The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is a fitting subject for this, my last column of 2012.
A jubilee invites reflection. Reflection not only on the monarch and history, but also on each of our lives in the arc of family, society and the future.
The Queen is more than just our head of state. She and the monarchy are all around us.
The Queen is on our coins and the $20 bill. The monarchy is in our local names like Westman municipalities Albert, Arthur, Edward, Louise and Victoria. And in Brandon: Royal Manitoba Winter Fair, Queen Elizabeth II Music Building, King George School, Queen Elizabeth Park, and avenues Victoria, Louise and Princess.
There is interesting history in the name of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. The regiment was created in 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War. The Patricias were the first of our troops to fight in that war.
Princess Patricia was the daughter of the governor general and the granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Patricia herself designed and hand sewed the original regimental colour, the Ric-a-Dam-Doo, which was then carried onto the battlefield.
The monarchy has had quite the 1,000 year journey. It has successfully changed from an autocracy to a defender of democracy and the rights of all citizens.
Canada has played an important part of this evolution. In 1848, in what was to become Canada, we had our first real elected government. Canada arguably has had the most democratic society — and for the longest time — of any country in the world. Our democracy has been centred on loyalty to the Crown.
The monarchy itself, however, remains rooted in birthright and rigid class distinctions. This means marrying within one’s own rank — including one’s relatives.
The Queen and her husband Prince Philip, for example, are related. They are both great-great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria. Prince Charles was distantly related to his first wife, Diana; as well as to his second wife, Camilla.
Camilla, who first came to public notice as a mistress of Prince Charles, is following a family tradition. Camilla’s great-grandmother was one of the mistresses of Charles’s great-great-grandfather, Edward VII.
We are fortunate that someone who has reigned as long as the Queen is so dedicated, capable and gracious. But it is not surprising that the Queen, who had every advantage, should be successful.
Much more of a credit to our society is the current representative of the Queen in Manitoba, Lt.-Gov. Philip Lee. Born in Hong Kong, Lee first came to Manitoba as a university student. He went on to a career as a chemist and became a prominent community leader.
The ideal for Canada — and the world — is this kind of social diversity and economic mobility. A bonus: we can enjoy the benefits of more interracial marriages. A recent Pew Research Center study in the U.S. found that interracial couples tend to be better educated and more financially well off than other couples.
The monarchy in Canada eventually should be phased out. We already have the basis for an alternative governing structure with the governor general and provincial lieutenant-governors.
Fortunately, we can look forward to future changes being as smooth and graceful as previous transitions have been. Old traditions can evolve and flow into new traditions.
Consider the continuing story of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. Princess Patricia served as the colonel-in-chief of the regiment for almost 60 years: from the First World War until her death in 1974. From then until 2007 the position was held by another Patricia, the Countess Mountbatten.
The current colonel-in-chief is Adrienne Clarkson. Of Chinese heritage, Clarkson first came to Canada with her family as a refugee during the Second World War. She became a successful journalist and was governor-general from 1999 to 2005.
In the nearly 100-year history of the Patricias, Clarkson is only their third colonel-in-chief. And she is the first who is not a member of the Royal Family.
» David McConkey is an active citizen. Contact him and read previous columns at davidmcconkey.com.