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

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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.