Fugget About It is the name of an animated sitcom that ran for a few years on the Teletoon channel. It should also be the motto for anyone thinking about remaking Canada’s constitutional monarchy or ditching it. Put such notions out of your mind. Do not go there. Forget about it.
There are three obstacles to changing Canada’s head of state. The first obstacle is practical. So is the second. And the third.
Start with the fact that the only way to change the place of the Crown in our system of government is with – warning: what follows are the most disturbing words in the Canadian political lexicon – a constitutional amendment. And (danger: more strong language here) not just any amendment, but one requiring the approval of all provincial legislatures, plus Parliament.
That’s not impossible, but it is about as likely as, say, the Toronto Maple Leafs winning the next five Stanley Cups, or Elizabeth May becoming a two-term prime minister. More importantly, reopening the Constitution is a form of surgery that runs a high risk of killing the patient, the patient being Canada. You may just want to do a quick bit of targeted arthroscopic surgery on the monarchical ligament, but once the patient is etherized upon the table, an entire country of political surgeons will rush in with scalpels and forceps and bone saws in hand, demanding that their own particular pet constitutional operation be undertaken. Remember Meech? Remember Charlottetown? Forget about it. Please.
Which brings us to practical objection No. 2: Don’t we have bigger problems to tackle? Inflation? Homelessness? COVID-19? A health care system in crisis? A housing shortage? The fact that we haven’t figured out how to balance dramatically lowering climate emissions with Canada’s need to take advantage of sitting on top of some of the world’s largest reserves of oil and gas? None of that can be solved by changing the head of state. It’s completely beside the point.
And then there’s the third practical objection: Our system works. It really does. The empirical evidence is our long history. Canadians tend to forget that our country is not, in fact, a new political entity. It is, by global standards, quite old; the same political order has been evolving in place since 1763. There are very few countries in the world that can say that. The supposedly old countries of Europe have been repeatedly and violently unmade and remade by the kinds of bloody upheavals – revolutions, invasions, foreign occupations, losses of territory, and tabula rasa restarts from crippling Year Zeros – that have not happened in Canada in 2 1/2 centuries.
The Old Continent is almost entirely made up of political entities that are, by most measures, newer than Canada.
Don’t knock peaceful evolution over blood-soaked revolution. The rest of the world knows what it’s like to live in the opposite of boring Canada. Ask an immigrant.
And a constitutional monarchy, as it has evolved in Canada, works for our country and our times. We have what is essentially a virtual monarchy. We monarch-share with 14 other states. The monarch is on the money and the stamps, and all laws and acts of government are notionally done in their name. But the King doesn’t live here and he never will. The Queen hardly ever visited; the same will be true of King Charles and his heirs.
The British have the celebrity circus of resident royals, feasted on by a tabloid press; the Americans have an elected king, who as president is both the most partisan of politicians and the symbolic head of the country. President Donald Trump’s photo once beamed down from the walls of every government office. And Canada? We have the benefits of a constitutional monarchy, mostly minus the monarch. We have the idea of the Crown, largely minus a physical crown.
Instead, acting on behalf of the King but never replacing him, we have governors-general and lieutenant governors. These appointees are short-term stand-ins for someone else, with their powers even more limited. The monarch reigns but does not rule; vice-regal representatives don’t even do much reigning.
The whole Canadian system is humbling for its participants, which is the point. The governor-general is not the head of state, merely a temporary acting head of state. And premiers and prime ministers are elected custodians, acting as temporary heads of government.
It works. You want to talk about changing it? Forget about it.