Who will be king of Canada?

Now they’re both in waiting. Whoever prevails, there’s never been a better time to renew our royal roots

by John Fraser

Highnesses-in-Training greet Monarch of the North" © Charles Pachter 2011

Everything is in readiness for Prince William to receive Catherine Middleton on Friday, April 29, when she takes the long walk down Westminster Abbey’s storied nave and they pledge to each other “to have and to hold, for better, for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health.”

The RAF trumpeters will be standing ready for their post-signing fanfare; the princess-to-be managed to get herself confirmed into the Church of England in the nick of time; Prince Harry will be planning some sort of practical joke in the manner of the better sort of best men; and the Middletons, père et mère, have probably worked out what on Earth they will say to the Prince of Wales and Camilla, duchess of Cornwall as they ride together during the carriage ride from the Abbey to Buckingham Palace after the ceremony.

Most of the burning questions of the day will have been answered by the day’s end, from the name of the fashion designer who got to make the Dress of Dresses to whether or not the bride’s over-the-top millionaire uncle (his colourful-sounding residence on the Spanish island of Ibiza is called La Casa de Bang-Bang) behaved himself at the palace. The only real question that can’t be answered, despite all the royalist hoopla, is whether or not William will ever be king. That’s king as in King of Canada.

Up until around the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, not many doubted the sovereign’s inherited right to sit upon the throne. But today the story is no longer about the man who will be king. Now there’s two of them waiting their turn: father and son, Charles and William. Undoubted right, alas, no longer exists. The monarchy, like everything else, has to justify itself.

In Canada, it’s complicated in that the Canadian monarchy looks remarkably like the English one, minus most of the irritating bric-a-brac (like palaces, ladies in waiting, the royal mews, and the divorced duchess of York). We have made constitutional arrangements that pretty well ensure an automatic succession of the Crown of Canada from the reigning monarch, Elizabeth II, to her eldest son, the current Prince of Wales. This irks some; others are reassured, but still worry about the republican spirit of the age.

Among Canadians who resent our lingering connections to the Crown, there is a strong feeling that once Queen Elizabeth II has died, it will be the appropriate time to sever “our last colonial links.” The widespread respect and affection held for the Queen, however, undermines this argument. If she has done such a good job that we wouldn’t want to precipitate anything nasty before she dies, doesn’t that—in effect—make the case for a constitutional monarchy? There are other good reasons to retain the Crown in Canada, not the least being the way it has evolved into a Canadian institution through the viceregal offices of governor general and the 10 lieutenant-governors of the provinces. The Crown also gives us some practical and iconic different from You Know Who south of the border.

On the republican side are two big issues. First is the whole notion of a hereditary monarchy, especially one that favours the male gender and insists that the sovereign be a member of the Church of England. It simply goes against the grain to trust anyone in high office simply because of the circumstances of his or her birth, especially when it’s mostly “his.” Second, there is the question of the Prince of Wales, who is now almost routinely dismissed as a loose cannon, or—to give it some Canadian edge—a wild loon.

Prince Charles is one of the most intriguing human beings alive today. He has accepted that it will still be a long time before he is king, if he ever will be. Early on, he seems to have made a decision that if he was to leave any mark in the world, it wouldn’t be as a short-lived sovereign (his grandmother did live to 101 and his mother, the Queen, looks set to match the record), it would be as Prince of Wales.

Consequently, he has chosen to identify himself with causes that have won him many admirers, but also a wide swath of enemies, from outraged republican journalists, parliamentarians and modernist architects, to those who loathe alternate medicine and holistic religion. This is because he has been a courageous visionary, unafraid of controversy, for what are now crusading issues of deep concern, from massive pollution and other leading ecological battlefronts to working with the poor and disadvantaged. He gets terrible press in Britain, but by almost any measure he is a good man trying to do the best he can with the position fate has given him. He has refused to accept the dictum that because he is unelected, he has to shut up. On many of these issues, in fact, he sounds alarmingly…Canadian.

And then there’s this, which is pertinent right now. One of the nicest things about Prince Charles is the way he has been such a good father, despite screwing up his notoriously mismatched marriage. No broken marriage has ever been subjected to as much scrutiny as his and no one has carried on with as much grace. One of the nicest things about Prince William, too, is the way he clearly loves his father, is proud of his achievements and courage and defends him whenever he gets the chance.

Intellectually, the republican argument is hard to beat in the contemporary world. About the only thing that keeps it in check is experience, practical reality and the one thing the republicans utterly lack: the romance and magic of monarchy that has been worked into both the geography and history of Canada. Or, as Pascal famously pointed out, “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.”

All this works in William’s favour. In addition, the Australian experience still resonates. When the only referendum on the subject was held in 1999, the majority of Australian sentiment, we were repeatedly told, was republican. The subsequent debate, however, became not one of monarchy versus republic, but between federal and state power and a clearly republican population that nevertheless opted to retain the Crown rather than give increased authority to an elected federal system. For Canada, as for Australia, the lesson was that this messy question is left best untouched and the status quo—which has the useful quality of actually working—is best left alone. Now, more than a decade later, republican sentiment in Australia has waned.

Not upsetting the apple cart isn’t much of a support system for a future King Charles III or King William V of Canada. It sounds a bit like, “Lie on your back, shut your eyes and think of Canada,” as the Crown stutters on in its strange, uncharted ways, attacked by leading academics and journalists but tolerated and sometimes loved by the public. Death by neglect and wilful ignorance looked set to be our heritage, and may still be. What was so interesting last summer in the great success of the Queen and Prince Philip’s trip to Canada, however, was not the remarkable enthusiasm of the population, but especially the degree to which the federal government supported the idea of the Crown and the person of the Queen as assets and part of the uniqueness of Canada.

Right now, there has never been a better time to renew our connection to our Crown roots: the wedding of the second-in-line to the throne and the imminent celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II also come at a time when Canada—despite all its issues and problems—seems, to outsiders anyway, the best and most fortunate country in the world. Crown and country: an old notion newly revived? God save the evolving status quo! Long may it reign!




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Who will be king of Canada?

  1. I'm gonna puke.

  2. Regardless of whether we consider the Governor General position to be an extension of the monarchy or not, I think the position itself should exist in some form.

    I think it's important to have someone who is well respected and knowledgeable about the constitution in this position.

    Someone who is not beholden to partisan interests, and someone who makes the few important decisions they are faced with, without concern for their personal popularity.

    It's a position of true statesmanship, a unifying figure that allows us all to be Canadian together, rather than divided into political parts.

    I think this also allows the parliament to do its business without concern for the niceties, since naturally, political debate and decision is a messy and often nasty business.

  3. "Who will be King of Canada?" "Now that they both are in waiting…" What nonsense. It isn't a competition. If Charles out lives his mother, he is king. End of story. Don't try and gin up the situation into some completely and utterly fake rivalry between father and son.

    If there is so much appetite for the Royal Family, just try and have one of them sit for a term as GG. Really think about it. Could there be anything more alien to Canadian sentiments than actually having a hereditary ruler permanently domiciled in Canada? Yet, this is what we have, save the domiciled.

  4. The monarchy vs republic debate always forgets that there are those most Canadian of options available: a third way. The objection to the monarchy is our "foreign" head of state and its hereditary nature. The objection to a republic is its overt similarities to the United States, potential changes to Federal authority and the loss of things uniquely Canadian (Royal Canadian Mounted Police etc…).

    We can however, address almost all of these objections however by reforming the monarchy. Ultimately the Crown is a symbol of the authority and sovereignty of the Canadian state. We can choose to whom we entrust the Crown and we can choose to entrust the Crown to one of our own as an appointed, non-hereditary monarch (there are historic precedences, although not in the British tradition). Obviously, we will need to devise a method of making an appropriate selection, but there are other choices than maintaining a hereditary monarchy or becoming another boring, common, ordinary republic.

    • While my first choice would be to simply change the succession to direct the Canadian Crown to another royal than Charles or William, thus "repatriating" the monarchy, the idea of a non-hereditary monarch is a good one (the Vatican is essentially such a thing) since it retains the concept of the crown as the organizing principle of Canada and simplifies issues relating to things like aboriginal treaties.

      We could probably start by reforming the method of selecting the Governor General. My own idea is to form a council composed of the ten Lieutenant Governors who would act as a kind of 'jury' to select the next Governor General. Such a selection process essentially removes the potential of partisanship influencing the selection of the Governor General since the Lieutenant Governors are already supposed to be non-partisan and don't stand for re-election (and their selection process could also be reformed). This procedure could then be used to choose the monarch, of whatever title (anything with "governor" would be inappropriate for a monarch while we might not want to call a non-hereditary and possibly term-limited monarch a king/queen). My suggestion would be something like Prince High Steward ("Prince" in the general sense of a sovereign as in a Prince-Bishop or Machiavelli's The Prince). The 'High Steward' part of the title captures the role of the monarch in being the ultimate ensurer of "peace, order and good government" while the 'Prince' part captures the sovereign aspect.

  5. Great article John Fraser but Catherine Middleton took the long walk up the aisle to be married. (Up to the front of the abbey.)

    I'm about to give up. Peter Mansbridge referred to Trooping of the Colour several times today and Diana is still being referred to as Princess Diana, a title she never had.

  6. John Fraser, whoever you are, I can see by your name and sentiments that you are really an obsequious Brit at heart if not by birth. You need to have your "betters" in this world to make you feel comfortable but don't pine for this kind of class crap over here. Go and live in Britain and see how far you get if you don't have the right accent because this is what the monarchy represents – aristocracy versus commoners – who by the way are generally nice people but lack the guts to overthrow a system that has been wrong for several hundred years. Furthermore when you talk about "You Know Who" to the south, you should know they got rid of your beloved monarchal system over 200 years ago and rose to become the greatest country in the world (at least for the present ), a position Canada will never attain while saddled with a foreign monarchy, indeed any monarchy. The leading countries today are all republics with the exception of Britain which is second tier and Japan which is first tier but doesn't have the cultural problem Britain has. Canada is third tier along with the smaller European monarchies and will, like them, never rise above that level with its thinking and thinkers like you.

  7. May Denethor, son of Ecthelion reign over us…

  8. I will be King of Canada, William Gregory Reid from Torono, Ontario, Canada

  9. It is so sad that one of the first arguments of this article is that we should deny ourselves a republic because the US has one and it would seem like copying them. If there was something that was more wimpy, I have not heard it. The US didn’t invent democracy or the republican system of government and nationhood. Another sad argument is that the monarchy is like a real life Disney trip with magic and fantasy so it is better for us. Once before, we had a reason to retain the monarchy, but, today we don’t. I mean, the HEAD of our nation DOESN’T EVEN LIVE IN OUR COUNTRY! How pathetic is that?? Where’s the charm and glamour now? Instead, we have to look at an unelected representative who does whatever, the public doesn’t know or care and they get paid and sheltered to do it, while being the face of the nation. Native, and naturalized CANADIANS are being passed up to represent OUR country over a foreigner who doesn’t swear allegiance to us but we to him/her!

    What we need is a compromise! An elected Head of State, non partisan and keeper of the constitution to arbitrate the parliament’s dealings and set upon it, rules to abide by. It would allow us to retain Canadian heritage such as the royal symbols and styles of office while having a governance that makes sense. The terms of that office should be 5 years and the election will, of course, be administered by Elections Canada. Any able non-dual citizen of Canada over the age of 25 (arbitrary age I chose that I thought might be mature enough), who has resided in Canada for at least 9-10 years, regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender, religion and creed, no criminal record and willing to surrender the operations of all enterprises owned at the undertaking of office, should be eligible. Also, the person may not be associated with a political party for the last 12 months and lobby group or PAC for the last 24 months. This person can be impeached by public referendum and is not held absolute but has to sign into effect, laws recommended and passed by Parliament. He/She has to break grid lock in the houses and keep the government on their toes.

    I think these conditions will cover all Canadians fit to serve the country and not interest groups etc. It is time Canada stopped being the ship tugged by others. We’re more industrious, talented and far more enterprising than most, we just haven’t had the situations to show it!

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