The Queen is here in Canada again (she arrived just in time for Pride Week – how appropriate), and with her visit the media are all atwitter with the usual “controversy” surrounding whether or not we really need her at all as our head of state, or whether we should just throw the monarchy out like a truly independent postcolonial nation. Those in favour of deposing of the monarchy and moving to a republican form of government cite as justifications the “astronomical” costs, the growing numbers of Canadians who have no British ancestry, and the fact that it’s about time we shook off the yoke and got on with it ourselves, as a nation. (For proof of their commitment to good old Canadian multiculturalism and multiracialism, just look at how visually diverse their home page is.)
Those in favour of keeping the monarchy argue for the tradition and the links with a British past, the sense of stability and continuity that a separated head of state and government provide, and the fact that Canada is a “kindler, gentler nation” as headed by the Royal Family. (And in truth, our particular system of government costs only about $1.10 per Canadian citizen per year, and that all goes toward the trappings of the “constitutional monarchy” at home, and not at all toward the Royal Family’s maintenance in Britain.) There is also, for many pro-Royals, an emotional connection. Chief among those who encourage this feeling are the monarchists, organized and otherwise, who play upon the nebulous feeling among Canadians that the monarchy and our past as a loyal colony is a large part of what has made Canada what it is today – a nation very different from the United States, or even Britain. It is worth noting that most anti-monarchy arguments rest on rational reasons, and most pro-monarchy arguments are founded on these feelings of closeness.
But is it really a controversy? Is it even really a debate, to get rid of the monarchy? Granted, with the changing of the guard in the form of a new Governor General, we are forced to ask the difficult questions about the role of such a ceremonial post in Canadian society, and who would best fill it. In typical Canadian fashion, the popular vote thrusts a few of the usual suspects who have gained international fame into the spotlight once more, supposing that the global clout of a Rick Hansen or a Captain Kirk (such as it is) would stand them in good stead to parade around in uniform and shake many, many hands. And perhaps that is true. But the backing of these people represents a general catch-all celebration of fame that is long way from a Vincent Massey or a Marquis of Lorne, and indicates that knowledge of, and appreciation for, the history and significance of the Crown has fallen a long way.
The republican movement is admittedly small, and the vast majority of Canadians don’t care either way about the Queen and her curious family, which of course favours the continuation of the status quo. (A shocking percentage of young Canadians can’t even identify the head of state, or the date of confederation.) Certainly, the republican element has most likely failed to make any real traction because Canada’s monarchical links, or lack thereof, are just not as pressing as the economy, foreign policy, or even voting reform. Even the Australian republicans, in many ways similar to Canadians, keep failing to get a majority in favour of their cause, despite decades of earnest attempts to sever the links with their colonial past. Throughout history, in fact, there have been few, if any, peaceful transitions from monarchy to republic, which would seem to indicate that the Queen – and, soon, a King Charles or King William – is here to stay.
Apathy is a terrible reason to keep a national symbol, though. If anything, Canadians need more history, and more passion, and more celebration of nationhood. This is where the emotional connection of the pro-Monarchists is so powerful. I have attended a meeting of the Monarchist League, and was slightly surprised by its make-up. I expected women my mother’s age that collected Princess Diana memorial teacups and read Hello! Canada. Instead, it was about 95% men – many with connections to the military – who represented a cross-section of wealthy Toronto: private school teachers, the business elite, and gentlemanly officers in the old guard, with several eager young lawyers and Trinity College students waiting to take their places. They spoke of the Queen with reverence, and of “Charles, William and Harry” as though they were family, wayward uncles or cousins who only needed to sort themselves out a bit so we could be unabashedly proud of them too (this was in the days when Harry was spending his time dressed as a Nazi at costume parties ). The monarchy was very personal to them, and republican attacks were felt as misguided affronts to them as individuals.
It was a great afternoon. They were passionate about their cause, however archaic it might have seemed to others. We need more of this passion. And I have a suspicion that, beneath all the polite, middle-class practicality, Canadians have a real desire to be part of something romantic and special – something royal. Deep down, we too want the pomp and circumstance and pride in our nation’s institutions that our southern neighbours wear on their sleeves every time they weep during the national anthem, or recite the Declaration of Independence from memory. We want to be proud of the Royal Family, and we hope Prince William will marry that nice Kate girl and be happy. This is why hundreds turned up to see the Queen in Toronto on Sunday morning, and why royal-watching is still a popular pastime, even if we pretend not to care.
The monarchists are right: Canada needs a monarchy. Not because of the practical, rational reasons – prorogation aside, a constitutional monarchy is one of the most innocuous forms of government, and we are in little danger of having a revolution and needing the stability of the Crown to rise above it all – but because of the emotional ones. The Royal Family is ours, and makes us unique, and is a significant part of our national history and identity. Canadians need the monarchy because there is no Canada without it.
So go out and see the Queen today. Give her flowers, and curtsy. Or return her practiced queenly wave with one of your own. She is a living embodiment of our nation, and she deserves the attention.
The Queen visited a Toronto film studio yesterday, which prompted her to don a pair of 3D glasses seriously lacking in Queenly modesty – they have Swarovsky-encrusted “Q”s! Check out the bling (and link to hilarious blog post) below: