arrived for Kate and William, my wife and I plan to open a bottle of wine and share a toast. You should find ways to commemorate the occasion too. “I love these little people, and it is not a small thing, when they who are so fresh from God, love us.”(Dickens)

    • Maybe if the Constitutional Monarchy actually helped prevent “A scoundrel, or party of them … to dazzle voters … bully the electorate, deny their
      rights, and enrich themselves at public expense” we would be more respectful.

      As it stands, it’s the bully that picks the representative of the monarch, who is in turn so bound by tradition that aliens could land on parliament hill, assume control of the prime minister’s brain and the Governor General would act by reading a speech from the throne in Martian.

      • In fairness, Harper’s pick has not yet been tested in the fires of constitutional crisis. I agree that the system doesn’t work with media types on the viceregal throne, as with Jean & Clarkson.

        • I think Jean did very well in 2008 – she dealt with a government that would imminently be facing a vote of non-confidence, she gave a limited time, fixed a return date for parliament, and she did leave it to parliament to decide. Should it have been otherwise?

          • And In the case of the 2008 issue, she did her job too. Harper, as the Prime Minister, and the leader of the party the people elected to run the country, asked her to prorogue Parliament which is what he is legally allowed to do. And although it was a morally questionable request, the Governor General had no legal rights to prevent it. Now what if the GG was a President, elected as a Liberal or NDP member, do you think the same outcome would have occurred? And what happened in the next election? So perhaps, the GG was doing exactly what the people really wanted at the end of the day.

          • You mean intervening to keep the government from losing a vote of non-confidence, as they richly deserved to do? It was shameful.

      • I’m pretty sure that aliens landing on Parliament Hill and taking over the P.M.’s brain is exactly the sort of hypothetical that would make us all happy that the Prime Minister is not Commander in Chief of the Canadian Forces. Ironically, your own hypothetical is the sort of extreme example under which the Queen and the GG would actually be called upon to use their reserve powers.

        • I plead guilty to hyperbole, but it’s only because I can’t think of a situation in which the office of Governor General could be relied on to act on our behalf.

          • The King-Byng Affair?

          • In 1926?

            Oh that’s useful

          • Compared to a hypothetical alien invasion and government takeover?

            I think it is, yes.

          • Is that what you’re talking about? Go get your meds.

          • Yes we were talking about that, in my admittedly hyperbolic example above. You’re free not to join in, but it’s a bit rude to suggest that LKO needs medication when he was worrying about my sanity not his own. Druggist medicate thyself!

          • Ahh sorry….I was unaware you were the trouble maker. LOL

            Yes, the GG has never been much use….and right when we needed one too.

          • The Harper prorogue? The Election date law?

    • Canadian women had to appeal to the British Privy Council in 1929 to be declared legally persons under the meaning of the British North America Act, so that they could hold positions of authority such as magistrate and senator, after the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that they weren’t. See the Persons Case.

      I like having that kind of backup.

  2. Good column. The rational side of me can’t figure out why the emotional side of me wants to retain the monarchy. The rational side of me thinks it’s all pretty silly. There’s really no good reason why we put one person, or one family, on a pedestal because they’re of ‘royal blood.’ The whole idea is laughable. But if you asked me if we should boot the monarchy, I’d be hard pressed to give it a thumbs up. But you’ve hit the nail on the head — it’s historical continuity. I LIKE having that connection. At least, that’s the explanation the rational side of me is going to have to live with.

    • The rational explanation is that authority itself is not rational and is thus perfectly represented by the fiction of “royal blood.” Compared to other such fictions, i.e. the ideology du jour, it’s harmless.

    • Dennis The Peasant – “Listen. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony …. You can’t expect to wield supreme power just ’cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!”

      In theory, I do not support the monarchy either because it is wildly elitist and not remotely egalitarian but in practice it works well and there is no reason to tinker with success. UK, Canada …. we have remarkably stable, peaceful history compared to other countries and why should we fiddle with a system that is successful?

      Also, there is something atavistic about monarchy. I am in early 40s and my entire life I’ve had one queen – it is going to be discombobulating when the queen dies. She’s always been there. And than there’s her grandson who recently got married to a lovely commoner and have produced another generation that brought the world’s attention. It is like being part of a big querulous family.

      • Stable, peaceful history? On what planet?

        The queen has about 14 years left….and then there’s Charles and Camilla…and he’s already known for ignoring the constitution and interfering over everything.

        William will likely be in his 50′s, and a different person before he gets a look-in……assuming the monarch still exists after Charles.

        • I know you don’t appreciate inconvenient facts, but try to consider that the last real domestic insurgency Canada has had was the Riel Rebellion in 1885. Britain has had centuries of problems in Ireland, but generally has been very politically stable. The last major political upheavals were Cromwell’s Commonwealth and the Glorious Revolution. Let’s consider France as an opposing example: revolution in 1789, reign of terror for the following decade, expansionist empire that embroiled Europe in war for another decade or so, return of the Bourbon monarchy, another revolution against the excesses of the Bourbons, another empire, another republic, more turmoil, another republic, more turmoil, another republic. Or perhaps you’d prefer Russia or Germany as other examples of republican history.

          • How about the FLQ? Or Oka?

            And both the UK and Canada have been off to war on a regular basis.

            Plus the Abdication crisis, IRA etc.

            A remarkable amount of ‘turmoil’

            It isn’t a buffet ya know.

          • Both the FLQ crisis and Oka are notable for how limited they were and how quickly and completely they were resolved. The FLQ crisis can’t touch the activities of the Red Army Faction, the Baader-Meinhoff Gang, ETA, M13, or FARC. Oka represented a couple of months of stand-off, resolved without injuries or death. Compare that to Chechnya or Kosovo. As far as UK/Canadian military activities, there’s a difference between choosing to take military action and being forced to respond to military action in one’s own country.

          • Martial law all across Canada isn’t ‘limited’….and the damage from Oka is ongoing.

            Don’t compare us to countries that have been around for centuries or millennia…..we have enough problems as it is, young as we are

            Most of our wars were on the order of the UK

          • When did we have martial law declared all across Canada?

          • 1970

          • Well, we can argue over whether or not the War Measures Act constituted “martial law”, but leaving that aside, do you have any examples of a single act related to the invocation of the War Measures Act during the October crisis that happened outside of Quebec and the national capital region?

          • No, YOU can argue….but then you argue about everything.

            I was in Alberta in the military at the time. The War Measures Act [which has been used 3X in our history] covers all of Canada. Troops were called out in Quebec and Ottawa and could have been elsewhere.

            Apprehended insurrection. Today it would be called terrorism

          • The War Measures Act may cover all of Canada, but it doesn’t invoke martial law.

            What’s more, troops were called out in Quebec and Ottawa under the National Defence Act, not the War Measures Act. Their role was to guard vulnerable buildings, infrastructure and individuals. They had no law enforcement or judicial role, hence, not martial law. And, by no means “all across Canada”.

          • Troops could be called out anywhere at anytime under the War measures act.

            As I said, I was in the military in Alberta at the time.

          • Troops COULD have been called out anywhere at anytime under the War Measures Act, but they WEREN’T. Even the troops in Quebec and Ottawa weren’t put on guard duty under the powers of the War Measures Act.

            That the War Measures Act COULD have been used to declare martial law doesn’t change the fact that it wasn’t.

          • Lordluvaduck Kitchener……yer gonna fall off that ledge reaching like that

            We were trying to prevent it from spreading any further, or getting worse….but the govt was prepared if it had.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_Measures_Act#The_October_Crisis

            If that’s the best you can do, you’re finished. Ciao

          • Yeah, notice the total lack of the words “martial law” in that Wikipedia article.

            More to the point, click on the full article on the October crisis where it is explained that while troops on the streets guarding buildings and people may have given the APPEARANCE of martial law, martial law was never in effect.

            The problem here, it seems to me, is that you don’t understand the definition of “martial law”.

          • Are you still being an idiot?

            I’ll repeat…..for the last time…..I was in the military in 1970.

            So far you’ve been like the mule that needed to be hit with a 2X4.

            [rolls eyes]

          • Being in the military and understanding that martial law was never enacted during the October crisis are clearly two different things.

            Unless you’re claiming that you secretly arrested someone while you served, or served on a military tribunal that sat in judgement of a civilian in 1970 then your status as an active service member during that time doesn’t lend any weight to your claim that something that didn’t actually happen actually did.

            No part of Canada came under martial law in 1970. It just never happened.

          • Oh give it a rest Kitch….you weren’t even around back then, much less in the military….and yer denser than Sherwood Forest to boot.

            Why are posters on here so slow?

            Ciao.

          • I wasn’t around during WWII either, but I know that the Germans never bombed Ohio.

          • You appear to know nothing…not even in your own back yard. Snails are faster than you!

            And I said Ciao.

          • But the troops were no called out anywhere at anytime under the War measures act, were they?

          • Ottawa and Quebec….support to the civil authorities upon request of Bourassa and Drapeau

            The civil authorities aid is like being called out for floods and snow and ice storms, but it backed up the police and the extra powers they were given. Provided muscle in the background if needed….tends to deter people

      • Ah! See! Come see the violence inheriting the system!

        Help! I’m being repressed!

  3. It’s always amazing how many people are keen to tug that forelock and bend that knee. The very reasons we left the old country behind.

    The natural subservience of colonials I guess, even with our time-share monarch.

    • It’s always amazing how many people are keen to tug that forelock and bend that knee. The very reasons we left the old country behind.

      Where do you get this notion that the monarchy is the reason we “left the old country behind”. The very history of Canada is, in fact, the opposite. We’re the country that stayed loyal, and deliberately DIDN’T abandon the monarchy.

      Republicans often seem to lament the fact that Canada didn’t abandon the monarchy, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the decision not to do so is pretty fundamental to what makes us Canadian. For people who wish we had overthrown the monarchy and established a republic, there’s an option for them right next door that I suggest they look in to.

      • Oh, no, don’t you dare send EmilyOne down here. I think we’d be justified in treating that as an act of war.

        • Zing!

      • Most Canadians that came from the UK left it for that reason. Settlers that wanted land, remittance men, religious persecution, poverty, social status etc

        What we didn’t want was ‘war’. And since the King was safely across the pond, and this country was big….it was easy enough to avoid.

        The Americans just wanted to avoid taxes….as usual…so again as usual, they went to war.

        That is the character of both countries to this day.

        PS I meant to add that those who prefer a monarchy and all it’s trappings should go live in England and be done with it….but Hester/Tony did it for me. Even though s/he lives here.

        • The notion that most Canadians who settled here from the U.K. left the U.K. to get away from the monarchy is so fundamentally flawed that I don’t even know where to begin.

          Any people who did leave the U.K. for Canada in order to get away from the monarchy were vastly outnumbered by people who were sent to Canada BY THE MONARCH.

          • Yeah, all those starving Irish that came here loved the monarchy right?

            The Scots who fled the Clearances too eh?

            Remittance men were sent here, yes. And govt officials were sent out to train the colonials. Often the same thing…heh.

            Ontario is strongly Celtic ya know.

          • The starving Irish came because they were starving.

            And Scots who came here after the clearances picked an odd place to come to if their primary purpose was to get away from the monarchy. Our greatest military hero (maybe second if you prefer Brock) in the pre-Confederation history of Canada fought for the Crown at Culloden.

          • Oh, and why were they starving?

            And why would Scots peasants care about the Crown at Culloden?

          • And why would Scots peasants care about the Crown at Culloden?

            Wait, what???

            You JUST SAID that many Scots came here because of the clearances, and now you’re wondering why those same Scots would care about the Battle of Culloden??? That doesn’t make any sense to me.

          • Amazingly, starving people care very little about blokes running about with swords and such and fighting about thrones.

          • You keep going back and forth between “starving people don’t care about thrones and monarchs” and “all these people left to get away from the monarchy”. It can’t be both simultaneously.

          • Yes, it can.

            They don’t care who is on the throne, it all comes down the same to the people on the bottom.

          • Um, you do know, don’t you, Emily that most of the Jacobites who were exiled to the American colonies supported the Crown during the American War of Independence and not the rebels? I kid ye not.

          • Of course they did…they were royalists.

          • Ontario is strongly Celtic ya know.

            As an Ontarian who’s father was born in Scotland I was aware of the (now comparatively small given immigration from other lands) amount of Scots and Irish ancestry of many Ontarians.

            I’m also aware that Ontario’s provincial motto is Ut incepit Fidelis sic permanet.

            “Loyal she began, loyal she remains”.

          • Doesn’t say what we’re loyal to, laddie. LOL

          • RIIIIGHT. We’re loyal to unicorns, perhaps.

            Hence, the United Unicorn Loyalists.

          • I see LKO is seeking to have a rational conversation with Emily. Good luck with that.

          • You define ‘rational’ as anything YOU agree with.

        • My ancestors came here from Connecticut because their loyalty to George III cost them everything except the clothes on their backs and whatever they could cram into an oxcart, which they had to navigate through hundreds of miles of dense forest and swamps in order to start anew. They, and the other UEL’s, founded provinces like New Brunswick and Ontario, and cities like Toronto. They fought American aggression in 1812, building – and dying for – the modern democracy we all enjoy today.

          Canada exists in no small measure on the loyalty these people have for the Crown. The USA, on the other hand, exists for the opposite reason.

          It seems that you may have made the wrong choice.

          • What a lovely founding story…..I particularly like the ox-cart.

            Refugees for sure.

            You’re a typcial Canadian though. Over two centuries later you’re still complaining about it.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Empire_Loyalist

          • By the wording of your reply, you obviously do not consider yourself a typical Canadian.

            For the record, the folks to the south of us continually reference Washington, Jefferson, etc. and I heard a Canadian commentator sympathetic to your view quoting Thomas Paine – that was also two centuries ago.

            In the end, just because I disagree with you doesn’t invalidate my opinion. If you think that a little nasty sarcasm and condescension on your part is going to break me into a cold sweat and turn me into a republican, then you overestimate both the power of your argument and the power of your personality.

          • No, I’m not a typical Canadian. I’m also not required to conform. Nor will we get ahead if we are ‘typical’ and ‘conforming’

            I want to see Canada as a world leader in a knowledge economy, and at last developing a unique culture.

            Not as a colony.

    • “The natural subservience of colonials I guess … ”

      July 2013 The Spectator :

      Colonial rule: Why Aussies, Kiwis and Canadians are running Britain –

      From Westminster to Lords, from Threadneedle Street to the try line, a theme is emerging. The Dominions are rapidly gaining dominion —  over us. You need to go back to wartime Britain, 1940, to find an era where there was such an influential group of the Monarch’s overseas subjects.

      http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/8966091/colonial-rule-why-aussies-kiwis-and-canadians-are-running-britain/

      • Because they’re all considered…and consider themselves….British colonials.

        Of course people from Hong Kong, various African states, and Middle Easterners have happily shown up in the ‘mother country’ as well. The UK isn’t impressed.

        PS I’m glad to hear that no women do. LOL

        • You think Australians, New Zealanders, Africans, Middle Easterners and Hong Kong Chinese consider themselves “British colonials”? Have you ever travelled outside of Canada in your life?

          • Many of them do, and are quite happy about it…… Oz is torn on the monarchy issue, Africans have often mentioned they liked the UK better…..and many Hong Kong Chinese attempted to become British citizens when China was about to take over the island.

    • Not to be picky, but English speaking Canada exists because of the United Empire Loyalists – people who were made refugees from the 13 colonies precisely because of their loyalty to the Crown. Their grandchildren joined Aboriginal peoples and British troops in 1812 to oppose a war of aggression in order to preserve that system. It galls me to no end when people don’t associate Canada with the Crown. That’s like saying Paris would be a beautiful city if only the locals would stop speaking French.

      • It was over two centuries ago. Time to be a separate country.

        • We are a separate country. Crack open a history or civics book once in a while.

          • No, we’re a British colony and Harp is digging us in deeper.

  4. Why exactly do we need a head of state again?

    • Ribbon-cutting.

      Oh, and rubber-stamping.

      • Can’t the Governor General do that?

        • Yup….and does. Which is why we don’t need a monarch.

          • Its an atavistic function. Why we require ours to be descendent of an eighteenth century Bavarian princess is beyond me.

          • We need to leave atavism behind.

          • In the Canadian context, I prefer to think of her as the descendant of a 16th Century English Queen, but maybe that’s just me. It was, after all, Elizabeth I who founded the first colony at Newfoundland, not Anne over 100 years later.

            I suppose there’s a better argument to be made though to just trace the monarchy back to Victoria, the Queen of Canada established as such directly by the Parliament of Canada.

          • I was thinking of the 1701 Act of Settlement, which requires our head of state to 1) not be a Catholic, and 2) be a direct descendent of Sophia of Hanover. All in all, a profoundly racist and bigoted piece of our constitution.

          • It does not apply to the citizens of Canada or the UK. Citizens of Canada or the UK can marry someone from whatever religious group they wish. The monarch is not a citizen.

          • I was referring to the fact that our head of state is constitutionally required to be a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.

          • Protestant, yes, due to the Monarch’s simultaneous role as Head of the Church of England, but not white. I don’t believe there is anything in the law that would have prevented William from marrying someone of another race and having a baby who wasn’t white, nor that would prevent said child from becoming King or Queen.

          • True enough. I suppose its more a ‘blood’ thing than a ‘race’ thing per se.

  5. Good piece. I’m fed up with sourpuss republicans who have no alternative choices, or want to kiss Harper’s ring.

    • As someone who kisses Harper’s ring (or at least votes for him for lack of better alternatives) I too appreciate the monarchy. With the monarchy, I can swear fealty to the Queen, and my opposition to the government of the day is not disloyalty to my nation. Republics don’t really have that luxury.

      Isn’t it wonderful that despite our differing political views, we can both be loyal Canadians?

  6. an amazing column!!!! My grandmother choose this country BECAUSE of its constitutional monarchy status. She lived under the Queen in Guyana and saw the country go to the dogs when they asked and were granted independence. Fighting/campaigning for a head-of-state every couple of years divides the country into political party alliances, with no single person able to unite them all as every one belongs to some party or the other. The Queen and the monarchy does that, and it’s why this country is the BEST place on Earth.

  7. An amazing article!!! My grandmother chose Canada BECAUSE of its status under the monarchy. She was born under and enjoyed life under Her Majesty as well as her predecessors in Guyana, and saw the country go to the dogs when they asked for and were granted independence. Fighting/campaigning for a head-of-state every couple of years divides a country into political party alliances. No single person can unite the country because they are each from some party or the other. The Queen and the monarchy are able to do that, and that is what makes Canada the BEST country on Earth.

  8. The Monarchy works well in the UK, but suppose in a remote unsophisticated country far from Buckingham Palace, a Governor General system was used to represent the Monarch, and the sitting government leader who appointed this person was able to control him or her completely?

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