Who will wear the crown in Canada?

The monarchy has deep roots in this nation. They can’t easily be cut.

by Brian Bethune with Patricia Treble

Luke MacGregor/PA Wire/Press Association Images

As the Queen of Canada gets older and every visit to her senior dominion becomes closer to being her last, the latent flow of Canadian anti-monarchical thought bubbles to the surface. We are not fully grown up, not a real country runs the main current, so long as a foreign monarch sits on our throne, or any monarch at all, say the more militant republicans among us. Most of this grousing, which tends to rise with incidents of dysfunctionality—or embarrassing normality, depending on your view of human nature—among the lesser royals (or even ex-royals: see Sarah Ferguson), completely ignores the fact that the monarchy is sunk deep, not only in the country’s fabric, but in the effectively untouchable part of the Constitution.

Royal Tour

Replacing the monarchy would require the unanimous agreement of Parliament and all 10 provinces. Last time we tried anything like that, we ended up with the creaky travesty of the Charlottetown accord—a grab-all that included every interest-group demand short of bus passes for seniors—which was mercifully euthanized by Canadians in a 1992 referendum. In other words, any sensible politician would rather open his veins than open constitutional talks.

But let’s say the thing could be done, that some combination of dedication to principle and federal bribes could keep all the constitutional players—many of them members of aggrieved minorities who have deeply divergent notions on how the country should be organized, or whether it should exist at all (see Bloc Québécois and Assembly of First Nations)—focused on the one issue. The simplest notion, given the vast residual power still inherent in the Crown—appointing prime ministers (and weighing their requests for shutting down uncooperative parliaments), signing treaties and, oh yes, declaring war—is to keep it in a different form. First option: we disinherit the House of Windsor and replace it with our own royal family. There may have been a brief shining moment in February when the House of Crosby could have seized a vacant throne, but on the whole, the chance that Canadians, tall poppy loppers with a vengeance, would ever agree to address one of their own as “Your Majesty” is beyond risible.

Next up: keep the monarchy but do away with the monarch. In other words, turn the governor general into a real-life (if non-hereditary) version of The Lord of the Ring’s Steward of Gondor, a king (or queen) in all but name. Okay, but . . . given how helpful a co-operative GG can be to a beleaguered prime minister (see Michaëlle Jean), Canadians are hardly likely to allow our new head of state to be selected by the PM any longer. Those who automatically think an election is the answer should reflect on the fact there is good reason why we don’t elect anyone on a nation-wide basis in this country. (Canada’s largest electorates are those that choose big-city mayors.) Back to those aggrieved minorities—the largest is geographically concentrated and can, if it so chooses, send to Ottawa 50-odd representatives dedicated to dismantling the country. The chances of Quebec ever seeing one of its own, however federalist, elected in a nationwide vote is minuscule; the chances of it agreeing to try, even less.

So then, that favourite of the political classes the world over, having parliamentarians (or other “eminent” citizens, say members of the Order of Canada) choose a head of state? Politicians wanted the former in the Australian constitutional referendum of 1999; Australians, hardly more democratic or distrustful of their political class than Canadians, rejected the notion, despite polls indicating majority republican sentiment. And both options—Quebec magically agreeing to popular election or an elite electorate—would inevitably put a politician in Rideau Hall, a formidable rival to the PM (especially if elected nationwide) and an invitation to political deadlock. The only way around that is to combine head of government and head of state in the same individual, as with the American president (see Richard Nixon). In a parliamentary democracy, however, where that same person also sits in and (generally) controls the legislature, the idea is nothing short of madness—not even a saint, let alone any conceivable Canadian party leader, should be trusted with that much power.

It’s time then, to reflect that history and, yes, good fortune, have conspired to provide us with an available, trained-from-birth family (however fallible) to do the job for us. Time to recall the poet W.H. Auden’s immortal remark upon hearing of the Church of England’s ill-conceived notion to “update” the poetic beauty of the 17th-century English in the King James Bible: “Why spit on your luck?”




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Who will wear the crown in Canada?

  1. Why spit on your luck? Luck’s a charm you wear until your arms are bear. Alone with all your strength, luck’s charm holds life at length.

  2. Just read the opinion polls. This "available, trained-from-birth family (however fallible) to do the job for us" is just not going to fly with the growing majority of the Canadian people in the 21 st century. Canada is either going to become a real country, in its own right, or disappear into the vast oblivion of the United States of America. The British monarchy is no longer strong enough to save us from that fate. We must stand up for ourselves, at last, or die.

  3. Back to those aggrieved minorities—the largest is geographically concentrated and can, if it so chooses, send to Ottawa 50-odd representatives dedicated to dismantling the country. The chances of Quebec ever seeing one of its own, however federalist, elected in a nationwide vote is minuscule; the chances of it agreeing to try, even less.

    This statement is frankly offensive. To accuse English-Canadians of being inherently unwilling to vote for a Quebecker is ludicrous. Our recent experience with Prime Ministers, elections arguably with weightier consequences, should prove the point. People generally vote with the party leader, not the local party candidate, in mind. It is partly because of this phenomenon that election campaigns are mainly focused on the leader, and why an election loss is usually paid for personally by the head of the party. Unless English-Canadian prejudices have changed radically in the last five years, and I see no evidence to support this, then a prospective-Governor General need not stand at a disadvantage.

  4. I see no reason why Canada cant change the act of succession so as another member of the royal family inherits Canadas throne. That is Canada have its own resident King or Queen.

    Canada has always had a monarch, its part of what makes Canada. Its an institution that represents our past, our culture and our beliefs. A monarch has the ability to remain above politics a republic on the other hand puts all the power in the political elite and big business.

    I pray that Canada never becomes a republic.

    • From an Australian point of view I found this last episode of Sarah Ferguson as the final straw. I want an Australian republic. Yes, the Queen works hard. However, Charles has been Prince of Wales for nearly 40 years and what has he achieved. I have read that he is very easily influenced. Is this really what you want for the future of Canada? I expect my leaders to see the bigger picture to be able to well….LEAD. Although there is evidence that certain personality traits are genetic it doesn't necessarily follow that all children will inherit those genes. Therefore I think leader should be chose on merit.

  5. I would not mind calling a Canadian "Your Majesty" It feels right. I would have pride having a Canadian represent me in the world and never have to visit every now in a blue moon. I don't mind the Queen, but I find it difficult to elicit pride as a Canadian in her, because she rarely visits because of her other duties to the Commonwealth nations. I say we keep the monarchy, but we "Canadianize" it. The monarchy has worked for us for 143 years; I would rather have an unpartisian Canadian monarch than a Canadian politician reigning over this magnificient country.

    I believe that a Canadian run monarchy would unite us all, or at least most of us. The staunch Republicans would not feel ashamed of not having a Canadian head of state and Monarchists will not have to worry about any significant change in our government, as all that would occur is a break from the personal union.

    • I sort of, kind of agree with this, except for calling a Canadian Your Majesty. It just wouldn't happen–we don't even think our movie stars are stars until the Americans say so.

      So, how about Charles becomes our King, but never, ever sets foot in our country. Instead, we have our GG, who is still appointed but perhaps recommended by the Senate or something just slightly better than the PM deciding all by his lonseome. I'd say put it to a cabinet vote, but with this PM and this cabinet, it would amount to the same thing.

      I don't really care about the monarchy so much as I care about having our GG. One of us, yet not. Having an almost mythical monarch (never seen) is just a handy way to do it.

  6. Continued:
    A Canadian monarch will also stop the arguments of becoming more "American" from separating our ties with the monarchy and "staying British" for not denouncing the monarchy.

    Until then, I hope that there will be a brave politician who will dissect the veins of the Constitution to unite an increasingly apathetic Canadian society (according to the polls). I see that bringing the Canadian monarchy home will be a win-win situation.

  7. Oh Canada!
    Be careful of interfering with the current system. At the end of the day you will find no one more dedicated than the Queen. She may not be in Rideau Hall, but you can guarantee she takes a close interest in all that happens. And she is bi-lingual!
    Canada is a mature nation and we in Britain (where the largest individual group of Canadians originate from) do not view the Queen as our own but your Queen of Canada also-and not in a Colonial sense. Vive La Reine du Canada!

  8. Every time I read articles on the monarchy I get very lost. My high school education involved nothing on our government's structure so I really don't grasp the big differences between a constitutional monarchy and a republic. And I strive to follow politics intaking at least some news every day. Is there genuinely any practical work done by the monarchy. And why do monarchists always believe that somehow being more to power frees one from partisanship? (last one more of an opinion, otherwise I'm genuinely curious)

  9. The Queen provides a visible symbol of unity around the core principles of Western civilization going back to the Magna Carta and including the rule of law and liberty. Unfortunately, these are not traditions shared in many of the countries from which immigrants come and I think that is a big reason they do come. Unlike the US, Canada has had no revolution with its own principles so without the Queen, that unifying concept would be lost and Canadian identity compromised.

  10. The Queen take a lot of interest in Canada and talks to her Government over there every week. She is the jewel in the crown of Canada. Becoming a republic would just give a high paid politician more power than they should ever have. With the monarch you at least have a democracy that is safe and is not run by one person as in the US

  11. Canada needs it's own resident monarch! We are an independent country. We could use the benefits of a royal ambassador for trade & diplomacy. We could use the pomp for tourism & the media attention for local & national causes. We could use the sober, independent, experienced, confidential, council for newbie Prime Ministers. Frankly we need someone of legal & moral stature to stand up to a Prime Minister used to getting his way. A Governor-General, appointed by him/her is not likely to stand up and say NO when our democracy is threatened.

    Lets establish a royal commission to study the best criteria for a potential applicant. Could establish criteria for a college of eligibles to be called upon each time the position is vacant or we could find ourselves the founder of a new dynasty.

    I think legally we need to find an heir to Queen Victoria to take on this throne. Our constitution requires that her heirs have right to inherit. Perhaps we should choose a descendant of the first person actually styled King of Canada.

    I wonder if advocacy groups or 'political parties' could be required to compete in a national plebiscite to establish the winning candidate from a list who each fulfill the criteria established and agree to take the job. That way the monarch could be seen to have always been above the political fray and yet he/she would have electoral credibility from the start.

    I would propose that we get busy and find our own Heir Apparent, ASAP, to take over when our current monarch passes on! It would be nice if this person had a decade or so to grow into the job, resident in and active on behalf of Canada during that period!

    • If the first 'King of Canada' is the ancestor of unique monarch then I would think of King George V who was on the throne at the time of the Statute of Westminster. There are some of his descendants who are Canadian citizens already. The Earl of St. Andrews, Heir to the Duke of Kent and Peter Philips, the Queen's oldest grandchild married Canadians, for instance.

      The oldest Canadian title, granted by King Louis XIV in 1700 and recognized to this day by the Queen of Canada is the Baron de Longueuil. Michael Charles Grant, 12th Baron de Longueuil's grandmother was a cousin to Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, making him the Queen's second cousin.

      Perhaps we could have a look at this family as well.

    • If that person was unmarried and resident in Canada during this decade as Heir Apparent maybe he/she would choose a Canadian spouse as well. Perhaps this person could be Prince Harry, the future King Henry IV of Canada. I hear he is currently single.

  12. Canada needs it's own resident monarch! We are an independent country. We could use the benefits of a royal ambassador for trade & diplomacy. We could use the pomp for tourism & the media attention for local & national causes. We could use the sober, independent, experienced, confidential, council for newbie Prime Ministers. Frankly we need someone of legal & moral stature to stand up to a Prime Minister used to getting his way. A Governor-General, appointed by him/her is not likely to stand up and say NO when our democracy is threatened.

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  13. I know this sounds ridiculous but it is my plan to be the first native Canadian monarch. I want to restore sovereignty to the French Canadians and First Nations. We won’t need a Governor General as the Crown will reside in Casa Loma or wherever is appropriate.

  14. As time goes on, more and more debates on a Canada Republic keep on coming up. Republicans mostly believe that our nation is too independent now from those Victorian days as the ‘Dominion of Canada’. The Republicans also believe we can quickly change with a snap of a finger from a constitutional monarchy to a republic. They are wrong, it will take quite some time, and a lot of tax dollars which Republicans believe is draining into the Royal Family’s pockets. They are also wrong about that as well, as an average canadian barely even spends anything on the monarchy, yes, a few dollars will go there, but not that many to disrupt your financial issues. Look at the USA for example…those old days of being one of the most powerful countries in the world is slowly slipping from their fingers. As neighbours to the north, we hear their news quite often, and look how disrupted they are. Those days of British and French explorations in Canada still remain strong today, which is why we need the monarchy. If all of the sudden, our Prime Minister cannot be present for his role, and we need a last resort, we are not alone, we still have the Sovereign of Canada, currently Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, to support us and to rule over us, until we find another suitable Prime Minister, as countries with no current President or Prime Minister risks are higher to be taken over by another nation, the USA is very capable of doing this if they wished. Monarchy is not only symbolic to us Canadians, but it also keeps us strong and if we did have a republican head of state that we elected, that person could do whatever they pleased and could turn our nation into something we never wanted, disrupt, communist, whatever they wanted as they had the most power. As you can see, the Prime Minister could never do so as the Sovereign is the highest in our government, and also the Sovereign would not do so with many politicians standing in His/Her Majesty’s way. So as you can see, it balances government and never lets anyone overpower. Most of the Sovereign’s role is symbolic, and along with her Governor General, they hold history and balance within their roles. We shall not wait for Her Majesty The Queen to die, or anything impeccable plan like that, we shall never prevail under a Canadian Republic, we shall always keep our Constitutional Monarchy ways as a strong powerful nation of Canada that we have become.

  15. Canada should also not think about a own resident monarch, we should have Britain’s reigning King or Queen, as a show of symbolism through our history. Our current monarch is HM Queen Elizabeth II, and as she ages, each time she visit’s, it is coming closer to her last one, and HM has devoted her life to her nation of Great Britain and her Commonwealth realms as well as nations. Next in line to the throne is HRH The Prince of Wales, and Canada will welcome him as HM King Charles of Canada. No matter what his believes or actions are, he will still become monarch and those beliefs or actions should not interfere with his role as future monarch or Canada’s constitutional monarchy.

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