By God, the constitutional monarchy is probably safe - Macleans.ca
 

By God, the constitutional monarchy is probably safe

The monarchy is fine, so long as it’s benign


 

I hesitate to get anywhere near a debate that Colby occupies for fear that, in the event of disagreement, he would destroy me, but perhaps I might expand on yesterday’s half-hearted and passive-aggressive sigh about the Irish president.

So our constitutional monarchy.

In practice, the system has basically worked. This is probably fairly undeniable. We have a ceremonial head of state and a typically inoffensive governor general, the latter being there on the exceedingly rare occasion that things get complicated and someone has to decide who is going to be prime minister. The country has fared fairly well over the last 146 years and people seem to like the Queen we have now and Prince Charles is basically fine and Prince William seems like a decent person and to change the system would surely invite a number of potential complications and problems that do not presently exist. (I’m not sure I entirely accept the premise that constitutional monarchies necessarily cause stable and healthy democracies, but it at least helps that we have good company in the monarchy club.) Our affinity for the monarchy might rise or ebb depending on the moment, but short of a total barbarian becoming our head of state and proceeding to deeply offend our country—like if Piers Morgan becomes king—it is unlikely that there’ll be any great rush to cut our ties. And absent some kind of crisis involving the governor general and the formation of a government, we might be able to carry on fine without substantive change to the system. (Although how to apply the lessons of the “crisis” of 2008 might be a matter of debate, Michaelle Jean either proving that the system works or demonstrating that we need to do something different. It’s possible to say we should keep the monarchy, but change the way governors general are appointed.)

That said, it’s still all a bit silly. And if we basically believe in the principles of democracy and equality, we should probably have our own elected head of state—even if only to fulfill the largely ceremonial functions of the governor general—and accept all of the complications of politics and democracy that come with that.

It’s not unlike the debate over the future of the Senate. It can be argued that the Senate we have basically works and that to move to an elected Senate would be to introduce new and unnecessary problems to our formal system of governance. But intellectually it’s problematic that we allow the prime minister to appoint whoever he wants to sit in public office at our expense and exercise power over the work of our democratically elected House of Commons—an existential crisis that becomes harder to bear whenever a senator comes to our attention for having done something like claim a housing allowance they shouldn’t have. By the same token, it can be argued that constitutional monarchy basically works and that to change things would be to introduce the unnecessary potential for new problems. But intellectually it’s problematic that we insist on hanging on to a Queen as if we should have any affinity for such a manifestation of privilege, royalty and the luck of birth—an existential crisis that is easier to bear when the fairy tale figures involved are charming, good-looking and relatively harmless.

In the case of the Senate, of course, we needn’t choose between the intellectually troublesome and practically problematic—we could abolish the chamber entirely. In the case of the monarchy, we’d have to choose to replace it with something. And since it is relatively benign—as opposed to the Senate, which has an active role in our system of governance—it’s easier to leave the monarchy be. They give us something to watch on TV and they periodically deliver cute babies and it’s tradition and there’s relative stability and all that.

But, if we are to still have a king or queen as head of state, we should at least have the self respect to stop pledging allegiance to them. That’s just ridiculous.


 

By God, the constitutional monarchy is probably safe

  1. ‘and Prince Charles is basically fine’….hah, hah, hah.

    And either the monarch is head of state or s/he isn’t….so yes the loyalty oath goes to the monarch.

    • Oaths can be pledged to the head of state, the country, the constitution, whatever…

      • We are discussing two choices here….not a menu.

  2. You are pledging allegiance TO A SYMBOL FOR GODSAKE! Why can’t people understand that? We have to pledge allegiance to the country in some way, and I’d prefer a monarch to some thug of a Prime Minister, or a standing stone, or a plant.
    Give it up. You’ve prospered under this system, so just try supporting it.

    • Then it should be a symbol of Canada….not Britain.

      • HRH is styled, “Queen of Canada.” How is that not symbolic of Canada? Please EmilyOne, we are stupid, enlighten us….

        • HRH is a royal highness, like Kate or Anne…..not the Queen.

          If we called Liz the Queen of Mars….would that make it true?

          Names, legal fictions, etc

          Beavers, moose, maple leaves are all symbols of Canada.

  3. Having a figure-head of state means the prime minister is the de facto head of state (all head-of-state decisions default to the PM, who almost always represents a minority of voters, indirectly.)

    At present, Stephen Harper is president, house majority leader and senate majority leader, all rolled into one. Given that, our ridiculous voting system that doles out absolute power to minority parties, and our appointed senate, Canada’s idea of democracy makes us a laughing stock among developed countries.

    • Oh yes, such a laughing stock that they’re shouldering each other aside trying to get in here.

      • Actually they’re not. Enough of the streets-paved-with-gold nonsense.

        • Apparently neither you nor Ron has spoken with a Canadian immigration lawyer or consultant lately. Or perhaps ever.

          • Apparently you’re unaware of the situation. There are millions of refugees looking for a home, and Canada is required to take in refugees. They also go to other countries.

            Canada needs a million immigrants a year….and we advertise for them all over the world. They too also go to other countries.

            Europe, England, the US, Canada all have the same situation

            So don’t take it personally.

  4. The Monarchy is a sort of framework that covers our government. The Americans don’t have that. Look at them now.

    • The raison d’etre for Canada is being British rather than American?

  5. Could it be that there are things an apolitical, non-elected head of state can do that no politician would dare do?
    Diana, princess of Wales, went around hugging homosexual aids patients, kissing and hugging babies with aids at a time when in the general populace many were scared of touching aids patients, or for some having anything to do with homosexuals. Diana made the difference, something doctors and scientists were unable to achieve. Maybe politicians were more concerned about being labeled as “gay”. It doesn’t take much – I often read Justin Trudeau referred to as Justine by people who don’t support him, maybe because his father decriminalized homosexuality.
    Michaelle Jean met with a lot of troubled young people. Would a political, elected head of state be able to do same without being labeled as “soft on crime”?

    • That is not a reason to remain British and feudal.

  6. Surely it would be “ridiculous” to have a monarchy and not pledge allegiance to the monarch? The attempts by various governments since the days of Lester Pearson to pretend we weren’t a monarchy represented an embarassing lack of self-respect, as if we were ashamed of our history, culture and constitution, but couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it. So long as we are a monarchy, and I hope we will be one forever, we should take pride in our national identity. Wanting to be ersatz Americans is simply foolish. The monarchy is an essential part of our constitutional framework and reluctance to swear allegiance to the monarch arises only from a failure to understand that fact.

    • ‘An oath of fealty, from the Latin fidelitas (faithfulness), is a pledge of allegiance of one person to another. Typically the oath is made upon a religious object such as a Bible or saint’s relic, often contained within an altar, thus binding the oath-taker before God. Fealty and homage are a key element of feudalism.’

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

      The Canadian Oath of Allegiance is a promise or declaration of fealty to the Canadian monarch

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oath_of_Allegiance_%28Canada%29

  7. I get the argument that it’s not worth the bother to get rid of the monarchy, and I understand the perils associated with real Senate reform but I’m tired of the idea that it is impossible to change the Canadian constitution ever and that we shouldn’t even try.

    The Berlin wall came down, apartheid ended, sectarian violence in Ireland dissipated, the USA elected a black president! Are we so obdurate that we can’t even conceive of collectively improving our system of government, of actually moving forward to become more democratic?

  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?

  9. What if we got to express an opinion by, say, voting on it? Do we approve of having Queen Elizabeth as our head of state? If we say yes, we go through the exercise again when she dies and again when Charles dies, and so on. If a majority says yes each time, then the issue goes away. If not, then the monarchists have to stop telling us how wonderful monarchy is.