Antony Anderson is the author of The Diplomat: Lester Pearson and the Suez Crisis.
A reporter I admire tweeted a few days ago: "So weird that Canadian prime ministers still have to swear they'll be a faithful servant to some English woman who is probably not watching." A writer I also admire chimed in: "The great Canadian divide. ([He's] right on this one.)" I'm sure they speak for many Canadians, unfortunately.
This dismissal and the needlessly disrespectful gesture itself is hardly surprising in a land fogged by historical amnesia and a prevailing culture of consumption that means everything can be thrown away.
Would it make any difference to point out that the Queen of Britain is simultaneously the Queen of Canada? That she is not a foreign queen? That she is our queen too? Probably not.
Our collective conscious connection to our British inheritance dims with every generation. The physical, political shifting of images and symbols reflects the larger reimagining that has unfolded ever since a dauntless British general "planted England's flag on Canada's fair domain." Every generation of Canadians has had to determine how that connection would be expressed and this has largely meant erasing it from public view and the political vernacular.
For example, from Confederation onward, we called ourselves a Dominion – a title we invented for ourselves and we used until the 1950s, when a majority began to consider it embarrassingly colonial. The offending word was removed from federal statutes and buildings until it simply vanished from disuse.
Much of this reframing was essential in carving out a more distinct Canadian identity at home and presence on the world stage. It goes without saying that we needed our own flag, anthem, diplomats, high commissions and embassies – but in this arc, we typically frame the British fact in our history as a frustrating, distasteful phase of immaturity to be outgrown as soon as possible: Once we were a colony, then we became a nation.
In writing a book on Lester Pearson, I was compelled to strip away my own prejudices about Canadians born in the 19th century, all born British subjects because there was no such thing as a Canadian citizen then. Their flag was the Union Jack and their anthem was God Save the Queen. Those poor, pitiful colonials!
Eventually, I learned that they did not see themselves that way at all. They did not for an instant accept themselves as second-class or inferior. They took pride in their British connection – in fact, to be an anglo Canadian was to be British.
In 1909, even francophone prime minister Wilfrid Laurier could declare in Parliament that "the salvation of England is the salvation of our own country, that therein lies the guaranty of our civil and religious freedom and everything we value in this life." And what were these so-called colonials proud of? As Laurier outlined, the very things that we should be proud of as well: parliamentary democracy, rule of law, rights and freedoms built incrementally over the centuries.
When I see a portrait of the Queen, I am reminded of the incredible British gift to this country, and, indeed, the world.
The oldest continuous democracies (United States, Canada), the world's largest democracy (India), along with Australia, New Zealand and Ireland, all emerged from that sublimely creative cluster of islands in the North Sea. That is the British gift to the world and to us.
So if you need to feel more Canadian by taking down a portrait of our own head of state, so be it. But, however ignored or dismissed, that won't change our history.