If you’re getting sick of the British (also the Canadian) monarchy, welcome to the club.
The shenanigans of the royals might make for great television — whether as a dramatized mini-series or Oprah interview — but we could enjoy the spectacle without the awkwardness of having them as our Canadian Royal Family.
We are a large, well-established, independent country, after all. One day in the not-too-distant future we will surpass the United Kingdom in population. Our vast territory is more than 20 times that of the U.K. and has been for more than a century.
Isn’t it time we cut the apron strings with the Empire, once and for all?
Given the most recent — to put it kindly — embarrassing revelations as to how petty, sometimes cruel, and even racist they are, hands up, please, all who believe we benefit from our continued connection to the House of Windsor.
The monarchy has its defenders here in Canada. They argue it helps us maintain our distinctness vis-à-vis the United States, and spares us the excesses of a U.S.-style presidential system. An unalloyed and unchecked narcissist in the White House can be far more dangerous that even the most feckless and silly royal, they say.
But our choice is not between preserving our connection to the Crown of a foreign country and adopting a U.S.-style executive presidency.
There are a number of countries with more or less Westminster-style parliamentary systems, similar to ours, which have non-executive presidents. The roles of those presidents are similar to that of our governor general.
Among those countries are: India, Germany, Italy, Greece, Finland, and Israel. Barbados will soon join that club. In all those cases, the prime minister or chancellor exercises all or most of the executive power, while the president stays out of the day-to-day fray of politics and government.
We could have a similar system here in Canada, with a fixed-term president, elected either by the people or by the federal parliament.
Many Indigenous people might worry about cutting ties with the monarchy, since their treaties are, formally, with the Crown. Amending the Constitution to give far more robust meaning to Indigenous rights, including the right to self-government and revenue from natural resources on Indigenous lands, should allay those worries.
But therein lies the rub: the Constitution. Getting rid of the monarchy would require a constitutional amendment, which, in turn, would require agreement of all provinces and the federal government.
Younger Canadians might not have bitter memories of the agonizing efforts, during the 1980s and early 1990s, to amend the Constitution via the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords. But most of those who were around then — and paying attention — will be loath to enter into any new process of constitutional change.
Been there, done that; did not even get the T-shirt.
And so, however sick and tired many Canadians might be to have Queen Elizabeth and her oddball entourage as our Royal Family, there is not much we can do about it.
Strip reference to the Queen from the oath of citizenship
What we could do, however, is stop flogging the monarchy in an ostentatious and public way.
Just because the Queen is our official head of state, we are not required to put her image on our money, or hang her portrait prominently in significant public places, or invoke her name in symbolic national exercises. We could just leave the monarchy on the side and unmentioned, for the most part, rendering it as unobtrusive, even invisible, as possible.
One place to start, as a caller to CBC Radio’s Cross Country Checkup suggested this past Sunday, would be with our oath of citizenship.
Currently this is what it is:
“I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada, and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.”
You could not imagine an oath less connected to real life in Canada, or less inspiring, if you tried.
The government is aware of the inadequacy of the current oath. If you look up the oath of citizenship on the government of Canada’s website, they show you the actual one but also this proposed new text:
“I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada, including the Constitution, which recognizes and affirms the Aboriginal and treaty rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.”
Those new words would be a big improvement. But why do we even have to mention the Queen? Is there any law or constitutional provision that says we must gratuitously name our constitutional head of state on any and every official occasion?
In addition, why make only backhand reference to the original peoples of Canada, mentioning them solely because a constitution they did not draft, nor even get to sign, deigns to “affirm” their Aboriginal and treaty rights.
Instead of the government’s proposed alternative oath, here is another more fundamentally modified option:
“I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the laws and Constitution of Canada, will respect the rights, history and traditions of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada, and of all the other peoples of Canada, and will fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.”
It would be simple for us to discretely acknowledge, when necessary, that the Queen is, by historic accident, our official head of state. We could teach that fact in schools and to new arrivals. We do not, however, need to make any sort of fuss and bother about it.
The Queen herself is not likely to care one little bit about what we do here in Canada. She has lots of other more pressing concerns — or at least you’d think so if you watched any of the Oprah interview with Meghan and Harry.
Indeed, given the current monarch’s advanced age, it is quite unlikely she will ever again set foot in Canada. We certainly don’t have to invite her and incur all the unnecessary cost of a royal visit.
And when Queen Elizabeth dies, there is a chance even the British will be ready to seriously consider abolishing the monarchy altogether.
We Canadians should start getting used to that prospect.
Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble’s politics reporter.