A royal pain or a PR coup for the PM?

Quebec nationalists are booing, but the wedding watchers may cheer

A royal pain or a PR coup for the PM?

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

For the Réseau de Résistance du Québécois, Prince William and Kate’s visit to Quebec is a salt-in-the-wounds reminder that the province is still firmly under the thumb of the monarchy. And the group is telling the world via YouTube what it plans to do when the couple arrives on Quebec soil.

Over a soundtrack of stirring strings, the slickly produced video shows close-ups of men hewing wood and hammering nails to make protest signs. “For centuries the British monarchy has ruled over our people,” reads the copy. “Quebec will­ protest for democracy, for dignity, for independence.”

Hyperbole or not, the RRQ’s message presents a very real headache for organizers of the couple’s first royal tour, and it’s a reminder of how Quebec remains a thorny issue for the monarchy some 60 years after the Queen first visited the province. With the potential for embarrassment at the hands of well-organized Quebec nationalists—and with poll after poll indicating Quebecers’ collective indifference to the Canadian Crown—it begs the question: why bring the young couple to Quebec at all?

The invitation to visit Quebec came from both the federal and provincial governments, according to a Heritage Canada spokesperson. A former royal insider told Maclean’s that it will boost Conservative fortunes in Quebec. “I honestly believe there is method to their madness,” says John Perlin, who served as the Canadian secretary to the Queen from 1989 to 1991. “The Conservatives didn’t do very well in Quebec, and I think Stephen Harper is catering to a younger generation, and that this will transcend any bad press from the nationalists.”

There is certainly potential for bad press. Without exception, the spectre of violence (or, at the very least, embarrassment) has tinged every royal visit to the province since Oct. 10, 1964, when the Queen’s presence sparked clashes between nationalists and police in what became known as “Truncheon Saturday.” In 2009, roughly 200 RRQ supporters took to the streets of Montreal and turned Charles and Camilla’s Montreal visit into a tear-gas-drenched spectacle of protesters and riot police. The incident forced the couple to use the back entrance of the armory that houses Montreal’s Black Watch regiment. The resulting images have become something of a recruitment tool for the RRQ.

“We forced the prince of England to use the rear entrance of a Canadian Army barracks,” says RRQ president Patrick Bourgeois. “The RRQ gained a lot of credibility in the independence movement as a result.”

The visit has become fodder for certain Quebec politicians as well. Amir Khadir, the sole MNA of the leftist party Québec Solidaire, said William and Kate were “parasites” who leech off of the province’s taxpayers­—comments that made for (mostly outraged) headlines around the world.

Yet despite all the harsh words, the vast majority of Quebecers can hardly wait for Will and Kate, according to Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore. “I can tell you that the initial responses I received via Twitter were from francophones who were excited to have the opportunity to see the duke and duchess visiting the province,” Moore recently told journalists during a conference call.

Though most Quebecers may shrug their shoulders at the monarchy—74 per cent of Quebecers said it was irrelevant, according to a recent poll—this didn’t stop over half a million viewers from tuning into William and Kate’s marriage last April, according to Radio-Canada numbers.

Perlin believes it is the young couple’s ability to dazzle the cameras, not their royal pedigree, that has piqued Quebecers’ interest—something he says the Conservatives have picked up on. “Why risk insult to this young couple if their youth and popularity wouldn’t give some cachet to the Conservative party?”