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Throughout his long apprenticeship for this job, he has shown himself to have a strong conscience

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The future Charles III watches the RCMP Musical Ride in Ottawa on May 18, 2022, about four months before his accession to the throne and a year before his coronation.Blair Gable/Reuters

John Fraser is the founding president of the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada and the author of The Secret of the Crown and Funeral For A Queen: Twelve Days in London.

On his most recent trip to Canada, in his last months as Prince of Wales, King Charles met a friend of mine, an Indigenous residential school survivor in Yellowknife. He had a particularly harrowing tale to tell this inheritor to a line of 41 rulers stretching back to William the Conqueror in 1066. My friend found an empathetic ear and that empathy from this particular source brought him immense pride and solace.

It was a quiet moment and I have a picture of it on my cellphone. I look at it a lot these days as I try to figure out what sort of leader this newly crowned, media-plagued, endlessly-apprenticed King will be. He will certainly need more than the anointing of holy oil he is getting today at his coronation to survive the onslaught of expectations and skepticism about his kingship.

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In Yellowknife last May, Charles looks at Indigenous hunting tools and watches a drum dance.Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Charles’s kingship also makes him “the King of Canada,” which doesn’t at all have a familiar sound to most Canadian ears. We have gotten into the habit of referring to “the Crown” rather than to any particular king or queen, as if somehow neutralizing the monarchy to a symbolic concept will reduce the reality that we actually have a crowned and anointed “sovereign” human being as our head of state. And difficult as it is for some Canadians to digest, he is our constitutional head of state and occupies that position because it is the inferred will of the Canadian people to have it so, through their elected representatives in both federal and provincial legislatures. Should those legislatures and those representatives of the Canadian people collectively decide it was time for Canada to become a republic, it would happen almost overnight. I leave it to more fanciful minds than mine to imagine 13 Canadian legislatures and their legislators being of one unanimous mind.

Since that is unlikely to happen in the near future, if at all, a wise choice might be to make the best of what we do have and see how this King can help our country deal with some of its most tenacious challenges. So I go back to my friend in Yellowknife, who has now become part of the spiritual mantra of this King and his relationship to Canada. And not just to Canada but as a kind of exemplar to the world because Charles has already pointed positively to the often uncomfortable journey of reconciliation, upon which this country has embarked as a model for the world as it struggles to come to terms with uncomfortable realities from the past. “Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples reflecting honestly and openly on one of the darkest aspects of history,” Charles said during the 2022 meeting of Commonwealth leaders in Rwanda. “As challenging as that conversation can be, people across Canada are approaching it with courage.”

And that’s just Canada. In Britain itself and other countries in the Commonwealth, it is already incumbent on King Charles to deal with the role that the British Empire played in the expansion and exploitation of the slave trade during the 17th and 18th centuries. Although it can be pointed out that Britain ended the slave trade sooner than other imperial powers, including the United States, the consequences of slavery have still to be accounted for and a symbolic figure like King Charles will be expected by many to come to terms with that on behalf of a wider population.

Fortunately, he doesn’t show any reluctance to deal with this forthrightly. “I cannot describe the depths of my personal sorrow at the suffering of so many as I continue to deepen my own understanding of slavery’s enduring impact,” he said, also at that Commonwealth leaders’ conference. And just recently, he has allowed researchers to have full access to the royal archives, to delve into the Royal Family’s own past role in the slave trade. That is a process that will inevitably lead to reparations of some sort or another and Charles doesn’t give any evidence that he is frightened of that either.

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A Maori delegate gives the King a hongi, a traditional greeting, as he arrives to Commonwealth Day services at Westminster Abbey this past March.Frank Augstein/The Associated Press

None of this should come as a surprise. Throughout his long apprenticeship for this job that is finally his in the twilight years of his life, he has shown himself to have a strong conscience and is also someone who acknowledges his own flaws and mistaken directions. His life has sometimes looked like a game of Snakes and Ladders. It is his bad luck, I suppose, that our fascination with the monarchy – and fascination here seems to cover both adoration and repugnance – has meant that he and his family have to live with a perpetual spotlight.

And then there are other prickly problems that just don’t seem to go away, at least not immediately. Constitutionally, internal family squabbles should not affect the governance of the state. Inevitably, however, they affect the psychological well-being and attitudes of subject and monarch alike, so the criticism by Prince Harry and his Hollywood bride have not been insignificant. What was remarkable to see, however, was how Charles dealt with them. He has learned from his mother to take the long view and that is something we can expect in whatever time remains for him. He will want to leave the Crown in good enough shape to pass it along to his heir, the current Prince of Wales, and he has handled that Harry and Meghan brouhaha with forthright dignity.

But there’s another side of that coin, too. Queen Elizabeth rarely used her remarkable “public platform” for much of anything other than constitutional proprietaries, and Charles is certainly smart enough to know he can’t go off on huge crusades on some of his strongly felt issues. But we already know he won’t stop picking away at our consciences about global warming, pollution, warmongering and other issues he sees as part of the metaphysical and contractual obligations we all must share in order to pass on our countries to the next generations. It may generate some heat, especially if he has missteps or gets the tenor and substance of his messages off-kilter, but he has had a lot of experience on how to handle that.

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An Extinction Rebellion protester dressed as the King takes part in an April 22 protest.Toby Melville/Reuters

It is not yet clear how he will cope or handle the different and possibly conflicting demands of those realms – the big ones like the United Kingdom, Canada or Australia and the small ones such as St. Lucia, Papua New Guinea or the Grenadines – although in every case the primary arbiter of what can and cannot be done, and even when he can come, is under almost total control by their respective governments. Charles is adept at taking bigger steps than the ones normally allotted him as a constitutional but non-resident head of state, as was his mother for that matter, but his challenges will not be uncomplicated.

His mother’s constitutional example will be useful. Once in the early 1970s, during what is now a famously strained period Queen Elizabeth was having with her British prime minister, Edward Heath, she was “advised” by him not to attend an coming Commonwealth Leaders Conference in Canada because of the presence of the ruthless dictator of Uganda, Idi Amin. Mr. Heath liked neither the Commonwealth nor the Queen’s commitment to it, as he was busy trying to get the British electorate to warm to the idea of joining the Common Market. Irritation hardly begins to describe the Queen’s reaction to this advice. Instead of following it, she did an end-run around her U.K. first minister by reasoning that her Commonwealth host first minister – in this case, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau – should have the definitive say. Not surprisingly, Mr. Trudeau wanted his sovereign there and it was Mr. Heath who had to tag along with his tail behind him.

King Charles will certainly have his very own crises and challenges. The media, naysayers and supporters alike will all want to see how he handles these moments, whatever and whenever they may be. It is a bit strange to have to quietly remind people that this King has been around for the most part of a century and he has seen how to manage tricky situations. Personally, he has managed to handle and survive a bad marriage, a brother and a son both gone distinctively off-course, if not AWOL, a skeptical media, and the most long-drawn-out succession in the history of this particular Crown, and still he presides comfortably over the world’s only international monarchy. There is more than enough evidence out there that he will do it well. Above all, as people who have had more than a passing acquaintance with him will testify, he is an intelligent, generous and kind-hearted man and these traits will serve him as our King far better than all the golden orbs, sacred anointing oil, and diamond-studded crowns so spectacularly on offer today.

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