Canadians see little value in staying with monarchy
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King Charles III, who will be crowned Saturday, has yet to persuade Canadians he is the king they want. About half the country would rather have no king at all, the Angus Reid Institute found in a recent survey.
Canada’s monarchy, though based in Britain and little loved here, will nevertheless survive as a part of this country’s governing structure. The Canadians who agree in wanting to get rid of their foreign monarchy are not even close to agreeing on what to put in its place.
The Angus Reid survey found that 52 per cent of respondents did not want Canada to continue as a constitutional monarchy — that is to say, a country whose hereditary head of state is limited by a constitution.
Australia went through a debate about this in the 1990s. At the 1998 constitutional convention, a majority of delegates favoured a republic.
Republicans, however, disagreed on the method for choosing a head of state. Elizabeth II, who was then on the throne, said she was available to serve as their Queen but had no wish to inflict her rule on an unwilling country.
In a referendum the following year, 55 per cent of the voters chose to keep the monarchy. The Labour party still theoretically wants a republic but does nothing to bring it about. At his coronation, consequently, Charles will be honoured as King of the United Kingdom and Canada and Australia and a long list of other former British colonies.
In Jamaica and other Caribbean countries where British monarchs historically upheld the rights of slave owners, ties to the British monarchy have been severed. In Canada, large numbers of French-speaking people regard the British monarchy as a foreign imposition, recalling severance of ties to France in 1763. Other Canadians see the monarchy as a guarantor of ancient liberties.
Elizabeth II was warmly welcomed by the Canadian public apart from Quebec during her many visits to this country. Charles III, living in her shadow during her long reign, has not made himself known to the public in the way his mother did. He does not yet enjoy the same kind of affection.
Elizabeth II had a knack of upholding the best and most appealing values and practices of the peoples over whom she reigned — ideals of service, duty, community, family and social cohesion. She carefully avoided taking sides in political debate about divisive questions such as Britain’s membership in the European Union.
If Charles can follow her example and celebrate all that is honourable and praiseworthy in Canadian culture and society, he may in time be accepted as a suitable head of state.
But whether or not he is accepted or loved, he is stuck with being King of Canada at least until Canadians can agree on a better way of preserving the continuity of our system of government.
His English identity puts a barrier between him and those Canadians who are not English. His links to Canada’s colonial past connect him to the racism and cruelty of colonialism. But at least, like his predecessors, he can serve as a dignified frontman for the messy business of government.
We have a king who leaves us in peace most of the time and charges most of his expenses to his British subjects — an inoffensive monarchy at an attractive price.
» Winnipeg Free Press