There are reports in the media that “indicate that Prince Charles is in preparation to take over as the head of the British monarchy once his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, turns 95 in 18 months … [for example, the] … British outlet the Daily Mail says Charles met with Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, yesterday at Sandringham to discuss the move, which comes on the back of Charles’ role in forcibly “retiring” Prince Andrew from public life … [and] … The Express is reporting that Charles will be helped in managing royal affairs by Prince William. The queen has already, in recent times, been delegating duties to the senior pair, her immediate heirs. The new move will see this taken a step further.“
That might even be all to the good, but CTV News says that an official spokesperson for Prince Charles has denied that Her Majesty plans to retire. But, her most gracious majesty can do with some help. Her duties are onerous, especially for a nonagenarian. Here in Canada, our sovereign lady already has a helper: the Governor-General. But, these reports, true or not, are just one more indication that we are preparing for a change with some Constitutional implications and for Canadians, it is an ideal time to discuss our Constitutional future.
We are, by definition, “One Dominion under the Crown … with a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom,” which makes us a constitutional monarchy. Now, again and pretty much by definition, a constitutional monarchy has a monarch … usually. Usually, but not always. In the relatively modern era (1811 to 1820) Britain had a regency when King George III was judged to be insane. In more modern times Finland, Iceland, before it became a republic, and Hungary all had regencies.
This leads me to an idea … a bit “off the wall’ to be sure, but, I think, doable.
Many Canadians (and Australians and other Commonwealth citizens) are confused about the nature of their state. Some don’t even really understand the respective roles of the Queen, the governor-general and the prime minister. Almost everyone knows that the Queen matters, somehow, her image is on our coins and her picture hangs in many offices and she’s been Queen for longer than most Canadians have been alive … but what does she do?
It seems to me that the time is ripe for Canada to take a step on the Constitution’s evolutionary path. When, very sadly but inevitably, Her majesty dies we should not proclaim her anointed successor to be our king. We should, instead, say that the various laws governing the succession to the throne ~ to the throne of Canada, by the way ~ many of which date from the 18th century, offend our sense of fairness. We should say that by passing a resolution in the House of Commons.
The resolution would be similar to the Nickle Resolution of 1919 which requested that the British government refrain from conferring titles (knighthoods and baronial titles) upon any person ordinarily resident in Canada. The resolution passed in the House of Commons but was never sent to the Senate and the Governor-General (the Duke of Devonshire) never sent an “address” to King George V as the resolution asked. But he didn’t need to … the resolution spoke for itself; it was the “voice” of Canada’s elected House of Commons, the King was, constitutionally, duty-bound to respect it and he and his successors did.
The resolution that I propose would follow the same route. It would originate in the House of Commons; it would say that the various laws governing the royal succession offend Canadians’ deeply held principles and, therefore Canada wants to reconsider how (and, therefore, to whom) the crown is passed on when the Queen dies. The resolution should not be sent to the Senate; Julie Payette should not send a letter to the Queen; but the Queen and Prince Charles and Prince William and so on will all take note of the resolution anyway. When, on the sad day that the Queen dies, the Governor-General, through the Privy Council Office, will issue a proclamation. In 1952 that proclamation said, roughly: “WHEREAS it hath pleased Almighty God to call to His Mercy Our Late Sovereign Lord King George the Sixth of blessed and glorious memory by whose decease the Crown of Great Britain, Ireland and all other His late Majesty’s dominions is solely and rightfully come to the High and Mighty Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, Now Know Ye that I … do now hereby with one voice and consent of tongue and heart, publish and proclaim that the High and Mighty Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary is now by the death of Our late Sovereign of happy and glorious memory become our only lawful and rightful Liege Lady Elizabeth the Second by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas Queen, Defender of the Faith, Supreme Liege Lady in and over Canada, to whom we acknowledge all faith and constant obedience with all hearty and humble affection, beseeching God by whom all Kings and Queens do reign to bless the Royal Princess Elizabeth the Second with long and happy years to reign over us.” In other words: “the king is dead, God save the queen.” The next one should be different. It should say something like: ” WHEREAS it hath pleased Almighty God to call to His Mercy Our Late Sovereign LadyElizabeth the Second of blessed and glorious memory by whose decease the Crown of Canada is in the temporary custody of the Governor-General of Canada who shall act as regent until the people of Canada shall decide on the lawful succession.”
The people of Canada should, then, promptly forget about the whole matter. Canada should remain a constitutional monarchy with the wonderful Westminster model of responsible, parliamentary democracy … we just should be a monarchy that has misplaced its monarch. We should, properly, regard the new King ~ presumptively King Charles ~ as the Head of the Commonwealth and as the king of many realms, but not of Canada. Charles will, graciously, not lay claim to our throne if it is not offered to him. Good manners demand that. It will be vacant. The Governor-General will pose a brief, transient, problem. The government of the day will have to, quickly, figure out a neat way to select a new Governor-General-Regent every few years. In slower time the appropriate authorities will have to decide what should be on the obverse of coins and on some military medals and so on. There will be no need to rename buildings ~ no one will want to dishonour Queen Elizabeth or the kings and queens before her. In fact, once the crown is put aside, so to say, out of sight and out of mind, vandals may stop defacing the statues of e.g. Queen Victoria.
I believe that an overwhelming majority of Canadians respect Queen Elizabeth. I think that many do understand that she is our Queen, too, quite separately from being the Queen of Britain and Australia and so on, and they will be sad when she dies. I think Prince Carles is a stranger and I suspect that many Canadians will have difficulty with the idea that a strange, foreign man with some strange ideas should be, rather suddenly, King of Canada. My guess is that his ascent to our throne will not be welcomed.
There is no need, I think, to change the Constitution. I believe that we and the royals are all people of good sense and good manners and we can probably all agree that Canada should and can remain a constitutional monarchy with a Westminster model of parliamentary government … just one that, for the moment, which never ends, without a monarch. The correct word for that is a regency. The regent need not be a member of the royal family. As was the case in the 13th century the regent can be any person who is trusted by the people ~ eight hundred years ago, in 1216 it was the formidable William Marshal. In the 2020s the de facto and de jure head of the Canadian state should be a Canadian chosen, albeit indirectly, by the Parliament of Canada, as the Governor-General is now.