Robert Finch has a favourite saying: “For the price of a cup of coffee, Canadians can enjoy the stability of the Crown.” By this, the chief operating officer of the Monarchist League of Canada means that the monarchy costs Canadians only $1.53 per capita each year, about the price of a large cup of joe at Tim Hortons. But in fact, Canadians are now paying more per capita to support the Queen than the British are.
According to the latest figures out of Buckingham Palace, while Canadians are shelling out $1.53 per capita, the British are only paying about $1.32. And the Monarchist League’s own numbers show the Canadian cost is skyrocketing. Over just the last 10 years, the per capita bill for supporting the monarchist framework— including expenses incurred by the royal clan on Canadian soil, as well as the cost of running the offices of the Governor General and our 10 provincial lieutenant-governors—has more than doubled.
Finch says that the climbing costs reflect the fact that the Queen’s reps are taking on more active roles, with heightened responsibility and more travel time. While that might be costing Canadians a few extra pennies, he stresses that the monarchy “is not a very expensive operation.” But Tom Freda, national director of Citizens for a Canadian Republic, is not so sure. “Ah, the Monarchists. They love to break it down to per capita and make it sound all nice and rosy,” he says. “But $40 million or $50 million [a year] sure sounds like a lot to me.” The Monarchist League supports that figure, estimating that about $50,147,000 was spent during the 2006-07 year.
The problem, Freda says, is that Canada effectively has two heads of state: the Queen and the Governor General, as well as a band of provincial reps. And that overlap creates “redundant and obsolete positions” that end up costing Canadian taxpayers big bucks. The Queen’s agents need to learn a lesson in frugality during these tough times, he argues, especially since most of the work done by the lieutenant-governors is already handled by deputy premiers and other officials. Freda says it is “exorbitant,” for example, that the Ontario lieutenant-governor employs nine staff members, and “shocking” that the B.C. office shells out piles of cash each year to run a 102-room official residence for its lieutenant-governor. As for the “highly irrelevant” Governor General? “The Governor General has literary awards and cuts ribbons and plants trees and travels to Nunavut and eats seal meat. But what else?”
Finch counters that the Crown’s stabilizing presence is worth the money. He accounts for Canadians’ more sizable bill with more mundane explanations: our smaller population, for instance. He also explains that Brits have the home court advantage when it comes to the monarchy, since the U.K. receives income tax from royal estates and we don’t. In the end, it’s a small price to pay, he says, to safeguard Canada’s democratic tradition.
Despite such arguments, it seems like Freda and his Canadian Republicans are winning in the court of public opinion. According to a Canada Day poll by Strategic Council, only 30 per cent of Canadians feel a connection to the Queen or Governor General. And 65 per cent think ties to the monarchy should be cut once the Queen dies.
Freda cites numbers like that as support for his group’s radical proposal to completely overhaul the system. He calls for the Governor General to be replaced by “a wholly Canadian institution”—an independent head of state, accountable only to Canadians. Sure, he admits, that would still cost money. “But Canadians wouldn’t mind spending on an institution that they can call their own.”
While $1.53 may not get you very far at Tim Hortons, Freda hopes the escalating cost of supporting the Queen will set the wheels of change in motion. It’s not even about the money, he says. “It’s the 21st century. If we’re going to be an independent country, we bloody well better act like it.”