There is no one in Canada who likes a coronation more than a devout anti-monarchist. With so much attention being to paid to the goings-on in London, this is their shining moment to argue that the country needs to cut its ties with Britain and find a more modern way of selecting its head of state.
Canadians, though, should be wary of this latest republican recruitment drive. Yes, it may seem arcane in our secular, post-colonial, democratic country to accept the eldest child of a dynastic European family as our king, and to watch as he is swathed in robes, anointed with oil and topped with an oversized headpiece.
And, yes, King Charles is unlikely to ever be as accepted or as loved as his mother was. But focusing only on those aspects of his investiture is to deliberately ignore the benefits of a system of government – constitutional monarchy – under which Canada, and other countries like it, have thrived.
Republicans like to argue that any form of monarchy is anachronistic. But that is belied by the fact that many of the most prosperous, stable and progressive countries in the world today – Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Luxembourg – have hereditary monarchs that serve as their heads of state.
Correlation is not causation, republicans are quick to say. And that’s true. There are many republics – the United States, Germany, France, Italy – that are as prosperous (if not always as conflict-free) as many constitutional monarchies.
But the point is that it is wrong to call something anachronistic when it is very much a part of the modern world. Of the 22 countries ranked as full democracies by The Economist in 2022, 10 were constitutional monarchies.
As well, three constitutional monarchies – Japan, Britain and Canada – were among the world’s top 10 biggest economies in 2022 when measured by gross domestic product.
It seems kings and queens have managed to adapt, and to become rather fond of the benefits of democracy. A 2018 study done by a professor at the Wharton School in Pennsylvania found that constitutional monarchies have a better record of protecting the property rights of businesses and individuals, key to economic prosperity, than republics do.
Another republican criticism of hereditary monarchies is that they are undemocratic. That’s of course true; no one voted for King Charles.
But that is a failure to see the British monarchy for what it truly is. It has been monopolized for more than a century by King Charles’ family, but the monarchy is not the Windsors and their toothy offspring.
It is, rather, an institution that represents centuries of history and tradition, over which time an absolute monarchy has evolved into the servant of a democratic parliament. The royal family embodies that steady march toward democracy; they can be seen as being both antiquated and modern.
Some bemoan the fact that having our head of state in Buckingham Palace makes Canada seem like, well, a colony. But that’s simply not the case. The rest of the world sees this country for what it actually is: a sovereign democracy and a member of the Group of Seven nations. No one else is hung up on that.
In fact, having our head of state reside overseas is a lucky accident of history. Too many republics that elect both their head of government, often in the form of a prime minister, and their head of state, in the form of a president, wind up entangled in power struggles between the two offices, or see them join forces to usurp democratic rights (Turkey and Russia, for instance).
Canada’s constitutional monarchy, with a ceremonial head of state, is far more boring – thankfully. We are better off with an unelected governor-general who fills a ceremonial role and stays out of politics, but whose office is anchored in continuity and tradition, while elected politicians come and go in regular cycles.
It’s true that when you explain to someone for the first time that Canada’s head of state is a hereditary monarch living across the Atlantic Ocean, it can seem odd to them. It might even rankle their democratic instincts in the moment. But that is only part of the story.
When you paint them a more nuanced picture that explains the benefits of constitutional monarchies, republicanism becomes a harder sell.
Until the next coronation, of course.