September 20, 2022

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God Save The King?

I have always accepted and respected the monarchy in Canada, and like many I had considerable respect and affection for our late Queen.

It was an enormous privilege to take the 4 Wing Band to Yellowknife in 1994 to provide official and ceremonial music for Her Majesty’s visit. None of us had the opportunity to meet her, but we were present on several occasions that she attended. She was well-known for her grace, and for making everyone around her feel important—as if they had a moment of her personal attention. I can attest we all felt she acknowledged us and appreciated us. We were thrilled.

It may seem silly to have been so star-struck. But it is remarkable that she showed such grace and attention to the millions of people she met or encountered over her 70-year reign, even though she didn’t have to. She could just as easily have cut ribbons, launched ships, or conferred honours without sparing a thought or a moment’s attention to those around her, and had an easier time of it.

But she dedicated her entire life to duty and service, and she extended that dedication to everyone. With no disrespect to our new King, I daresay we miss her already.

And that leads us to the thorny question of the monarchy’s relevance in Canada. As I said, I have always accepted and respected the institution; but all four of my grandparents were English.

My generation of the family was not raised to be anglophiles. We didn’t sing Rule Britannia or read Kipling together, we didn’t support England in the World Cup (we didn’t follow soccer at all), and I’m still not sure I even know what a crumpet is.

But as a British (-ish) Canadian, I was perfectly comfortable with the Crown if only because I had no reason to resent it. Other people from throughout the world, including other Canadians, experienced the British Empire very differently.

Canada is no longer British in any sense, and there are many reasons for Canadians to at least consider throwing off the trappings of Empire. If we are a modern, mature country with our own identity, it makes little sense to have a foreign monarch as our Head of State.

But it’s no simple matter to replace it. Our entire Constitution, our whole system of government, is built on principles of democracy within a constitutional monarchy. The very language of our laws is couched in centuries-old traditions, many of which predate the so-called “discovery” of this land let alone the establishment of our country.

And we are not a unitary state like Barbados, which abolished the monarchy last year. We are a federation whose provinces share complicated relationships. Negotiating a new, non-Royal constitution would be a years-long nightmare of haggling over demands, both high-minded and petty.

What do we want for ourselves and for our future? I’m afraid it comes down to Canada’s familiar navel-gazing conundrum: who are we?

As Andrew Parkin wrote in a 2021 article for The Hill Times, “The question we should be asking ourselves…is not whether it is time to abolish the monarchy. It is this: have we matured as a country to the point that we can engage in significant constitutional change in a manner that leaves us more, and not less, united? Once we are sure we can say ‘yes’ to the second question, we will know we are ready to tackle the first.”

Are we as grown-up as we think we are? Maybe. But if not, then God Save The King—we should appreciate the stability and continuity the monarchy affords us in the meantime.