Alberta Diary

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David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

Will and Kate: Helping to keep 'The Firm' in business ... barely

| July 13, 2011
Three generations of the Board of The Firm

Things may not be what they used to be at "The Firm," but from the perspective of its still profitable but deteriorating Canadian franchise, the recent royal visit must be regarded as a success.

Don't get mad at me for calling the Royal Family a business! It was the head of the (Royal) Household, Her Britannic Majesty herself, who conceded that this enterprise is at base just another limited partnership -- at any rate, she's the one said to have dubbed the operation "The Firm."

Over the years, like any business enterprise, The Firm has had to make adjustments to remain profitable in the face of social and cultural change. One could argue, presumably, that the first of these challenges came in 1215 when those annoying barons forced the hapless King John to sign that Magna Carta.

It was a different Firm at the time, of course, or perhaps the same Firm with directors from a different family, but things actually worked out pretty well despite the need to adjust to new ways of doing business. Bringing in outside consultants often has that effect! Unsettling at first, but ultimately a benefit to continued profitability.

There have been ups and downs along the way since then -- one thinks of the drop taken by the freshly uncrowned head the unfortunate Charles I as one of the downs -- but, all in all, the institution of the Royal Family has adapted to historical change with reasonable aplomb, and until recently without serious impact on profitability.

Got a problem with your German heritage when the people who pay your bills are fighting a war with Germany? No worries -- overnight, the House of Saxe-Coburg und Gotha becomes that of Windsor! Sometimes a simple name change is as rejuvenating as a strategic bankruptcy, the latter being something the House of Windsor hasn't had to think about seriously until very recently. (On a personal note, I can sympathize with this. It was during the same war and for pretty much the same reason that the Climenhaga Family stopped saying they were "German," and started telling folks they were "Dutch." Though, if it had been me making the decisions, I would have said "Swiss.")

The last few generations, alas, have been a different story for The Firm. Really, it's been one damn annus horribilis after another, as this newfangled democracy thing seemed to take hold everywhere and send down roots. Before you knew it, commoners were forgetting their station and laying wreaths at the tomb of Karl Marx, kings wanted to marry Americans and Her Majesty's son's ex-wife started hanging around with a Middle Eastern department store scion! And that was before the silly git -- HRH, the son, that is -- got ahold of a mobile telephone and started flapping his lips, a topic best left entirely alone!

Indeed, this is where things really started to go awry for The Firm -- it wasn't so much that the commoners got uppity about their place in society, but that members of The Firm got the notion they wanted to act like commoners, driving their own cars, talking dirty on their cell phones and spending weekends on republican territory.

No wonder the increasingly Americanized plebes stopped paying The Firm much heed, or worse, any attention at all. Why would they, when you're just another family with ill-behaved children, albeit with very nicely cut suits and automatic acceptance into the very best regiments?

Indeed, it's got to the point that members of The Firm hardly require security details any more when they visit, so little do they register on the national radar! (There was a day when writing something like this could generate a month of chippy letters to the editor. Today, you'd have to threaten to be cruel to a puppy, or to close down the Calgary Stampede, to get a similar reaction.)

Which brings us to the recent Royal visit to our shores by the junior directors of The Firm, young Will and Kate, which for several days supplanted the coverage of actual news by Canadian journalists.

One of the impacts in a democratic era of being part of an institution that is almost as anachronistic and inherently undemocratic as the Canadian Senate is that the people who are paying the freight for your franchise operations begin to wonder if there's any point. Next thing you know, the Australians have ginned up a plebiscite on becoming a republic and Canadians are scratching their heads at why their District Attorneys are called "Crowns" and their governments' orders are given by someone called a Lootenant-Governor.

When this happens, you have to know it's only a matter of time before someone is going to start to question the cost of the entire exercise -- especially when the guy living at 24 Sussex Drive is really just another not-so-deeply closeted American Republican (in every sense of that word). Why, Canadians are entitled to wonder, are we paying for this?

Worse, as just another rich family that's bought into the entire globalization shtick to protect its substantial assets, Mrs. Windsor and the rest of her brood can hardly go around telling their unenthusiastic financiers in the former colonies that allegiance to The Firm helps set their country apart from the United States almost as much as Medicare, or better yet that the Crown's prerogative acts as a symbolic check on the kind of Tea Party excesses beloved of the very people they now hang with socially. I mean, really, how do you privatize Crown land?

Having sacrificed the only selling points they have left to the ethos of the era, it seems as if The Firm's business fundamentals, as they say in the Report on Business, are seriously in decline. In Canada, that means it's probably only a matter of time before the Royal connection goes the same way as home milk delivery, only with somewhat less impact on the state of civilization.

This is a particular problem for The Firm right now, as it faces a moment of generational change. To its credit, I guess, this institution has always paid a lot of attention to succession planning -- too much, one could argue, given that no one can do anything about the fact the Chair's designated successor is the guy with the mobile phone who won't hang up when he ought to.

The warm feelings generated by the visit of the pleasant but seemingly vapid young couple, combined with plenty of obsequious press coverage about how young Will will eventually be our king, may serve to divert Canadians' attention from the practical questions they might otherwise be asking themselves about our future relationship with The Firm.

So from this perspective, to the directors of The Firm, the visit must be considered a success, perhaps even a triumph. After all, if they can slip the upcoming change at the top past us while we still bask in the reflected glow of Will and Kate, perhaps the institution can hang on for another generation in this place.

Alas for The Firm, the charming couple was immediately off to Hollywood, to hobnob with the stars, just as the rest of us would have done if we'd had the chance.

In other words, with commoners, and American ones at that! In such mundane circumstances, I'm afraid, it won't take long for the warm glow to dissipate, and for Canadians' connection with The Firm to continue to atrophy.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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Comments

Great short essay complete with wit and humor (read as delightful sarcasm) on the tribulations and (lack of) relevance of the British monarchy.

This part, "... as just another rich family that's bought into the entire globalization shtick to protect its substantial assets, Mrs. Windsor and the rest of her brood can hardly go around telling their unenthusiastic financiers in the former colonies that allegiance to The Firm helps set their country apart from the United States almost as much as Medicare, or better yet that the Crown's prerogative acts as a symbolic check on the kind of Tea Party excesses beloved of the very people they now hang with socially. I mean, really, how do you privatize Crown land?", exposes the arguments of Canadian monarchists for the chimeras they are.

A great read. Well done!

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