The death of Prince Philip reminds us that the death of the Queen must one day come. On that day, Canadians will have to ask themselves whether there is any part of the British tradition that this country still wishes to preserve.
Happily, Elizabeth II, at 94, is sound in mind and body. But she is already the longest-reigning monarch in the oldest institution in Western civilization after the Roman Catholic Church – heir to Alfred, the literal embodiment of the English stream of Western civilization.
The monarchy in Canada may not long survive her passing. Serial scandals within the House of Windsor have fatally compromised its reputation in the eyes of many Canadians.
An online poll from Research Co. in February (sample size: 1,000; margin of error reported at 3.1 per cent) said 45 per cent of Canadians would prefer to see an elected head of state, while only 24 per cent supported preserving the monarch.
After the death of Elizabeth, it isn’t hard to imagine a major national party proposing a referendum on the future of the monarchy, even though abolition is, politically and constitutionally, almost impossible.
Far more important, the founding assumptions of the Canadian state are under attack – not just the principle of constitutional monarchy, but the very idea of Canada itself.
Some of us celebrate Canada’s settler culture, which embraces diversity more successfully than ethnically homogenous nation states.
But for many Indigenous Canadians, Canada’s settler culture is a culture of oppression, the very existence of Canada an act of enslavement, the history of Canada a history of genocide.
Some of us celebrate the French and British traditions of liberty and equality under the law embedded in our customs and Constitution.
But some view Canada’s European heritage as racist and colonial, malignantly alive today in employment discrimination, police brutality and acts of micro- and macro-aggression.
Some even reject the assumptions of objective reality and political legitimacy that ground the Canadian state and society. And while it is tempting to dismiss these critics, we know there is truth in at least some of what they say.
But there are other truths as well. The British monarchy has survived through adaptation: agreeing to the demands of the Barons at Runnymede to accept the Magna Carta, to the demands of Parliament in 1689 to recognize its superiority, to its gradual, complete conversion from substance to symbol.
Many Indigenous Canadians look to the Crown as the representative of non-native government in Canada and would not tolerate its loss.
Canada’s settler society is confronting and correcting, however imperfectly, the legacy of colonialism. Our best response to that legacy is to welcome, as we do, hundreds of thousands of new Canadians every year, many of them from former British colonies.
The nations of the Commonwealth joined the United States and allies in Europe and elsewhere in confronting serial authoritarian threats in the past century. New threats confront us today.
China and Russia and other authoritarian states maintain that the West is in decline, that democracy is chaotic and that people prefer order to freedom. The people disagree.
The week Philip died, a Chinese fleet conducted naval exercises in the Straits of Taiwan, leading Taiwan’s foreign minister to vow that his country would resist invasion “to the very last day.”
The week Philip died, the President of Ukraine pleaded with NATO for help in resisting a Russian military build-up in the breakaway region of Donbass.
And there is a different kind of threat, just as grave: The week Philip died, a new study showed that a third of Antarctica’s ice shelf could be at risk of collapse unless global warming is contained.
Canada is being called to contribute to the fight against climate change. We may be called to contribute – peacefully, we hope – to the fight against the new authoritarians. Canada will be stronger in that fight if we maintain the institutions that have made this country, with all its flaws, worth fighting for.
The people of Canada will confront present and future challenges by building on the past, not jettisoning it. So let us mourn the death of Philip, pray for the health of the Queen and remain confident that the institution of the monarchy will continue to preserve a Canada that is – on its best days, at least – glorious and free.
The Globe and Mail
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