King or Country


You may have missed it, since the story slipped largely under the radar, but a baby was born in England Monday.

As this post will show, I’m a staunch republican (the kind who want the monarchy out of Canada…not the kind who want to arm fetuses). Still, I don’t take offense to the hoopla that has consumed traditional and online media this week. I get excited about equally silly things (“YES! Someone I have never met hit a baseball very far yesterday“), and this isn’t so silly once you consider this baby’s face will one day be on money and in history books. Better to get excited about this than the latest Kardashian offspring. So I think we’ll all survive having our Facebook feeds full of Royal Baby posts rather than the usual stream of 90s nostalgia, celebrity gossip, and not-so-royal baby pictures.

What I do take issue with is that this baby will grow up to be the King of Canada, regardless of what he does with his life. We’re selecting an individual who will be our face to the world, and rather than trying to find someone with qualities we admire, we’ve decided to play the genetic lottery. I can’t think of anything more un-Canadian than giving someone a title based on their blood rather than their merits.

Actually, I can think of one thing more un-Canadian: being literally not Canadian. It never ceases to amaze me how the same people who shredded Michael Ignatieff to bits for “Just Visiting” are aghast at the suggestion that the Canadian head of state should be someone who tours Canada more often than Paul McCartney.

In effect, there’s no reason to have a British head of state in Canada other than history. As someone who has memorized every single Heritage Moment word-for-word, I’m not quick to dismiss history, and I do find Colby Cosh’s argument for “historical continuity” strangely compelling. But Canada’s history with Great Britain has not been one of continuity, but rather one of us shedding our colonial ties in a centuries long striptease towards nationhood. We got our own Parliament, then we got our own foreign policy, then we got our own flag, then we got our own constitution. All that’s left is having a head of state we can call our own.

Simply put, we’re no longer a British colony. On the 2011 Census, over 10 million people marked “Canadian” as their ethnic ancestry, with around 6.5 million marking “English”. Most Canadians view the country as a cultural mosaic, and even those with more traditional views talk about our 2 (or 3!) founding peoples. This is a country which now has closer ties to the US than the UK, and I can only imagine what the uproar would be if we had an American head of state.

The strongest argument against dropping the Monarchy – indeed, against any form of change – is the alternative. Indeed, an elected head of state is a scary prospect when you consider some of the people Canadians have elected recently. However, given the Queen has never had to weigh in on constitutional matters during her reign, I don’t see any reason we couldn’t simply “promote” the Governor General to the role. Maybe you tweak the appointment procedure, maybe you limit the pool of candidates to Order of Canada recipients – but in the end, I’d rather see them appointed by Canada’s Parliament rather than appointed by God.

It’s likely not worth getting worked up, one way or the other, over a position which is largely symbolic. But with no disrespect to boy George, a symbol which represents Canada should be Canadian and should represent Canadian values. The Monarchy does not.

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8 responses to “King or Country”

  1. I think I pretty much agree with you. The only difference in my view is whether it’s worth the cost and effort to bother changing something that is essentially just symbolic. I ean toward ‘no’ but I guess it should depend on what other problems the government is facing at the time, how much money is available to enact such a change, and whether the public is interested.

    Also, regarding the following quote, I can’t wait until some Trudeau opponents give you hell:

    “I can’t think of anything more un-Canadian than giving someone a title based on their blood rather than their merits.”

    • Yeah, I do recognize the difficulty in making the change, and I don’t think I’d advise any politician to take this on as an issue until the public swings more onside – there are more important fights to fight.

  2. There is enough civic illiteracy in this country that a discussion could be helpful (although it is perhaps equally likely to be so misinformed as to cause further damage).

    The Queen is the embodiment of The Crown, the Monarch, the font of authority. It is the Crown that prosecutes the law, that collects taxes and implements spending programs.

    That the Crown acts on the advice of the Ministry is generally understood well enough. It is less well understood that the ONLY exception is in the awarding of certain honours which are the exclusive reserve of the Queen.

    That isn’t to say that the Queen, or the Governor General, won’t have a discussion with her advisors and suggest that their advice be given in a certain direction. When one refers to “reserve powers of the Crown” one is referring to those powers which are held by the Ministry which are not bound by the advice of Parliament. (This is in contrast to powers to tax and spend, which must derive from Parliament and specifically from The People through the House of Commons.)

    Simply vesting “The Crown” in an appointee does not fit the bill in a Constitutional Monarchy. Nor does filling the office by electoral means.

    Sure, there are systems of Government other than Constitutional Monarchies, several of which have been shown to be workable in various contexts.

    But don’t think that fundamental changes to our system of Government are so simply done.

  3. Who awards the Order of Canada? Isn’t that one of the things the Queen does without requiring advice?

    You could make the President of the United States your head of state, with the provision that the President is represented in Canada by the Governor-General, same as is the case with the Queen now. The President of the United States is always selected purely on merit.

    Of course, the individual provinces would be free to continue their current arrangements.

  4. Riddle me this, Batman….

    Why not just join America?

    Don’t get me wrong, I totally, completely get where you’re coming from and fancy myself a republican kind of “by/for-of the people” cat, myself.

  5. This country is made of of those parts of continental North America (plus more than a few islands) that remained loyal to the Crown after the American Revolution. That’s pretty much the definition of Canada.

    Besides which: throughout my entire lifetime, Queen Elizabeth has proven to be the only person in government worthy of trust.

    There is no way I would ever, EVER support the notion of abolishing the Monarchy. We might as well just give up and join the US.

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