Ralph Heintzman is a Senior Fellow of Massey College in the University of Toronto and an Honorary Senior Fellow in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. His latest book, The Human Paradox, will be published in October.
Canada’s journalists and media currently favour two types of stories about the Crown in Canada, both of which assume it has a perilous future.
The first type of story assumes the Crown is in danger because some opinion poll says a majority of Canadians supports its abolition. Many outlets, including the Globe and Mail, recently gave prominent coverage to an Angus Reid poll suggesting a very slight majority (51 per cent) of Canadians are in favour of abolishing Canada’s Crown. But media hype about polls of this kind usually overlooks how difficult it would be to change the constitutional status of the Crown in Canada.
Thanks to the amending formula contained in the Constitution Act, 1982, any change to the Canadian Crown requires approval not only by the House of Commons and Senate but also the unanimous approval of all 10 provincial legislatures – several of which now also have laws requiring prior approval by a provincial referendum. As the Australians discovered during their 1999 referendum, you need agreement not just on abolition, but on what will take its place. Unanimous approval by the federal and all provincial governments for such a fundamental change is simply not going to occur in the near or even distant future – and indeed, probably not within the lifetime of any Canadian now living. Even Quebec would not support such an amendment, for its own distinctive reasons.
So, abolition of the Crown in Canada is simply not worth talking about, for least another generation, because it simply cannot be done. Efforts to generate such discussion are a waste of time – time that would be better spent examining the uses and potential of the institution we have, and will have for the foreseeable future.
The second type of story about the Crown’s uncertain future in Canada assumes there will be some kind of constitutional crisis at the time of Queen Elizabeth’s death. This version of the genre assumes the Crown only continues as a Canadian institution because the current Queen is held in such universal respect and affection – a respect and affection not yet accorded to her son and heir. Therefore Canadians may prefer not to recognize Prince Charles as their new king, and the future of the Crown in Canada will be in question.
This type of story obviously suffers from the same flaws as the first. Charles’s accession as King of Canada could only be altered by constitutional amendment requiring unanimous approval by the federal and all provincial governments – something that will simply not occur. There will be no constitutional crisis, hiccup or interregnum. The moment Queen Elizabeth ceases to be Queen of Canada, Charles will automatically become our king.
This type of story also suffers from inadequate attention to the character and virtues of our future king. It assumes Prince Charles is somehow unworthy to become King of Canada because he is not “popular,” and has none of the celebrity qualities now required of public persons.This is an old prejudice going back to Charles’s youth, and the fact he has never been conventionally handsome. It is also stoked by his marital difficulties, and the contrasting celebrity glamour attributed to Princess Diana, and to his son and daughter-in-law, William and Kate. By contrast, Charles is taken to be dull, stiff, and uninteresting.
This public image of Prince Charles as dull, stiff and uninteresting is the opposite of the truth. The reality is that Charles is one of the most thoughtful, energetic, and accomplished public figures in the world today. The range of his achievements is almost staggering.
Charles’ vision and drive have led, for example, to the creation of more than 15 initiatives and organizations, including The Prince’s Trust, which helps thousands of young people annually to start businesses, or obtain education, training or employment, as well as The Prince’s Charities, one of the world’s great philanthropic organizations supporting a host of causes in Britain and throughout the Commonwealth. The Prince’s Charities Canada, for example, responded to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report by funding a number of Indigenous-specific initiatives, in areas such as Indigenous employment, food security in the North, and the preservation of Indigenous languages.
Prince Charles was an environmentalist long before it became a fashionable cause. In fact, he gave his first speech on the environment at the age of 21, more than 50 years ago. He has spent the rest of his life not only campaigning for sustainability but putting his views into successful practice, as the creator of a model organic farm and as an entrepreneur behind a range of organic products familiar to Canadians from their supermarket shelves. This is a virtuous circle in which the revenue supports the charitable initiatives.
Charles’s trademark is an energetic practicality allied to visionary thoughtfulness. The vision and thoughtfulness are no less impressive than the energy and practicality. Among many other things, he is the author of Harmony, a deeply serious book about the human condition in the natural world. Harmony argues eloquently and persuasively for what Charles calls a “whole-istic” understanding of the fact that humans are “a part of Nature not apart from her,” and for the need to achieve an “active but balanced” state of harmony in the natural world and in human society.
How many public figures – let alone future heads of state – can you name who have published a magnum opus on the human condition?
In that most unhappy moment when Queen Elizabeth ceases to be Queen of Canada, Canadians will find themselves with a king who is one of the most remarkable and most admirable public figures in the world today.
Considering what we can see across the globe today, we should thank our lucky stars.
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