Peter Donolo, who is a communications consultant based in Toronto and who was (many years ago) director of communications in the office of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, takes up, in an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail, the issue of the anachronism of the Canadian royal family that is emerging because of what some people are calling Megixt ~ the decision by Prince Harry and his wife to “step back” from being “senior royals.”
He says that “the ongoing Harry-Meghan soap opera is – a lesson in how ludicrous an institution the monarchy is in the 21st century and how profoundly out-of-step it is with the values that we prize as Canadians …[and, he adds] … It is also a reminder of some unfinished business for our country. The monarchy is Canada’s last colonial vestige. It has remained in place largely due to inertia. But the increasing sideshow nature of the Royal Family and the impending end of the second Elizabethan era should focus our collective mind. We need to start preparing for a post-monarchy Canada – in the parlance of the day, let’s call it a Canadian “Rexit.”“
Mr Donolo makes three vital points that bear repeating:
- First, “Canada’s attachment to the British Empire played an essential role in our creation and in our history. It was a key factor in our resistance to American Manifest Destiny and our joining together as a country a century-and-a-half ago.” Slowly, he tells us, and incrementally, Canada moved, as noted Canadian historian Arthur Lower put it, from ‘Colony to Nation,’ under the (occasionally impatient) guidance of a (generally) liberal British ‘parent,’ later, senior partner and now collegial state;
- Second, “Many of the British institutions we inherited from colonial times have served Canada well. Our parliamentary democracy and our system of laws have been guarantors of the “Peace, Order and Good Government” promised in our Constitution;” and
- Third, much credit for the enduring popularity (or, at least broad acceptance) of the anachronistic, undemocratic and undoubtedly foreign monarchy in Canada “must be given to Queen Elizabeth II, a truly remarkable and, in many ways, inspiring figure. Through her unique combination of sangfroid, dedication to duty and tireless globetrotting, she has kept this creaky, obsolete institution going half a century longer than it should have. She deserves our respect and our appreciation … [and, he says] … those who say that the Queen is irreplaceable are right.“
Then he gets to his main point. If our gracious sovereign lady, Queen Elizabeth II is, indeed, irreplaceable the, perhaps: “We should not even try” to replace her when, very sadly but inevitably, she passes away.
But Mr Donolo does not propose a direct break with the royal family. He says that while “Of course, a more direct approach would be for our elected officials to acknowledge, in effect, “the emperor has no clothes,” and call for an outright “Rexit” – the end of the monarchy in Canada after the Queen,” but, with the insights that only a very senior and long-serving political insider can possess, he also writes, “in a minority parliament, do we really want to be dealing this an issue like this, anyway?” But he leaves no doubt that a clean, honest, open repudiation of a foreign, undemocratic, hereditary monarchy, is his desired end result.
Instead, for now (until a majority government is in place?) he advocates for a steady, incremental erosion of the position and visibility of the monarchy in Canadian affairs.
He recommends that:
- The process “could start by further minimizing the size of the royal footprint in official government proceedings. It wasn’t that long ago that God Save the Queen was sung at movie theatres and sporting events in Canada. The Queen’s image used to grace all our currency. Through the aforementioned Canadian incrementalism, these practices have all changed through the years. Let’s keep those changes going. We could curtail the requirement of an oath to the Queen (and her “heirs and successors”) by new Canadian citizens and government officials, including parliamentarians. None of this would require the amendment of our constitution, as Philippe Lagassé of Carleton University pointed out in a recent article for Policy Options;” and
- “At the same time,” he suggests, “we can start meaningfully restructuring the role – and the selection process – of Canada’s governor-general, preparing that office to be in title, as well as function, our country’s true head of state.” He suggests, and I agree fully, that “A process that would require the confirmation of parliamentarians – the way the speaker of the House of Commons is selected – would imbue the office with greater legitimacy and seriousness. In fact, it’s the way non-elected heads of state are chosen in many successful democracies, such as Germany and Israel.“
“That,” he opines, and again I agree, “would be the Canadian way of doing things. Laying the groundwork and biding our time.” But, “biding our time” until what? Until there is another Diefenbaker or Mulroney who can form a majority government that has a really high level (50%) of popular support all across the country and is willing to make us a republic, like India, for example? Is that the Liberal dream?
It has long seemed to me that the very sad, but inevitable, passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II should be the signal for a Canadian Regency. But that transition will require some political preparation, which I have described before.
I’m not opposed to Canada becoming a republic while retaining, like Germany and India, a Westminster model of responsible parliamentary government (which I consider to be superior to the representative congressional system used by our American friends) and having an essentially ceremonial head of state ~ simply put, our Governor-General becomes a President. But I think the difficult process of changing the Constitution, especially since changing the monarchy requires the unanimous consent of the federal parliament and all ten provincial legislatures, might be jarring and more than any Canadian leader (at least, any I can imagine) would willingly take on. I think that the process I have described ~ a Resolution passed by the House of Commons but which is never sent to the Senate and never requires the Governor-General to send an address to the Queen ~ should suffice. It, politely, but firmly, tells the Queen and, more importantly, her heirs and successors that Canada does not accept the existing laws governing the royal succession because, despite recent changes, they are still prejudiced against Roman Catholics. I believe that Her Majesty and Princes Charles and William are polite enough (and astute enough) to accept the “guidance” expressed in a Resolution passed by the Canadian House of Commons, even if it never comes to them formally, and they will not lay claim to the Throne of Canada which will, still exist, legally and constitutionally, even if no one occupies it.
Is it time for a Canadian Rexit?
Almost … the right time will be when Her Majesty passes; but rather than just “biding our time,” as Peter Donolo suggests, I think that Canada should begin “laying the groundwork,” in Parliament to achieve what I suspect a majority of Canadian want: the end of the hereditary claim of the House of Windsor (formerly the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha) to the Throne of Canada.