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In his book on the War of 1812 the once-popular historian Pierre Berton noted that the 75,000 or so only recently arrived English-speaking settlers then living in what is now Ontario were “most of them Americans.”

Whatever else, they “certainly did not call themselves Canadian. (That word was reserved for their French-speaking neighbours … )”

More than two centuries later some parallel cultural hangover may help explain why it is only the Quebec National Assembly that has so far contested both a Canadian provincial legislature’s constitutional oath to the offshore British monarch, and the federal prime minister’s appointment of provincial lieutenant governors, theoretically representing the Charles III who now lives in Buckingham Palace.

On some similar channel it is a francophone Liberal MP from Acadian New Brunswick, René Arseneault, who has now tabled a private members’ bill making the constitutional oath to the offshore British monarch optional for federal MPs from coast to coast to coast in Canada (following the example of the Quebec National Assembly).

Mr.  Arseneault’s federal bill has not surprisingly attracted the attention of Canadian monarchists. They see it as part of a wider plot to turn Canada into “a republic by stealth.”

According to CBC News, to take just one case in point, John Fraser, president of the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada “and a noted monarchist” has recently attacked  René Arseneault’s bill as “a stupid idea,” rooted in a mindless new Canadian republicanism.

Mr. Fraser went on : “He said republicans are ‘foolishly’ trying to dismantle Canada’s Westminster system of government, a parliamentary structure that has served the country well for more than 150 years.”

Yet someone more familiar with current Canadian republican debate will appreciate that serious republicans are not at all “trying to dismantle Canada’s Westminster system of government.” They are trying to take it to its logical conclusion in Canada.

In the old world this system goes back at least to the 1688-89 Glorious Revolution in England. Its essential feature is not the “Monarchy” but “Parliament.”

As the Rump of the Long Parliament had declared on January 4, 1649  :  “the people are, under God, the original of all just power,” and “the Commons of England in Parliament assembled, being chosen by and representing the people, have the supreme power in this nation.”

This deep background underlines the extent to which our northern North American Westminster system itself goes back to the 1848 “year of revolution” in Europe. This marked the birth  of “responsible government” in Canada (including Nova Scotia) — or what we now call parliamentary democracy —  in the wake of the 1837–38 Canadian rebellions.

Canadian parliamentary democracy finally adopted its own flag in 1965 and its own charter of rights in 1982. Serious Canadian republicans just want to turn the current office of governor general into a more democratically selected independent Canadian head of state.

(And, just for example, this has already been done in Canada’s fellow former British dominions of Ireland and India — and in such similar parliamentary democratic republics outside the old anglophone global empire as today’s Germany and Iceland.)

All this finally raises the noted monarchist John Fraser’s at first impressive claims about “Canada’s longstanding link to the Crown, an institution above the whims of partisan politics.”

For Canadians, Mr. Fraser goes on,  this link is  made real through the “Governor General, the King’s representative in Canada,” who is “a check on political power — ensuring the prime minister commands the confidence of the House of Commons.”

Yet the inescapable and very big practical trouble here is that, thanks to William Lyon Mackenzie King long ago, the Governor General of Canada is nowadays effectively appointed by the Prime Minister of Canada.

In this real world of politics Mr. Fraser’s high-minded philosophy must grapple with such questions as : How can someone appointed by a partisan politician be seriously said to be above the whims of partisan politics? How can someone appointed by a prime minister act as any realistic check on a prime minister’s abuse of power?

Whatever happens to René Arseneault’s MP oath bill in 2024, it will (as John Fraser sensibly enough fears) finally aid and abet the Canadian future at the bottom of the 2023 Abacus poll which found  “2 in 3 Canadians would vote to eliminate the monarchy in Canada.”

And when this does ultimately happen the “free and democratic society” in Canada (as in the Constitution Act, 1982) will still have the same Westminster system of parliamentary democracy it first embraced more than 175 years ago.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

According to an Abacus Data poll taken April 28–May 3, 2023, “2 in 3 Canadians would vote to eliminate the monarchy in Canada.”

This tracks nicely with an Angus Reid poll taken a year before on April 5-7, 2022. It suggested that 67% of Canadians would oppose “Prince Charles as King and Canada’s official head of state.”

Canadians are nonetheless still in the early stages of talking about just what it would mean to leave the monarchy that resides in the United Kingdom.

And now that King Charles III has been properly crowned, we at least ought to start talking about alternatives to the monarchy that make sense for Canadian institutions.

To take one glaring case in point, some recent polls ask about “cutting ties with the monarchy and having the prime minister become both the head of the government and the head of state, replacing the Governor General who is the representative of the Canadian monarch.”

Yet in the Preamble to what we now call the Constitution Act, 1867 Canada has “a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom.” And one distinguishing feature of this kind of “Westminster” constitution is a ceremonial head of state above the ordinary partisan political struggle, separate from the head of government.

Having the prime minister become both the head of government and the head of state is to effectively try to Americanize Canada’s Westminster constitution, in a way that raises too many questions about just how government would work under the new order.

The only fellow former self-governing British dominion to try to leave the monarchy in this way is South Africa. And it seems fair to suggest that the consensus is this has not worked well.

More durable transitions to Westminster parliamentary democratic republics have taken place in Ireland and India.

The strategy here has been not to replace the Governor General, but to turn the office into an independent ceremonial head of state, that plays effectively the same role “above politics” as the monarch in Canada’s “Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom.”

Ireland and India offer two different options for selecting the new democratized governor general or ceremonial head of state — paralleled, for example, by Iceland and Germany as similar parliamentary democracies formally outside the Westminster tradition. And these options have worked well since 1938 (Ireland), 1944 (Iceland), 1949 (Germany), and 1950 (India).

In Ireland the democratized ceremonial head of state is directly elected by the people of Ireland for a seven-year term.

Any Irish citizen over the age of 35 can seek nomination as a candidate. But a candidate must be nominated by at least 20 members of the Irish parliament or no less than four county councils. And this takes any extreme populist edge off the popular election principle.

In India the democratized ceremonial head of state is indirectly elected for a five-year term by an electoral college composed of the elected members of the federal parliament and the elected members of the state (and territorial) legislative assemblies.

Iceland is a parliamentary democracy outside the Westminster tradition, with a ceremonial head of state selected by direct election as in Ireland. Germany is a similar parliamentary democracy with a ceremonial head of state selected indirectly by federal and state legislatures, as in India.

In all of  Ireland, Iceland, Germany, and  India the new democratized ceremonial head of state is called a president.

There are reasons, however, for wondering whether this would ultimately make sense  in Canada. And most of them involve the prospect of confusion with the quite different kind of president in the United States next door, who is both head of government and head of state.

Similarly, one attraction of leaving the monarchy by following the Westminster parliamentary democratic rather than the Washington presidential model, is that very little in Canada’s current federal and provincial governments has to change.

The Governor General (as even a democratized version of the ceremonial office might continue to be called) just takes over the role of the monarch. (Or more exactly the reformed Governor General would be Canada’s head of state in theory, as well as the head of state in practice the Governor General already is now.)

If we’re going to keep talking about leaving the monarchy (and no doubt we are : look at the polls), we ought to be talking about alternatives that follow Canada’s traditions of parliamentary democracy since the middle of the 19th century.

Trying to “Americanize” our current Westminster-style democracy that has served us well for more than 150 years is not a realistic option for the Canadian future.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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The Queen’s funeral is just behind us. It is still too early for any deep debate on the long journey ahead to a Canadian republic.

The Globe and Mail editorial board has nonetheless already opined that “Canada is stuck with the monarchy. We should thank our lucky stars for that.”

Some who for excellent patriotic, democratic, multicultural, and even economic reasons altogether disagree with this sentiment may already have their own thoughts.

Those who share the Globe and Mail’s opinion, for instance, often profess scepticism about related opinion polls. Canadian politicians themselves have so far largely ignored the growing evidence of Canadian “republicanism” or “anti-monarchism” in the polls of the past few decades.

Yet very soon after the Queen’s unhappy death our federal and provincial leaders were proclaiming Charles III the new King of Canada. And as this happened some voters may have remembered two recent surveys by the Vancouver-based Angus Reid Institute.

Both polls suggested that a two-thirds majority of Canadians (66%-67%) “oppose recognizing … Prince Charles as King and Canada’s official head of state.”

Polls on the monarchy in Canada can depend a lot on the exact questions asked. A very recent Leger poll taken just after the Queen’s death asked whether respondents “thought the accession of King Charles to the throne was good or bad news.” In this case 15% said good, 16% said bad,  and 61% were “indifferent.”

The Leger and two Angus Reid polls do point in similar broad directions for Canada. Leger found that a three-quarters majority (77%) “felt no attachment to the British monarchy.”

Another very recent poll from Pollara Strategic Insights reported that: “Only one third of Canadians believe the country should remain a constitutional monarchy.”

The second Angus Reid poll, published April 21, 2022, was headlined “The Queen at 96: Canadians support growing monarchy abolition movement, would pursue after Elizabeth II dies.”

The Leger poll points this way as well. But its questions also elicit a parallel note of apathy on the issue, which has its own history and logic.

Early reactions to Queen Elizabeth II’s unhappy passing were similarly nuanced. The online blogTO in Toronto reported that “People think Canada should … become a republic.”

The left-wing rabble.ca concluded: “Fully abolishing the monarchy would be a tall order and would require amending Canada’s Constitution, getting the provinces on board, and likely settling other Constitution issues, such as the status of Quebec.”

Whatever else, none of this means that the Canadian people are “stuck with the monarchy.”

Getting the legislatures of all 10 provinces on board will be challenging, especially when it almost certainly means settling a few other nagging constitutional issues at the same time.

In the end, however, such things must finally depend on what the great majority of  the Canadian people want. That is a key part of  the “free and democratic society” noted at the start of the Constitution Act, 1982, which finally “patriated” Canada’s Constitution from the United Kingdom.

Growing popular support for an end to the monarchy in Canada in the new age of King Charles III could ultimately be the driving force behind an at last successful cut at the still haunting  constitutional issues that eluded the failed Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords 30 years ago.

And this could help build a stronger Canada for the global storms ahead.

On closer examination, abolishing the monarchy in a parliamentary democracy like we have in Canada today, while politically awkward in several respects, is not  difficult in principle or unprecedented in practice. It has already been pioneered by our fellow former British dominions in Ireland and India.

Very quickly, there is an important enough practical role for a head of state (monarch) separate from the head of government (prime minister) in our kind of parliamentary democracy.

But in Canada this role  is now played by the governor general — in theory a representative of the British monarch, but in practice  a Canadian appointed by the Canadian prime minister since the early 1950s.

All we have to do to politely wave goodbye to the monarchy is change our official head of state from the British monarch to the Canadian governor general (under whatever new name and selection method … or not??).

It will take a long journey to politically dot all the “i”s and cross all the “t”s in even such a common-sense process. But if this is what the great majority of the Canadian people who vote in elections finally want (in our less indifferent moments), it is not a difficult thing to do.

And if we are even half as democratic as we like to imagine, our free and democratic society in the Constitution Act, 1982 is almost certainly bound to finally arrive at a Canadian republic, even at some point not too much further down the road.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

For decades, we have heard the same refrain—that when the Queens’ reign ends that Canada should have a discussion on the future of the monarchy, and whether or not Charles should become king. On the one hand, this was always seen as a bit crass because the only way that her reign would end would be upon her death, and nobody wanted to mention that aspect. As well, these republicans knew full well that the Queen herself was too beloved to have this kind of a conversation around, and Charles is far more unpopular, so therefore they could try and frame their plans around him instead. The problem with this line of thinking is that it ignores how monarchy works.

The Queen is dead. Long live the King.

The moment that the Queen passed on Thursday, the crown immediately passed to Charles, who became King Charles III. The process is immediate and automatic, because that’s half the point of monarchy. The Crown operates as a corporation sole, meaning that it is a sort of fictitious legal personality with two capacities—the natural person who inhabits the role, who changes over time, and the legal personality, which endures regardless of who the natural person is. This allows for there to be a seamless transition, so that the office and its effects endure. Contracts, laws, the very constitution, all carry on because the Crown as the institution and legal personality remain unaffected by the current office-holder. Oaths of allegiance or citizenship are to the legal personality, so they remain in force even after the transition. (That’s why the oaths are not only to the monarch, but to their heirs and successors—heirs referring to the natural person, and successors to the legal personality).

If the logic was that there was some kind of decision to be made upon the time of the Queen’s death as to whether or not we continue with the institution, well, that’s not how it works. Even though there was pomp and ceremony around the Accession Council and affirmations from the Privy Council in each of the realms (which includes Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and others), it doesn’t change the fact that the transition is seamless and happens instantaneously. There is no debate—Charles is now King, because our entire constitutional order depends on there being a someone to occupy the Crown. It’s not an option—it’s the entire central organizing principle by which the country operates, and cannot be left vacant. And no, the Governor General could not operate in the vacuum, because she is merely operating on behalf of the occupant of the Crown. If there is no one to fill that role, the Governor General is but an empty vessel who cannot wield the powers of state on the advice of her prime minister. That’s the simple constitutional mechanics of how it all works, and we could not wait to decide if we want Charles or not.

The notion that we could somehow do away with the monarchy upon the death of the current monarch is also overlooking the fact that we would need to rewrite the entire constitution in order to make that happen. This is not a few neat edits—as I said, it’s the entire central organizing principle, and it’s not simply a matter of swapping out “Queen” (or now “King”) in the constitution an inserting “president,” because the fundamental underlying mechanisms by how those offices operate is different. Also, this is Canada, so if you want to try and open the constitution for one thing, you’re opening Pandora’s Box, and all kinds of things will start spilling out, as each province will have competing demands on what they want to see changed, and the Quebec question will once again dominate, and because it’s the 2020s, Alberta will also stamp its feet and hold its breath to try and outdo any of Quebec’s demands. That’s not going to happen on the afternoon of the Queen’s death, and even if the House of Commons, the Senate, and all ten provinces could miraculously come up with a republican option, well, with there being no monarch in place, nobody could sign the bill to change the constitution. The whole logical underpinning of this republican notion falls apart on its face.

But even before we get there, it would almost be impossible to determine what sort of president should replace the King of Canada, given the linguistic and cultural divides in Canada, and the influences of American politics that pervade our political discourse, nor is the election of one as feasible as a non-partisan figure in the style of an Irish president, as some will try to point to as a model. That’s one of the biggest reasons why republicanism failed in Australia—because they could not agree on what should replace the Crown. And while there is a lot of talk the relationship between the monarchy and colonialism in Canada, we also need to recognize that a lot of the rhetoric around this conversation is coming from different colonial contexts, whether from India, Africa, or the Caribbean, and that in Canada, the treaties with the First Nations are with the Crown. Eliminating the monarchy would actually mean completing the colonial project because those treaties would no longer be in existence, and that would not aid Reconciliation—it would fundamentally undermine it.

If we want to have the republican conversation, then we should have it honestly and clear-eyed, about what it means for constitutional change, about what it means for the treaty relationship with the First Nations, about what kind of presidency should replace it—and be achievable rather than a fairy tale ideal that cannot exist in the real world—and using more than just public sentiment about Charles as the hook for this conversation, or the false notion that the Canadian Crown is still the British Crown when in fact ours has been separate and distinct for over 90 years now. But thus far I have seen few signs that there is an honest conversation to be had, which is one more reason why the Canadian monarchy will endure. Long live the King.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Both stalwart Canadian monarchists and anti-monarchists (republicans with a very small r?) had reasons to complain about the federal government’s approach to the recent May 17-19 Canadian visit of Prince Charles and Camilla.

Monarchists could say that Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government had planned a short and  low-profile royal itinerary, not likely to boost popular support for a future King of Canada.

At the same time, those ardent democrats who want to see the end of the monarchy in Canada could equally object to Prime Minister Trudeau’s personal attitude to the royal visit.

Two recent polls from the Angus Reid Institute — in November 2021 and April 2022 — have suggested that Queen Elizabeth II remains widely admired in Canada.

But they also suggest a full two-thirds majority of Canadians do not support carrying on with the monarchy under King Charles, after his 96-year-old mother unhappily passes on.

Even so, as explained by Newsweek magazine in the USA : “Despite these polling numbers, Trudeau has announced that he believes the issue is not something that Canadians are ‘preoccupied’ with.”

Newsweek went on: “In order for the country to remove the queen or successive monarchs from Canada’s governance structure, it is believed the process would require a series of alterations to the country’s constitution.”

And PM Trudeau has “told reporters: ‘When I hear from Canadians about the things they’re preoccupied about, and the things they want their governments to work on, it’s not about constitutional change.’”

(Note also that PM Trudeau II first met Queen Elizabeth II when he was five years old — something both he and the Queen seem to remember warmly.)

So the Canadian federal government will not be looking into the future of the monarchy any time soon. Many who work in and around Ottawa also seem understandably happy to leave things as they are.

Yet if the past few decades are any guide the current two-thirds of Canadians who don’t believe in the monarchy’s future after Elizabeth II’s reign will only grow larger.

And if Canada is going to have any real future as what the Constitution Act, 1982 alludes to as a “free and democratic” country in its own right, it cannot forever continue its crypto-colonial relationship with a monarch across the seas.

In the gentle wake of Prince Charles and Camilla’s 2022 visit, some non-government actors concerned for the long Canadian future should start publicly debating the “series of alterations to the country’s constitution” that the end of the monarchy in Canada will finally require.

The trouble starts with the Constitution Act, 1982 (itself the result of a federal-provincial political process, and still not formally agreed to by the Government of Quebec).

This requires that any constitutional amendment in relation to “the office of the Queen, the Governor General and the Lieutenant Governor of a province” must be “authorized by resolutions of the Senate and House of Commons and of the legislative assembly of each province.”

The federal government and the governments if not exactly the legislative assemblies of all 10 provinces (and leaders of several Indigenous organizations) did agree to the proposed constitutional amendments in the Charlottetown Accord of 1992.

This Accord was finally defeated in popular referendums, not by any failure of provincial governments to agree on the future of the country. But of course getting all 10 provinces to agree on anything is bound to be a challenge.

Then just what replaces the present “constitutional monarchy” that what we now call the Constitution Act, 1867 places at the “dignified” as opposed to “efficient” heart of the Canadian confederation created in 1867?

This ought to be far less trouble than often claimed. The path ahead has already been blazed by such other former self-governing British dominions as Ireland and India.

The biggest trouble in the “series of alterations to the country’s constitution” may involve the extent to which the Constitution Act, 1867 — a document tailor-made for the now vanished first self-governing dominion of the global British empire —  needs to be changed.

In any case there is no doubt a long journey ahead. It makes sense to begin with something more manageable.

The present Canadian citizenship oath, for example, includes swearing allegiance to the Queen and “Her Heirs and Successors.” Australia has had a citizenship oath that makes no reference to the monarchy since 1994. We could have something similar in Canada with an ordinary act of the federal parliament.

That could also start some democratically elected Members of Parliament thinking about the long journey to ending the monarchy in Canada, as the present two-thirds of Canadians who do not want to carry on with the institution after the reign of Queen Elizabeth II continues to grow.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

This content is restricted to subscribers

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.