By the time you finish reading this you will love both the Monarchy and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Well, maybe you won’t, but then you’ll be wrong. And you don’t want to be wrong, do you? If you’re Canadian, you’ll be proud of this wonderful Constitutional Monarchy we have and if you’re not you’ll wish you had it. Again, maybe not. But even if you don’t love the Monarchy as an institution, you’ll no doubt love the Queen herself. Of this I have no doubt. Except that I do doubt. I doubt so, so much. About so many things. I should probably see someone…
Let’s begin with Her Majesty. There is just no denying that Queen Elizabeth II is awesome. The longest serving monarch in history, the Queen is one tough lady. She lived through World War 2 and actually begged her father to let her join the military despite only being 14. Once she turned 18, she enlisted and became a mechanic. Until recently, she continued to change her own oil. The Queen. Changed her own oil.
Maybe my favourite thing about the Queen is how cheap she is. When it came time to get married, a lavish wedding would have been in poor taste as war raged on. So, she did what anyone born into privilege would do. She bought her own wedding dress using war rations. Even though she doesn’t have to, she voluntarily pays taxes.
As mentioned, she’s served longer as head of state than anyone one else in recorded history. How has she ruled so long and lived to her ripe young age of 93 while seeming to never slow down? Sheer stubbornness. She just decided to. I’m honestly concerned that she’ll outlive me at this point.
Now, the Queen is undeniably awesome, but what about the institution she embodies? There have been countless pleas to end the monarchy in Canada, like this one. But this article and the countless others having many things wrong with them. Starting with their premise. There is no “British Monarchy” in Canada. There is only the Canadian Monarchy. It’s written right into our constitution. If the UK decided to abolish it, Canada would still have it. We aren’t beholden to the British in this matter at all.
The Canadian Monarchy is only the same as the British Monarchy insofar as The Queen reigns over both places independent of each other. Does having one person embodying two separate institutions mean that it’s complicated? Absolutely. But we aren’t dumb (most of us). And the Queen certainly isn’t. Plus, that’s why we have this whole other position called the Governor General of Canada (I’ll be doing a post about the GG soon, because people seem to believe some silly stuff about the role. I also have an undeniably awesome idea for who should get the job next).
And so, the argument that by sharing a Queen we are somehow not fully independent of our former colonial masters is nonsense. Let’s not forget about all of the other members of the Commonwealth with whom we share Her Majesty. If this logic holds up, then it would stand to reason that we are somehow all beholden to one another. A much bigger threat to our national and social sovereignty is the nation to our South. And if anything, having a Queen differentiates us from them. And the entire Canadian identity is being decidedly “not American.”
An objection to the monarchy that doesn’t attract enough attention is that it is not very diverse. As Canadians, we value diversity. This country is a tapestry of colours and languages and backgrounds and we are rightfully proud of that fact. But it is a fair criticism of the Canadian Monarchy that it is pretty lacking in colour and Y chromosomes have dominated it over the years. I don’t disagree with these criticisms, but I do think it’s improving. We’ve already established that the longest serving Monarch is a woman. And recently an African American (with strong Canadian ties) was added to the inner circle. And what the Monarchy has lacked in diversity, we have sought to address through Governor General appointments in recent decades. Is it ideal? No. But in a generational institution, change will necessarily take generations.
And despite its lack of diversity as an institution, in the end the monarchy actually leads to more diversity as a people. For a nation to unite and come together, it must have some unifying principle or symbol. Cooperation with strangers is otherwise not natural. There is no better such symbol than a human face. Without allegiance to a monarch and a royal family, the obvious alternative is an appeal to ties of ethnicity, to others like yourself, as if in some distant family relation. This is the nation-state. Nation states have gone bad places over the last few centuries, and Canada is not in principle a nation-state. In a nation-state, ethnic minorities are almost by definition given inferior status. In a monarchy, by contrast, diverse ethnicities are equal.
In any democracy, leaders come and go. That’s kind of the whole idea. But there is something stabilising and uniting about having a constant. The Queen unites all of us as a living symbol of what we believe in. Also as a symbol that sheer force of will can keep a person young… or at least that’s what I tell my wife when she tells me to eat better.
Compare Canada’s history to the United States’ over these same two hundred years. Both ethnically and geographically, Canada has far deeper natural divisions. Regarding the independence referendums in Quebec one American diplomat even conceded, “such a state of affairs led to a bloody civil war between the North and South in his country.” Exactly. It is the U.S., not Canada, despite more obvious divisions in the latter case, that suffered a devastating civil war.
Perhaps the greatest thing about the Monarchy, though, is that it humbles our politicians. Again, let us look to our Southern neighbours to see a state of politics built on personal brands and outrageousness. In Canada we are not immune to that, but it is blunted by having someone at the top that everyone technically works for. It keeps everyone playing nice because there is nothing stopping the Queen from firing everyone at any time. Max Fisher points out that when the Prime Minister bows before the Queen, he bows before the Canadian people too.
In moments of crisis when it is unclear who holds the democratic mandate, the Queen (or in this case her representative in Canada, the governor general) plays a vital role as constitutional arbiter, her powers and legitimacy serving as a safeguard against abuses. The commonly used metaphor is that the Queen (or the Governor General) is like a fire extinguisher. You hope you never have to use it, but when something really serious happens (for our purposes a constitutional crisis) you’ll be glad you have it. Constitutionally, the Queen is a “break glass in case of emergency” fire alarm we can pull when things get hairy.
In the end, the biggest problem with having a constitutional monarchy in Canada is that we don’t see the Queen or her family enough. They aren’t in our consciousness. Polls show that Canadians lean slightly into the “abolish” camp most days. But when there is a major event, such as a royal wedding or birth, or if the Queen or one of her heirs do a tour of Canada, then Canadians overwhelmingly support keeping it. So is the problem the monarchy, or the lack of visibility of it in Canada (again, look for a post on the Governor General because I have a solution to this problem)?
A lack of visibility is a dumb reason to dislike something. I can’t see air, but I still have an affinity for it when I suddenly don’t have it. I’m guessing you do too. The Queen is like air. Such sweet, stubborn, steel faced air. We may take it for granted while we have it but getting rid of it would be a huge mistake.