Britain is the inventor of one of the world’s great innovations in government: a monarchy that reigns but does not rule. Canada took that system and improved it, by pushing it one step further. The Canadian monarchy is virtual; it neither rules nor resides. Our royals don’t live here. They reign from a distance. Close to our hearts, far from our hearths.
And that is why, in response to the sudden announcement of a vague and evolving plan for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex – Prince Harry and Meghan – to move to Canada while remaining part of the Royal Family, the Trudeau government’s response should be simple and succinct: No.
You are welcome to visit, but so long as you are senior royals, Canada cannot allow you to come to stay.
This isn’t about breaking up with the Crown. On the contrary, it’s about maintaining Canada’s unique and highly successful monarchy.
On Monday, the British paper the Evening Standard reported that sources had told it that Ottawa had agreed to pay for security costs for the soon-to-arrive royal couple. When asked, Finance Minister Bill Morneau told reporters that was untrue, and that his government had not even discussed the matter. The dollars and cents of supporting a royal resident might be significant, but that’s not what’s really at issue. It goes deeper than the possibility of the feds having to find a few million extra bucks.
Canadians like their monarchy, and visits by the Queen and other members of the Royal Family tend to produce outpourings of public enthusiasm. But while the people who embody the Crown pay visits from time to time, they don’t set up a home on the premises. A royal living in this country does not accord with the long-standing nature of the relationship between Canada and Britain, and Canada and the Crown.
If they were ordinary private citizens, plain old Harry and Meghan from Sussex, they would be welcome. But this country’s unique monarchy, and its delicate yet essential place in our constitutional system, means that a royal resident – the Prince is sixth in the line of succession – is not something that Canada can allow. It breaks an unspoken constitutional taboo.
The concept of the Crown is at the centre of the Canadian system of government. Bills aren’t law until they receive royal assent; crimes are prosecuted in the name of Her Majesty by lawyers known as crowns; your passport asks foreign states for protection in the name of the Queen. All of that comes out of a constitutional order, more than a century-and-a-half old, based on the British model.
But though Canada borrowed from Britain, it isn’t Britain and never was. And this country long ago took steps to make that unmistakably clear.
Canada never had a class system with hereditary aristocrats like Britain, and Canada definitively broke with the idea of aristocracy when the Nickle Resolution of 1919 asked the British government to stop conferring titles on Canadians. What’s more, with the Statute of Westminster of 1931, Canada’s relationship to Britain was spelled out as one of equal, independent nations.
However, Canada kept the monarchy, and a head of state we share with various Commonwealth countries. The head of state’s representatives here are the governor-general and the provincial lieutenant-governors, who perform essential duties from opening parliaments to deciding who gets to form a government in minority situations. They’re as close as Canada comes to having resident royalty, but they’re not royalty. Instead, they’re merely temporary avatars for a virtual monarch who remains permanently ensconced across the sea.
Furthermore, since the 1950s, governors-general have always been Canadians. Princes are not shipped over here when no useful duties can be found for them on the other side of the Atlantic.
The Sussexes are working out their own personal issues, and Canadians wish them the best of luck. Canada welcomes people of all faiths, nationalities and races, but if you’re a senior member of our Royal Family, this country cannot become your home.
The government should make that clear. There can be no Earl Sussex of Rosedale and no Prince Harry of Point Grey. Canada is not a halfway house for anyone looking to get out of Britain while remaining a royal.