William and Kate Windsor, recently married, will some day be King and Queen of Canada.
The Windsors, visiting from England, will greet their future subjects on Parliament Hill on Canada Day. As both graduated from university and seem like intelligent people, they’ll have been briefed about some things Canadian. William will read the speeches someone else prepared and say all the appropriate things about this country. The couple will undoubtedly be given a rapturous reception, as befits the world’s newest celebrities. The royal consort’s dress choices will undoubtedly be given the closest of scrutiny, as befits the world media’s priorities.
It would be unpardonably rude not to greet the future King and Queen of Canada with courtesy. They didn’t ask for such titles. The jobs just came with the territory, so to speak, a historical hangover from which Canada can’t extricate itself. To do so would require a constitutional amendment supported by the federal government and all 10 provinces – a theoretical possibility but a practical impossibility.
So the monarchy will survive in Canada, if not thrive, although the handsome newlyweds are already such world celebrities that their appearance just might give the monarchy a puff of additional, temporary popularity.
Last summer, when the Queen and Prince Philip visited (it was her 22nd royal tour to Canada since 1952), a Harris/Decima poll revealed that 48 per cent of respondents didn’t know they were coming. Half agreed that the monarchy was a “relic of our colonial past that has no place in Canada today.”
When their trip concluded – during which the Queen was her usual splendid self – attitudes had improved slightly. An Angus Reid poll showed support for Canada’s remaining a monarchy had reached 36 per cent, up from 33 per cent.
Earlier this year, the Environics Institute issued another in a series of Focus Canada studies that have tracked Canadian attitudes for 30 years. Asked to identify Canada’s most important symbol, respondents chose a long list, with health care at the top and the monarchy at the bottom. The order of symbols on the list hadn’t changed in the previous decade.
Over the years, public opinion surveys have shown similar results. The monarchy is considered irrelevant or of little interest to the largest number of Canadians. Those who care passionately about it, one way or the other, are in a minority. Of those who do care, however, the pro-monarchists are the most committed to their cause.
They can count among them Prime Minister Stephen Harper, an unabashed public monarchist. He’s a bit of a supporter of what’s called the “anglosphere,” that collection of English-speaking countries within which the monarchy plays a symbolic role.
Public opinion surveys are of almost no value in judging Canadians’ real attitudes, since questions about the monarchy are in the abstract. There has never been a sustained, serious debate in Canada about the monarchy, as in Australia. No political party has ever demanded one; no political leader has ever encouraged one. Whatever their private views, they haven’t considered the issue important enough.
Lacking a focused debate, those who want an alternative have never been put to the test: designing something else to replace the monarchy. Australian anti-monarchists stumbled over that very problem, dividing themselves between those who wanted a popularly elected head of state and those who wanted Parliament to make the selection.
At some point, the Australians will have another go at the monarchy question, because polls Down Under consistently show strong support for change. Change to what and how to get there remain the challenge.
In any event, even if Australia, followed by New Zealand, ditched the royal link, Canada’s Constitution would make it nigh impossible to sever the link to Charles and Camilla and William and Kate and their progeny.
So they will be among us, although not really part of us, for many Canada Days to come. Under these circumstances, we might just as well see to it that they enjoy themselves, since they didn’t ask for the job.
Happy Canada Day.