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Should Canada Ditch the Monarchy?

Rising sentiment says yes. Will Justin finish what father Pierre started?

Michael Harris 7 Dec

Michael Harris, a Tyee contributing editor, is a highly awarded journalist. Author of Party of One, the bestselling exposé of the Harper government, his investigations have sparked four commissions of inquiry.

With Queen Elizabeth fading in the sad arithmetic of age, Canadians will soon be left with a momentous question. Should Canada keep its constitutional monarchy, perhaps with King Charles as our ceremonial head of state?

Or should we embrace full political independence, as Barbados has done?

The Caribbean island, after centuries of colonial rule, has decided to cut all ties with the British monarchy and will become a republic. In dropping the Queen, Barbados is following a trend. Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Dominica have all done the same thing.

While several former colonies have kept some connection to the British monarchy through the Commonwealth of Nations, Queen Elizabeth remains head of state of just 15 countries. They are part of what is known as the Commonwealth Realm. Canada is one of the 15, though the mood of the country is changing about that affiliation.

According to a recent Angus Reid poll, most Canadians think it’s time to rethink our constitutional monarchy. The pollster found that the majority of Canadians view the monarchy as either less relevant or not relevant at all.

Despite that, as long as Queen Elizabeth is on the throne, 55 per cent of Canadians are content with the current arrangement. But according to the pollster, that represents a personal vote of confidence in this queen, who has reigned for almost 70 years, not an endorsement of constitutional monarchy in Canada.

The evidence? When asked how they felt about Charles, Elizabeth’s eldest son and presumptive heir, taking his mother’s place on the throne, Angus Reid found that just 34 per cent of respondents were okay with that. One province was massively against it. Nearly three-quarters of respondents in Quebec were flatly opposed to constitutional monarchy.

Make way for the DK

There are a lot of reasons for such anti-royal sentiment. One is that the U.K.’s might is dripping away. Literally. Britain may once have ruled the waves, but in the near future it may not be able to rule the nation’s bathtubs.

As Emma Howard Boyd of the U.K.’s Environment Agency put it, “We will always want to make sure the general public have access to water, but that could be through forms of water supply other than being able to turn on your tap, such as bottled water potentially, and communal taps as well.”

Piped water on the way out in Great Britain? Bottled water? Communal taps? And $100 million a year, meanwhile, to support the Royal Family through the Sovereign Grant? Not counting private funding. Really?

The U.K. is now a hard-pressed western democracy dealing with profound demographic changes and mammoth challenges.

Vladimir Putin overstated the case nearly 10 years ago when he said that Britain was now “just a small island that no one pays any attention to.” It is much more than that. No one should underestimate the genius and staying power of the British people. But the fact is, nuclear weapons or not, the U.K. is at best a second-tier country.

The blockheaded decision to leave the European Union may well accelerate the country’s economic decline.

Indeed, more forces undercutting the Royal Family are strong nationalist winds blowing in Scotland and unrest in Northern Ireland over the negative effects of Brexit. The U.K. itself may even become the D.K., the Divided Kingdom.

The fairy tale has ended

The most likely country to leave the Commonwealth Realm is probably Australia. Though the country endorsed its constitutional monarchy in a 1999 referendum, some polls suggest most Australians favour dropping the Queen as head of state.

As many in this country seem to agree, the very idea that mature, sovereign states like Australia and Canada need the monarchy to provide the basis for their stable democracies is absurd. What could be more unstable than the House of Windsor?

Rather than presenting a fairytale face to the world, the Windsors have become the Kardashians of royal families. From the youngest to the oldest, the royals are under intense media surveillance from cradle-to-grave. Sometimes, it is an early grave.

Charles and Diana’s glamorous wedding, which cost British taxpayers $48 million, portrayed two people deeply in love. In fact, the couple were joined in holy acrimony. From alleged affairs and chronic jealousies, to rancorous arguments and terrible isolation, the front pages of the tabloid press throbbed with every royal misstep in their marriage and split.

It ended for Diana in a fatal car crash in Paris while pursued by the paparazzi looking to flog one more shot of this hunted, haunted creature.

And the royal soap opera played on, the scandals piling up.

Lately it’s Prince Andrew furnishing the tawdry reality show. Made special trade ambassador for the U.K., he racked up millions of pounds in travel expenses according to the Telegraph.

Then came the prince’s colossally inept defence of his friendship with convicted sex-offender Jeffrey Epstein. During a BBC television interview, Andrew expressed no sympathy for Epstein’s victims.

The prince’s ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson, did a little better than that. After taking $24,500 from Epstein to restructure her debts, the Duchess of York expressed horror at what she had done, telling Town and Country, a magazine dedicated to the luxury life of the very rich, she was “just so contrite.”

Andrew is now being sued by Virginia Giuffre. The American woman claims she was forced to have sex with Prince Andrew three times at Epstein’s establishments, starting when she was 17.

At the request of Prince Charles, who never liked his younger brother according to royal watchers, Andrew withdrew from his official duties and forfeited the $345,000 tax-free allowance from Queen Elizabeth. In October, Scotland Yard said it would take no further action after two reviews of the case.

But Prince Andrew is not the only royal whose affairs invite investigation.

After receiving complaints of an alleged “cash for honours” scheme at the Prince’s Foundation, the umbrella group for Charles’s charities, Britain’s Metropolitan Police have faced pressure to look into the matter. They were interested in the allegation that the CEO of the Prince’s Foundation, Michael Fawcett, promised British citizenship and a title to a Saudi tycoon, in return for a large donation to the prince’s charities. Charles has denied any knowledge of the alleged scheme. Fawcett, the prince’s former valet, recently resigned his post at the charity.

Need more proof that the House of Windsor is essentially dysfunctional?

Two of the most privileged members of the family, Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, quit their jobs. Harry felt the British press were driving his wife to the same dark fate that had befallen his mother. The couple were also tired of being tropical fish in the bizarre aquarium of the Royal Family.

If Prince Charles does succeed his mother, he would do well to follow the example of Sweden’s king, Carl Gustaf.

The Swedish monarch removed several of his grandchildren from the Royal House, taking away their title of royal highnesses, as well as any future official duties. And no duties means that these children will not be entitled to the taxpayer funded annual payment known as “appanage.”

The king apparently has realized that the price is too great, given the costs of sustaining royal families out of the public purse, and the unnatural existence that royalty forces on its his members. That is a fate that will now be avoided by five of the monarch’s grandchildren, who will have something that Lady Diana never had — a chance, at least, of living something resembling a normal life.

Regardless of whether various royals behave well or don’t, what could be more pretentiously inimical to democracy than the notion of a family monarchy, its charmed circle of immense privilege entered by birth rather than worth? Unless you are a commoner who catches the eye of a British royal, you can’t labour to become a king, queen, prince or princess. The Royal Family is a closed shop.

Even America’s plutocracy is more inclusive than that.

In 1982, then prime minister Pierre Trudeau patriated the Constitution, transferring the country’s highest law, the British North America Act, from the authority of the British Parliament to the federal and provincial governments in Canada. It came with a new name, the Constitution Act, a new amending formula, and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. At the time, Trudeau’s bold move was billed as removing the last vestige of Canada’s colonial past.

But that is not quite accurate. Britain’s monarch is still head of state in Canada. As high as the constitutional bar would be to change that, that’s exactly what should happen if the majority of Canadians no longer see the Royal Family as relevant.

How fitting it would be if the son completed his father’s work.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics

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