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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.

Another day. Another dollar. Another Liberal politician attacking the British monarchy.

OK, I admit the last sentence was included for shock value! A fair number of Liberal politicians have either been monarchists or defended the monarchy since this nation was founded. That being said, one member of the Liberal government has proposed something that’s a direct attack on our British lineage – and should be defeated by all parliamentarians who respect our history and traditions.

Every new Canadian politician, elected and appointed, swears an oath of office before taking his or her seat in Parliament. This is specifically covered in Section 128 of the Constitution, which reads as follows: “Every Member of the Senate or House of Commons of Canada shall before taking his Seat therein take and subscribe before the Governor General or some Person authorized by him, and every Member of a Legislative Council or Legislative Assembly of any Province shall before taking his Seat therein take and subscribe before the Lieutenant Governor of the Province or some Person authorized by him, the Oath of Allegiance contained in the Fifth Schedule to this Act; and every Member of the Senate of Canada and every Member of the Legislative Council of Quebec shall also, before taking his Seat therein, take and subscribe before the Governor General, or some Person authorized by him, the Declaration of Qualification contained in the same Schedule.

René Arseneault, a backbench New Brunswick Liberal MP, tabled a private members’ bill last year that would end this time-honoured tradition. Bill C-347, or An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (oath of office)would amend Section 128 and afford members of the House of Commons and Senate to “choose to take and subscribe the oath of allegiance, an oath of office or both.” His bill passed first reading in the House of Commons on June 21, 2023. It was placed on the order of precedence on Sept. 20, 2023, and is inching closer to an inevitable second reading.

“Canadian monarchists say the bill is republicanism by stealth,” CBC News’s John Paul Tasker wrote on Jan. 3. It’s viewed as “part of a larger effort to slowly chip away at the Crown’s standing in Canada without actually scrapping the monarchy through a protracted constitutional fight with the provinces.”

John Fraser, president of Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada, specifically described it as a “stupid idea.” In his view, “doing away with the oath – it’s all based on emotionalism. I don’t think we should marginalize something that is an integral part of our system of government.” Fraser also told Tasker, “We live in a constitutional Crown system and trying to break it up piecemeal is not a good way to run a country.”

Conversely, Pierre Vincent, a former federal bureaucrat of Acadian descent who refused to take a similar oath in the public service and won his case in 2001, is onside with Arseneault’s bill. The parliamentary oath, he told the CBC, is “colonial, medieval stuff that does not coincide with our modern views of diversity and inclusion.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for his part, may see the issue a bit differently.

After the March 2021 bombshell interview between U.S. talk show host Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, a reporter asked the PM whether Canada should reconsider its ties to the monarchy. His response? “If people want to later talk about constitutional change and shifting our system of government, that’s fine. They can have those conversations. But right now, I’m not having those conversations.”

Trudeau also praised King Charles III last May as being “deeply aligned with some of the really fundamental priorities of Canadians.” The PM suggested that His Majesty is “someone who has been deeply committed to protecting and preserving nature, as someone who has shown a remarkable opennesss, understanding of the challenges of the colonial history that the Crown has been wrapped up in.” He also highlighted the King’s work “in reaching out to Indigenous leaders over the past number of years.”

Let’s be frank. Trudeau believes King Charles III’s values match his own values. Would the PM feel the same way if the UK’s head of state thought differently about Indigenous communities and the environment? Maybe yes, and maybe no.

Putting this aside, there’s no indication that Trudeau’s opposition to scrapping the monarchy has changed. It’s highly unlikely he’ll support Bill C-347. Many Liberal MPs and cabinet ministers will likely follow suit and join with Conservatives to vote down the private members’ bill on or before the third reading.

That’s a good thing.

There are certain historical traditions that should always be protected by our political institutions. The oath of office is one of them. Our country is of British lineage. We use the Westminster model in Parliament. Swearing allegiance to the reigning British monarch keeps a small amount of our roots and history intact. The oath doesn’t even affect our nation’s sovereignty, which is protected by the Constitution Act, 1982.

Meanwhile, how does swearing an oath of office before taking your parliamentary seat affect your personal and political beliefs? It doesn’t. Choice is always a good thing in a democratic society, but a ceremonial pledge isn’t a life-or-death experience that will take away your personal liberties and freedoms. I’m not a monarchist – although I believe in protecting and maintaining the historical traditions of the institution – and I wouldn’t have the slightest concern about swearing an oath to King Charles III. I strongly doubt most newly elected and appointed Canadian MPs would feel much differently.

The day’s end is almost nigh. The dollar has nearly been earned. The Liberal politician’s attack on the British monarchy will hopefully fade away in short order.

Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

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.

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.

The government of Quebec has still not yet “signed” the Constitution Act, 1982, with its Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the “free and democratic society” of Canada today.

It sometimes seems almost possible, however, that without Quebec’s struggles to find itself in the unravelling British empire after the Second World War, the rest of the country may never have bothered with this crucial piece of modern Canadian constitutional law.

It is similarly not often noted that Quebec has a greater share of its population reporting “Canadian ethnic or cultural origins” than any other  province. History of this sort may also be worth remembering in assessing the now adopted Bill 4 of  François Legault’s re-elected government of Quebec.

The bill’s purpose is to make the Oath of Allegiance to the new King Charles III optional for members of Quebec’s National Assembly. And this is warmly supported by all parties.

Yet not everyone outside Quebec sees the point of Bill 4. A few weeks ago an editorial in the Globe and Mail bemoaned “The empty fight over a symbolic oath in Quebec.”

Elected officials, the Globe and Mail argued, ought to “take a basic Canadian civics course.” As urged in a 2014 Ontario Court of Appeal decision, in swearing an oath to the British monarch an individual is just swearing allegiance to “a symbol of our form of government in Canada.”

The trouble here is that this only makes sense if you are a monarchist. And as Quebec’s Democratic Institutions minister Jean-François Roberge urged as he tabled Bill 4 :  “We’re democrats. We’re not monarchists.”

Opinion polls have been suggesting for a while now that a growing majority of Canadians, from coast to coast to coast, would agree with M. Roberge.

Meanwhile, as The Canadian Press has explained : “Constitutional scholars are divided” over whether the Quebec National Assembly has “the power to unilaterally eliminate the oath requirement” in the province.

The Legault government can at least reasonably argue it does have this power under section 45 of the Constitution Act, 1982 — which prescribes that, with a few exceptions, “the legislature of each province may exclusively make laws amending the constitution of the province.”

In any case Democratic Institutions minister Jean-François Roberge “doesn’t expect pushback from Ottawa or legal challenges to the bill.”

According to The Washington Post, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself has already observed that “these oaths are governed by the Assembly and Parliament themselves,” and  the “National Assembly has the right to decide how they want to organize their swearing-in process.”

If Quebec can finally make its lawmakers’ oath to the British monarch optional, without serious challenge in the courts, that could eventually prove of interest to other provinces.

Both BC and Alberta, for instance, might have New Democratic provincial governments by the summer of 2023. They could find it helpful to emulate Quebec’s use of section 45 to end the old monarchist oath.

More generally, the requirement for Canadian federal and provincial lawmakers to swear allegiance to the British monarch is in what we now call the Constitution Act, 1867. And this was originally an act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom known as the British North America Act, 1867 — finally “patriated” by Canada via the Constitution Act, 1982.

This 1867 Act is written in an archaic ceremonial language of the old British empire, where words do not always mean exactly what they seem to mean. The Governor General, for example, is assigned responsibilities that are in fact performed by the Prime Minister, who is nowhere even mentioned in the Act.

In such a universe who knows just what “the Oath of Allegiance contained in the Fifth Schedule to this Act” in section 128 of the Constitution Act, 1867 may eventually come to mean?

Meanwhile again, changing the oath of allegiance to the monarch that new Canadian citizens must also still swear does not involve any form of constitutional amendment. It only requires an ordinary act of the federal parliament.

Put another way, there is no requirement for a Canadian citizenship oath to the monarch in the Constitution Act, 1867 because there was no such thing as a Canadian citizen until 1947. This was when the first Citizenship Act passed by the Parliament of Canada took effect, in the immediate wake of the Second World War. (Until 1947 — and since 1763 — residents of Canada were just “British subjects” in the empire “on which the sun never set.”)

The “free and democratic society” alluded to at the start of the Constitution Act, 1982 continues to evolve in Canada today. And, Quebec is still providing an oversized share of the constructive political energy behind this Canadian evolution.

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.