My friend, Brigadier General (ret’d) Jim Cox, late of The Royal Canadian Regiment, tossed a bit of dampness on to the Victoria Day fireworks. He reckons, in an elegantly written onion piece in the Ottawa Citizen, that the idea of a Canadian monarchy is “archaic and offensive to modern Canadian values,” mythical in law, not even required, in any practical sense, and remote from modern Canadian people. Quite frankly, despite my almost boundless admiration for our gracious sovereign lady, Queen Elizabeth, as both a monarch and a person, I agree with General Cox … up to a point.
He advocates for a parliamentary republic. I like that notion. Germany and India, two of my favourite countries, are parliamentary republics. But I see one problem: I don’t think that most Canadians, certainly not a majority of them, understand what a parliamentary republic is. The near-total collapse of the Canadian public education system ~ there’s a reason that so many scientists, physicians and engineers are immigrants ~ coupled with the absolute pervasiveness of American ‘culture’ means that a solid majority of Canadians believe that there is only one model of a republic: the representative, constitutional shambles with which we share a rich continent. Now, there’s not a whole lot wrong with the American representative model ~ it actually seems to work rather well in, say, South Korea, where the adults are in charge, but it is inferior, in my opinion, in every respect to our responsible, parliamentary model of government.
I am about 99.9% certain that if we followed General Cox’s plan to take the one “last step and move out of our parents’ basement to become a truly mature Canada … [so that when] … Queen Elizabeth II leaves us, we must abolish the Canadian monarchy and become a parliamentary republic,” we would have to have a referendum and that would involve, eventually deciding between a constitutional, representative republic, like America’s or Mexico’s or a responsible, parliamentary republic, like, say, India’s, or sticking with the comfortable, misunderstood status quo. Basically, in Australia, in 1999, a simple referendum question, “republic or monarchy?“, got bogged down in a debate about “what sort of republic?” and the status quo won.
That referendum would have to follow (and would be followed by) a lengthy series of constitutional
screaming sessions discussions between Ottawa and the provinces that would make anything that has ever happened before, from Charlottetown in 1864 to Charlottetown in 1992 look like child’s play. The referendum would be the subject of court challenge after court challenge regarding the nature of the question and the size of the majority needed to pass or reject it.
There’s a better option …
Let’s just tell the Brits that, as Jim Cox says, “The idea that another member of the British royal family should become the Canadian head of state is preposterous …[and it] … offends our dignity and denies diversity.” There’s a simple way to do that … we did something like that in 1919 when the House of Commons passed the Nickle Resolution. (You may remember hearing about that when Jean Chrétien and Conrad Black feuded, publicly, about titles and citizenship back circa the year 2000.) Resolutions are the way that civilized governments talk to one another. The neat thing about the Nickle Resolution was that while, in theory, it needed to be passed by the Senate and then result in a later from the Governor-General to the King, it didn’t even have to go that far. It got stalled in the Senate, the GG never wrote a later, but the Brits, being gentlemen and ladies, took note of Canada’s concerns and acted accordingly … to Conrad Black’s chagrin.
All that’s needed to make Jim Cox’s dream come true is for a Resolution to be passed in the House of Commons that says that the various and sundry acts of succession which, as he points out, offend us because “British law prohibits any Canadian of any non-Protestant religion from being the King or Queen of Canada,” make it impossible for Canadians to accept the next-in-line for the British throne. Canadians need to say that they want their throne to be vacant until they can decide, amongst themselves, who should, lawfully, be able to take it. The Brits, the royals, being ladies and gentlemen will take polite notice of our concerns and on the sad day when Queen Elizabeth does pass away Charles will not be proclaimed ‘King of Canada’ … and no one will notice. It might not be quite that simple, a few phone calls and e-mails between functionaries might be required but, basically, if the Canadian House of Commons passed a simple Resolution our constitutional monarchy would take serious constitutional note of it. Good manners might be found anywhere in Pierre Trudeau’s deeply flawed 1982 Charter of Rights but the whole myth of the monarchy depends upon them.
Meanwhile, in Canada, we will forget about deciding on the laws of succession … Elizabeth will be succeeded, as Head of the Commonwealth, by Charles who will be succeeded by William who will then be followed. by George, and Canada will have forgotten that it is a monarchy without a serving monarch. We might find some better way to select the Governor-General and our biggest worry will be who or what should be on our currency. There will be a whole new team in the Bank of Canada deciding which faces should be on our money, and they will have to decide on the correct ratios of English vs French faces, female vs male faces, Aboriginal vs coloured vs white faces and so on. It will be so Canadian: generations of bureaucrats doing nothing productive at all.
Our Head of State will still be a sovereign … just an unknown one, someone who, as General Cox says, is a myth, as (s)he should be. Our Governor-General, who acts on the sovereign’s behalf, which includes welcoming visiting British (foreign) royalty when they come to Canada to exercise their celebrity status, will be, officially, the Governor-General Regent but, since that’s a mouthful and since that’s hard to explain to seven-year-olds maybe we’ll change the GG’s title to president/président(e) or regent/régent(e) or something ~ another committee of otherwise unemployable but fluently bilingual and ethnically diverse bureaucrats and legal scholars can work that out.
Jim Cox’ proposal need not require a referendum; it need not require a massively divisive Constitutional Convention that will make the discussion that led to the Meech Lake Acord (1978) look simple, it will not even require General Cox and me to change our blazer badges (which use Queen Victoria’s cypher Victoria Regina et Imperatrix) … we will remain, as we are now, a responsible, parliamentary democracy, in which the executive function is exercised by a “governor in council,” in which the governor is a harmless (but hopefully dignified) figurehead and the council consists of the elected members of the government who form the cabinet.
Canada should change. A remote, foreign monarch is not appropriate in the 21st century. But there needs to be a simple, evolutionary way to make the changes that I suspect most Canadians want without the bother of a referendum and a Constitutional debate.