Dundurn Press marks the twilight of an era with an intriguing project. They compiled commentaries from the nation’s most distinguished monarchists in what may be the last book of its kind in the era of Queen Elizabeth, 92. It’s a souvenir that documents deep public ambivalence. Canada in 2018 is one of only fifteen nations to retain the Queen as head of state. Others include Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
“The concept of the Queen of Canada or the Queen of New Zealand is an important legal and political reality,” writes contributor Sean Palmer. “However, beyond these constructions the public understanding of the Crown in each realm is not necessarily robust.”
Essays in The Canadian Kingdom are refreshingly candid. Steven Point, former lieutenant governor of British Columbia, recalls riding to his swearing-in ceremony in a big white Lincoln past a group of protestors that included his own brother. They exchanged friendly waves. “The Crown is not so much misunderstood as ignored by Canadians,” writes Point.
“In my role as lieutenant governor I learned that government representatives have ears and listen to people of influence inside their respective ridings or electoral districts,” says Point. “I recall one instance when members of the royal family were coming for a visit. The lieutenant governor, who is second in precedence to the Queen, had not been invited to events surrounding the visit. It took a phone call from a wealthy citizen to change this oversight.”
The monarchy once embodied all the mythology of English superiority that was important to Canadians of the pre-war era. Anything English was therefore better: English tea, English fabric, English monarch. Today we think of a constitutional monarchy like alternating current: Sure it’s important, but if we didn’t have it, we’d have something else, and the lights would come on either way.
Contributor Christopher McCreery, private secretary to the lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia, notes 3 of 10 provinces – Alberta, Saskatchewan and Québec – do not even maintain an official residence for vice-regal appointees. Alberta was the first to evict its lieutenant governor, in 1938, amid popular support. “This erodes the dignity of the office in a tangible manner,” writes McCreery. “No longer are citizens summoned to attend events at Government House. Instead, they trundle off to some rented venue, usually entirely devoid of history or dignity of the state.”
Canadians as members of the Commonwealth do not feel part of something important or even relevant. We neither praise nor scorn the monarchy, but are simply indifferent. If MPs and federal judges still swear an oath of true allegiance to Her Majesty, Senator Serge Joyal (Liberal-Que.) notes the ritual has been the subject of nine court challenges since 1992.
“The interpretation given by the courts to the meaning of the oath of allegiance confirms that the loyalty and allegiance sworn is to our form of democratic constitutional monarchy,” writes Joyal. “However, it will tend to make the person of the sovereign appear more remote from the operation of our system of government. The bond between the monarch and her subjects will seem looser over time. The emotional, affectionate element of the oath between the Queen as a person and the one who pledges his or her allegiance will tend to fade away, making the sovereign an abstract concept, devoid of any humanity.”
By Holly Doan
The Canadian Kingdom: 150 Years of Constitutional Monarchy; edited by D. Michael Jackson; Dundurn Press; 248 pages; ISBN 9781-4597-41188; $25