I hope that my university friends, who are mostly staunch monarchists, don’t get too angry with me about this one. Seeing as the mainstream media is currently engaged fawning over the brief visit of a certain newly married couple from Britain, I can’t help myself. I don’t want to lop off anybody’s head; least of all those of the House of Windsor, who seem on the whole to be generally very nice people. My contention is that, nice though they may be, they remain very nice British people, and that raises some questions as to why they should be the Canadian heads of state. I realize that on paper they are Canadians, but the fact remains that every single member of the Royal family was born in Britain, raised in Britain, educated in Britain, and interacts on a daily basis with the people of Britain. Culturally speaking, there is very little to tie the royal family to the Canadian people, and to my mind that disqualifies them from acting as any meaningful head of state. I am of the opinion that to represent or embody a nation, you should probably spend most of your time in that nation.
If you have spent even five minutes in consideration of this issue, you will have heard my argument before. You will also probably have heard the arguments that the the continuing sovereignty of British monarchs over Canada is offensive to francophones, aboriginals and immigrants. You will also have heard the opposing arguments, that the monarchy is an important cultural tradition that reflects our history and grounds us as a nation. If you are anything like me, you will have found these arguments are entirely unsatisfying. Arguments both in favour and in opposition to the British monarchy can generally be reduced to feelings. This should come as no surprise-identification with the monarchy is a purely emotional matter-but it does mean that arguments about the monarchy can be incredibly difficult to resolve.
Perhaps the most substantial argument brought forward by those in favour of the monarchy is the dangers of republicanism. Monarchists are correct to point out that placing the responsibilities of head of state and head of government in the same person can have the unfortunate side-effect of making political dissent seem unpatriotic. The function of the monarchy, according to this line of reasoning, is to divert patriotic adulation away from the government towards a neutral and purely ceremonial office, thereby allowing democratic politics to function without the undue influence of misplaced patriotism. This seems like a good argument for keeping the monarchy in Canada, until you look at a recent Ipsos Reid opinion poll which found that only twenty-four percent of Canadians actually know that the Queen is head of state. Contrast that with the forty-two percent who believe that our current head of state is Stephen Harper. Given that a plurality of Canadians believe they live in a republic, the worst of the monarchists’ republican fears may have already come true. Presumably those who erroneously believe Stephen Harper to be their head of state will place just as much patriotic stock in him as if he actually were. If the Queen’s function is to divert patriotic attention from the Prime Minister, then she is not doing a very good job.
In addition to the apparent ignorance of Canadians on the subject of the monarchy, there are also a great number of polls suggesting that Canadians do not want the monarchy to serve as the embodiment of the nation. In light of this, the Canadian Monarchist League’s assertion that the monarchy is non-negotiable seems a bit silly. A country’s identity is a constantly evolving thing, and so its political expression of that identity should be always up for discussion and change. Furthermore, even monarchists should agree that there is a big problem with the monarchy as it is currently constituted and understood in Canada.
I humbly propose that we address the issue by opening the issue. We need to have a national conversation about our head of state. That means opening the issue politically. And no, the ramblings of a few bloggers such as myself do not count as a national discussion. A national discussion means that anti-monarchist members of parliament raise the issue in parliament, that mainstream media outlets begin to invesigate the issue, and that major public rallies are held in support of all sides of the issue. The outcome of this process will be unpredictable. Maybe when the smoke clears we will emerge with a strengthened sense of loyalty to the crown. Maybe we will become a republic. Maybe I will get my wish to simply sever the governor general’s connection to the queen. This is a subjective issue on which our country has to come to agreement, and so public opinion (after a period of dialogue) is the only reasonable way to come to a solution that works. It is obvious, however, that our current solution does not work. We need to either strengthen the monarchy’s mandate, or come up with something new that has a stronger mandate in itself. Either way, we need to talk about it.