The death of Queen Elizabeth II last week elicited an outpouring of affection from around the globe. Whatever one may think of monarchies and their troubled histories, the woman who sat on the British throne for seven decades certainly earned the personal accolades.
Not surprisingly, her passing has sparked plenty of talk about the future of the monarchy in countries as diverse as Australia and Antigua. Canada is not immune.
Debates about Canada’s ongoing link to Britain and the monarchy have arisen from time to time. The monarchy is a particularly touchy subject in Quebec, and we all know that politicians are always trying to curry favour there. As the country’s demographics change, there are fewer ties to the UK, as well.
The shifting opinions were reflected in an Angus Reid Institute survey last spring.
“While Canadians may from their hearts be toasting Queen Elizabeth II on her 96th birthday, enthusiastic congratulations over a rare personal milestone do not translate into widespread support for the institution the oldest ever British monarch represents,” the survey found, noting “people in this part of the realm more supportive of other nations severing ties with the British monarchy, while at least half of the country hope to do the same here in the future.”
Three-in-five respondents said it’s the right decision for countries such as Barbados and Jamaica to free themselves from British colonialism. Further, half (51 per cent) say Canada should not remain a monarchy in coming generations. One-quarter (26 per cent) would keep this tradition and form of government in place, while a similar number are unsure (24 per cent).
While some of this shift may be attributable to evolving mores and values, it also may be driven by the current line of succession. While 55 per cent of Canadians were supportive of remaining a constitutional monarchy as long as the Queen reigns, that number dropped to 34 per cent for the same arrangement under “King Charles.”
While Canadians held a generally favourable view of the Queen (63 per cent), the poll found that number dropped dramatically at the prospect of Charles ascending to the throne – 54 per cent viewed him unfavourably. (His son William polled favourably, however.)
That said, the immediate reaction in the UK to the acclamation of King Charles III seemed largely positive. Whether that was due to the immediate aftermath of his mother’s death remains to be seen. Still, the issues of the then-Prince Charles – particularly the Diana years and the normalizing of Camilla Parker Bowles – have receded, with perhaps some empathy for the man’s years of waiting in the wings for the role he now takes at the age of 73.
King Charles has declared his intention to carry on with his mother’s well-regarded sense of duty. Whatever form his reception takes in the longer run, there’s no denying that the death of Queen Elizabeth has spotlighted the gap between her personal appeal and that of the British monarchy, in Canada and beyond.
Other members of the Commonwealth are having a similar debate, some of them on the road to making changes. In Australia, for instance, the long-discussed issue of switching to a republic surfaced almost immediately. In Antigua, Prime Minister Gaston Browne told reporters of plans to move away from the monarchy.
“This is not an act of hostility or any difference between Antigua and Barbuda and the monarchy, but it is the final step to complete that circle of independence, to ensure that we are truly a sovereign nation,” he told British television.
Similar moves are expected in former colonies, particularly in the Caribbean. It’s a list that includes the Bahamas, Belize and Jamaica. That would be the path set by Barbados, Dominica, Guyana, Mauritius, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Doing the same in Canada would be an enormous undertaking, however. Dissolving our constitutional monarchy – removing the King from the equation – would require an amendment to the Constitution agreed upon by Parliament and all of the provincial legislatures. That almost insurmountable hurdle would be even more difficult given the years of public consultations, including with Indigenous communities, that would be required.
Given the numerous other priorities, including a collision course with lower living standards, governments should have no interest in going down that road. The constitutional crises alone render the idea a bad one.
Though changing our particular form of governance should remain on the backburner, the question of monarchy does put in the spotlight issues of democracy, increasingly under attack globally.
Monarchies based on heredity rather than merit, the system itself unaccountable to anyone, are hardly representative of democracy. The British system has relegated the monarchy to a largely symbolic role, though the Queen met regularly with prime ministers of her day, 15 during her reign.
While the monarchy cost taxpayers a considerable amount of money – an estimated £102.4 million ($155.3 million) in 2021-22 – the royals also contribute greatly to the UK economy. Forbes puts the net average contribution at £1.9 billion ($2.9 billion) per year, largely through tourism.
Those financial boons don’t apply to Commonwealth countries such as Canada, of course. Here, the ties to the monarchy cost some $59 million in 2019-20, according to a 2021 Monarchist League of Canada report. Most of that money is due to the governor general and provincial lieutenant governors.
The cost will take another upward blip Monday, the Trudeau government having deemed the date of the Queen’s funeral as holiday for federal employees and those in federally regulated industries, including banks, airlines and Crown corporations.
Ontario, on the other hand, will mark September 19 as a provincial day of mourning rather than as a holiday, a move that would have proven disruptive, with business organizations saying the timing was too quick to allow for an orderly transition.
As much as the Queen remained admired by Canadians, a hastily arranged holiday isn’t a necessary part of celebrating her life and mourning her passing. Her reputation, sense of duty and accomplishments stand on their own, however each of her subjects chooses to mark the day.