I hope everyone in Canada had a nice Victoria Day week-end … but it’s a bit of an anachronism, isn’t it? How many of us, I wonder, can actually tell anyone else much of anything about Queen Victoria or why we still celebrate her birthday? Or, for that matter, who can tell us much about Queen Elizabeth and why she matters? It’s not a matter of historical knowledge or even of constitutional niceties, it is a matter, as Yves Boisvert, a columnist for La Presse, says in an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail, that Victoria was and Queen Elizabeth is a symbol and “symbols have an impact on a nation’s psyche – even in a country of many nations.” I’m not going to dignify his silly assertion that the Queen, somehow, caused disunity by offending Quebec nationalism ~ all people who hold that view demonstrate poor manners and political immaturity of a high order. But I do agree with his central thesis: in 21st century Canada, for a whole hockey sock full of reasons, including a weak sense of our national self and a poor knowledge of history and politics, both Queens Victoria and Elizabeth are “foreign” ~ Queen Elizabeth is more of a respected celebrity than our head of state. It may be time to fix that …
But M. Boisvert goes far too far, as do many who want to change the constitution in suggesting that we should have a president. There’s nothing wrong with presidents, per se, both Germany and India have successful Westminster type democratic systems with presidents, but we live next door too and are culturally dominated by America, and its system of representative, republican government is inferior in most important respects, to our system of responsible, parliamentary government but we, mostly, know much more about their system than we do our own, and if we opted for a republic with a president, as India did, we would, soon, start demanding a US style system in all respects and that would be a step backwards.
What to do?
First we should plan to remain a constitutional monarchy … but without a reigning monarch. We should be very polite, we’re Canadians after all, and tell the Queen, via a resolution of the House of Commons that we, Canadians, do not believe that her “lawful heirs and successors” ought to have an automatic right, by accident of birth, to take the throne of Canada and that on the very sad day when hers dies we will make our own choice as to who should occupy the throne of Canada. The resolution need not go far … remember the Nickle Resolution(s) of 1917 (again in 1919)? (Most people only heard about it when Conrad Black and Jean Chrétien had an interesting, informative and entertaining constitutional dust-up over Black’s appointment to the UK’s House of Lords). The resolutions passed the House but never even made it to the Senate and no formal address was ever made to King George V. But he didn’t have to get a letter from Canada; the king was a good constitutional monarch and he heard the will of the people and heeded it. It we, politely, even indirectly and obliquely, tell Queen Elizabeth that the succession, for Canada, ends with her then she will make sure that our democratically expressed will is given proper effect ~ there will be no King Charles III or King William V of Canada.
But if we’re still a constitutional monarchy, who will wear the crown?
No one …
But it, and the precious Canadian Constitution, will be safeguarded by a regent.
The last time we had a regency in the British Commonwealth was in the very early 19th century when the Prince Regent, who later become King George IV, was regent while his father King George III was “incapacitated.” (the poor man was quite mad.) We remember that regency, mostly, for giving a name to an era and a style of furniture. The best real regent was there 700 years ago when William Marshal (his effigy on his tomb is pictured) was de facto head of state for a decade while King Henry III was a child. Anyway, when a country cannot decide who the sovereign ought to be or the acknowledged sovereign cannot rule (too immature, stark raving bonkers, etc) then a regent reigns in the sovereign’s place … it’s all, really, quite simple and legal and proper.
The governor general, of course.
We may want to fine-tune how the GG is selected but, in principle, we want a “hired hand” head of state, not an elected politician who will demand her or his own powers, à la a US president which would lead us down the wrong path. We don’t need an “heir to the throne” nor do we want an old soldier who gets his (the sovereign’s) way by bashing other notables with a bloody great mace … we want a figurehead who is liked and respected by most Canadians.
So, Yves Boisvert is right: we should ditch the monarch when Queen Elizabeth dies. Not because she is divisive: that’s just French Canadian nationalist whinging ~ because they have too little faith in themselves. Rather, because a foreign monarch, reigning over a commonwealth no longer makes much sense to most Canadians. The throne of Canada should be placed in the hands of an appointed (not elected) Regent of Canada ~ a Canadian replacement for the Queen’s governor general.
But we should keep Victoria Day ~ in every province ~ because it’s a great start to the summer.