The British press, monomaniacal about all things Royal, outdid itself last week with breathless, non-stop coverage of a family soap opera it dubbed “Megxit.”
At one level, going full-court press on a rift in the Royal Family is just another day on Fleet Street. The United Kingdom’s tabloids treat the Windsors as stars of history’s longest-running reality TV show, its participants stuck somewhere between Love Island, Big Brother and I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!
That the country is a constitutional monarchy, with a Royal Family at its centre, reigning but not ruling, gives the British press the excuse to pretend that anyone and anything with a bit of royal dust is legit news.
Celebrity stalking? No, no: Their private lives must be dissected because they matter.
But for Britain – or at least for its laws, economy, politics and constitution – the future of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, doesn’t actually matter.
Harry is sixth in line to the throne. Barring a cataclysm, he won’t be king. The details of Brexit affect the lives and pocketbooks of millions of people in the United Kingdom; Megxit doesn’t. What Harry and Meghan do, or do not do, as royals or otherwise, is not a real public-policy issue in the U.K.
The same would be true for Canada, 10 times over, except for one aspect of the story – the bit about them wanting to escape Britain by moving here. It’s why we, last week, urged the Trudeau government to advise the Queen, in no uncertain terms, that a Royal Prince moving to Canada is not on. It breaks with tradition, and it doesn’t accord with how Canada’s monarchy works in 2020.
This isn’t about ditching the monarchy. It’s about protecting it.
The Queen’s decision announced on Saturday, under which Harry remains a member of the Queen’s biological family, but is no longer a member of the Royal Family, is a neat bit of splitting hairs, and heirs. It answers the concern about a Royal resident changing Canada’s distant, yet solid relationship to the Crown.
Harry is no longer a Royal. Problem solved.
Canada’s constitutional monarchy works in part because, though the Crown is always present in theory, the people wearing it are permanently absent. For some Canadians, absence makes the heart grow fonder; for others, it prevents them from getting so worked up as to demand a divorce. Canada’s head of state is out of sight, out of mind and out of trouble. That the Queen and her family don’t live in Canada gives Canadians one less thing to fight about.
A senior member of the Royal Family setting up shop in Canada would upset that arrangement. It doesn’t accord with what Canada has become.
A Royal hasn’t installed themselves here since Prince Arthur, Queen Victoria’s third son, who was far out of the line of succession, was governor-general from 1911 to 1916. Back then, at the height of empire, Canada was still partly a colony; the relationship between Ottawa and London was not that of two equal and independent governments, and Canadians were enthusiastic about being sent a British prince.
In 1911, prime minister Robert Borden won a federal election in part on a promise to defund the new Royal Canadian Navy and instead send the money to London to fund the imperial fleet, Britain’s Royal Navy.
That is water so long under history’s bridge that its traces are not remembered. In the years after the First World War, Canada asked the Crown to stop issuing British titles to Canadians, effectively ditching aristocracy on our shores. The role of Queen or King of Canada was made independent of the same role in Britain. Monarchy was retained, but it became more abstract.
Across the Atlantic, they kept the whole apparatus of monarchy – aristocrats, a class system, a Royal Family and its various hangers-on, including an entire retinue of journalists to cover it, or invent stories about it. Canada kept only the Crown, and a head residing overseas to wear it. It is represented on our shores by governors-general and lieutenant-governors who are permanently humbled by the knowledge that they are merely stand-ins for someone else, and will never get the top job.
Compared to Britain, Canada arrived at a better cultural result, and a better constitutional arrangement.