Campbell Clark, writing in the Globe and Mail, a couple of days ago, said, “Canada’s constitutional system makes it nearly impossible to get rid of the monarchy … [it is one of those things that takes the unanimous consent of all Canadian parliaments and legislatures] … But one day it is going to be unavoidable – perhaps even thrust upon us … [because, as he explains] … It has always taken some suspension of disbelief to accept the role of kings and queens to serve as the source of all national power – and the superior of elected prime ministers. Yet it worked. But that was only because of reverence for, or deference to, the monarch.” But that deference is fading and Meghan Merkle, an über-ambitious but otherwise quite unremarkable American actress, may have dealt it a really hard blow.
But, what if the monarchy self-destructs?
That won’t happen now, but, as Campbell Clark suggests there is a chance that absent some real reform ~ downsizing and making it look more like its Scandinavian counterparts? ~ there is a real possibility that it might cease to have a “home base” in Britain ~ and, of course, in 50 years there might not even be a Britain ~ by the end of the 21st century, perhaps even during the reign of Prince William’s son George.
The obvious choice to replace a monarchy is a republic but that, as we have seen in Australian referenda, raises questions about the form of democratic government and the recent experience in the USA makes the idea of a popularly elected president somewhere between worrisome and downright repugnant.
There are, basically, only two forms of democratic governments: monarchies and republics. There are several forms of republics ~ the most democratic are, very often, based on the same Westminster model that we use, where the executive power is represented by a president but is exercised by a prime minister who is responsible to parliament.
There is an interim system, sometimes, called a regency … but a regency, generally (always as far as my reading suggests) is used as a stop-gap measure either between monarchs or when a monarch is to young or otherwise unfit to rule ~ the 1811-1820 Regency in Britain which gave its name to a whole era was required because King George III was stark, raving bonkers. I have suggested before that Canada could become a Regency as a way of avoiding a succession that I believe may be unpopular and will be divisive while also avoiding the debate about what form of republicanism might suit most of us ~ a debate that I suggest, will only end in tears, or worse.
But, most likely, almost certainly, I think, IF we are ever going to make a major Constitutional change on our own, it will be to a republic.
But, what sort of republic?
Here are my suggestions:
- First, and most importantly, a parliamentary republic with a Westminster type of responsible government which implies a very powerful elected executive and a figure-head president;
- Second, a federal state, perhaps, to differentiate us from our neighbours, officially called a Federation (or even called the Canadian Confederacy ~ 😉 just to remind our neighbours of their chequered history). Perhaps, since this will require a full-scale, no-holds-barred Constructional Convention that will make ones leading to the (failed) Meech Lake Accords look downright friendly, it will be time to remake the Canadian political map and have only five provinces ~
- British Columbia, incorporating the Yukon territory (population: 5.1 Million)
- The Prairies ~ Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the current North-West Territories and Nunavut (pop: 7.1 M),
- Ontario (pop: 14.6 M),
- Québec (pop: 8.4 M), and
- Atlantic Canada consisting of the current provinces of New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island (population: 2.4 Million).
- Third, a system of selecting a head-of-state that does NOT allow for direct election by popular vote ~ which would make the head-of-state more politically powerful than is necessary or desirable in a Westminster type of responsible government ~ perhaps incorporating some features from other democracies including election by a “college” representing the federal and provincial legislatures, perhaps, being open only to the (max 165) Companions of the Order of Canada (which might risk (further) politicizing the appointments to the Order) and, perhaps, rotating (for each of the five, six or seven year terms of office) between the five provinces.
Nothing about changing the form of the Canadian state is ever going to be easy. Nor should it be. Making the process inordinately difficult was one of the very few things Pierre Trudeau did right when he repatriated the Constitution in 1982. But it may have to be done and sooner is likely better than later. I think that a federal, parliamentary republic is likely to be the most (only?) acceptable form of a non-monarchial state. Sticking our collective heads back in the sand and saying “now is not the time” is not leadership.