Tuesday, November 3, 2009

English Blood and Canadian Queens

I can never remember being a monarchist. When I was younger, politics was some vague, weird, diffuse thing that only adults understood, and on those few occasions it intersected with my interests it was only necessary for me to, say, be reassured that Operation Desert Storm would not be like the Second World War. Particularly over the last ten years, the concept of the monarchy in Canada has been so low-key that it's easy to forget that Canada is, technically speaking, a constitutional monarchy. The monarchy is wholly irrelevant to my concerns and day-to-day political life in this country.

Yet it persists, like the pattern on the wall in the hall outside that's shaped kind of like Connecticut: visually interesting, but of no real value to me. I am one of that rare breed - a Canadian republican. I would not shed tears to see Rideau Hall one day occupied by a President of Canada.

With a royal visit by Prince Charles - the man who would be king, assuming his mother does not outlive him - scheduled for next month, the role and value of the monarchy as regards Canada has been getting a bit more attention. A few days ago Conrad Black, the man who ditched his Canadian citizenship because Ottawa doesn't allow Canadians to accept titles of nobility, wrote an article for the National Post in defense of the monarchy, which he described as "a useful anachronism."

I'll agree right off the top that the monarchy is anachronistic. I see no place in the 21st century, or beyond, for a system of government that at its core is based on justifying why the son of the tribe's big man got to rule the tribe once the big man died. The pomp, pageantry, and showmanship in which the institution is wreathed only serves to distance it from the notion that it is a system of government demands blood as a prerequisite for power.

Conrad Black doesn't feel that way. He sees an "endearing originality" in the system worth protecting and doesn't look kindly on the presidential heads-of-state common in most of modern Europe, describing them as "pallid replacements of deposed royal houses" with "none of the mystique or pageantry of a monarch." Personally, when I'm looking for mystique, I do not expect government to be where I find it. Government, to me, is supposed to be a competent, capable manager of the state system. What it is is one of the reasons why I drink.

Black echoes the standard line of many monarchists I've encountered by talking up the "historic ties" between the Commonwealth states. From my perspective the Commonwealth is even more irrelevant than the monarchy itself - it's nothing more than the deflated husk of the British Empire, propped up on tentpoles because the alternative was to drop it in the rubbish bin. If not for the Commonwealth Games, I doubt the average person would even be aware of the organization.

We don't need the Commonwealth, or a shared monarchy, to work together in the international arena. Look at the United States. The Americans defined themselves by rejecting not just the monarchy but the United Kingdom altogether. Our ties to the rest of the world are not so flimsy that we need a crown to keep them from blowing away in a stiff breeze.

Nevertheless, Black did surprise me by suggesting an "update" of the monarchy would be worthwhile, further grounding the selection process of the Governor General, perhaps by converting it to a decision by the electorate. At this point, almost anything would be better than our current system, in which the GG is appointed by the Prime Minister.

I am a republican, but at the least I'm willing to compromise. It's not monarchy itself that really drives me up the wall, but the concept of a foreign monarchy. Though my blood is English, thanks both to 20th century immigrants and 18th century United Empire Loyalists, that does not change the fact that I am Canadian and that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is one country among many. A country to which we have deep historical ties, I'll grant, but another country nevertheless. I have no illusions that the monarchy's allegiance is to the Commonwealth as a whole instead of the United Kingdom first. I'm thankful that I was born here, because I would not have sworn allegiance to a foreign monarch.

If we must have a Canadian monarchy, then let us have the monarch be truly Canadian.

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