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Sorry, republicans, the monarchy is here to stay

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The birth of a son to William and Kate has revived the febrile debate over whether the king or queen of the United Kingdom should also be the Canadian head of state. But the debate, frankly, is pointless. Canada will always be a constitutional monarchy, because there is no way to dispense with the monarch.

This will not come as welcome news to those who are mounting a court challenge to the law that requires new citizens to swear an oath of loyalty to the Queen. It will provide no solace to those who agreed with the resolution at a recent Macdonald-Laurier Institute debate that "the monarchy is a dangerous anachronism."

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And it will not please the folks at Citizens for a Canadian Republic. For Tom Freda, its director, Monday's royal birth offered an unwelcome reminder that "Canada's head of state is chosen through bloodline, and not through any input at all, democratically or otherwise, from Canadians.

"…A lot of Canadians are asking: 'why can't we have a say in who becomes Canadian head of state?'" he maintained in an interview.

The Canadian public is ambivalent about the institution. A 2012 Ipsos Reid poll had 46 per cent of Canadians agreeing with the statement: "the constitutional monarchy is outdated," and that they would "prefer a republic system of government with an elected head of state, like they do in the United States." But 54 per cent disagreed.

These numbers, however, fluctuate based on the latest wedding, baby or scandal.

So it is possible that a politician dedicated to eliminating the monarchy could get elected prime minister. Once in office, however, he or she would come up against the impenetrable defences embedded in the Constitution to protect the Crown.

First, both Houses of Parliament would have to pass a constitutional amendment declaring that the king or queen of the United Kingdom is no longer the king or queen of Canada. Then all 10 provincial legislatures would need to pass the same amendment, and the Supreme Court would have to uphold its constitutionality.

But that's only the beginning. Canada would now have no head of state—no office that embodied the sovereignty of the Canadian nation and people.

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The office of governor general could be converted to that of a ceremonial president. But the Prime Minister now effectively appoints and--perhaps even more important--removes the governor general, by advising the Queen.

We can hardly have the head of government hiring and firing the head of state. Perhaps the president would be elected, or appointed by Parliament. But then what would you do about the lieutenant governors in all the provinces, who are effectively appointed by the prime minister and who represent the Crown in the legislatures?

Which illustrates the larger point: The monarchy is not simply a paragraph that can be neatly excised through a constitutional amendment. It permeates the Constitution, written and unwritten, as a founding assumption.

"You'd have to employ an awful lot of lawyers for an awfully long time to identify every constitutionally related document in which the word "crown" appears," observes the constitutional scholar Ned Franks. "And then you'd have to ask 'what are you going to replace it with, and does that work?'"

Meanwhile, he predicts, the provinces would be taking advantage of such wholesale constitutional reconstruction to obtain more powers, with Quebec leading the charge.

"I've always subscribed to the theory that if it ain't broke, don't fix it," said Robert Finch, Dominion Chairman of the Monarchist League of Canada. "And I don't think the monarchy is broken."

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Only one thing could convert this constitutional impossibility into a possibility: united, sustained, national revulsion toward the monarch.

Canadians, in other words, will never abolish the monarchy unless Charles, William or the new lad force them to.

John Ibbitson is The Globe's chief political writer in Ottawa.

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