It’s been more than a week since the death of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, but his pale blue eyes still stare resolutely from the home page of the Government of Alberta’s website.
Given the challenges facing Alberta, a number of social media commentators have crossly suggested this is somewhat over the top.
But our United Conservative Party premier, Jason Kenney, does love the monarchy, and so it would seem do a lot of his political advisers. So this outpouring of affection for the Royal consort, a job title that makes the work sound a lot more fun than it probably was, should not come as a surprise to any of us.
But why do Canadian Republicans love the monarchy so much?
By Republicans, of course, I do not mean republicans, as in people who believe Canada ought to be a republic, necessarily.
Rather, I mean Canadian conservatives in their various provincial and regional permutations, people who have almost completely adopted the attitudes, strategies, tax policies and talking points of the American Republican Party. All but for but a couple of minor points, that is, those being their adoration of the monarchy and the colour they choose for their lawn signs at election time.
Political labels can be confusing this way. Canadian conservatives are just American Republicans with a maple leaf flag hanging limply in the background, if you go by ideology, strategy, tactics or their growing contempt for democracy.
Similarly, British Columbia Liberals are really Canadian conservatives. Canadian Liberals are really small-c conservatives, and Alberta New Democrats are too. Canadian New Democrats, I would say, are confused — unsure if they are Liberals (conservatives), Conservatives (Republicans) or Canadian Greens.
There’s nothing uniquely Canadian about this, of course. Australian Liberals are also Republicanized conservatives. Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party wasn’t remotely revolutionary ages before it ceased to be quite as institutional as it once was. Even the Communist Party of China doesn’t seem very communistic any more.
All of them are to one extent or another neoliberals.
But, I digress.
Since modern neoliberalism under the Republican banner — or, as we say in Canada, the Republi-Cons — takes a pretty agnostic position on monarchies, why do Canadian Cons love the British monarchy, which they constantly remind us is constitutionally speaking the Canadian monarchy too, so much?
Well, it’s said here they love it for the same reason that British conservatives love the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family — pardon me, the plain old Windsors. Because, “that is, subtly, with its claque of a press, the Crown helps make a conservative vote seem the British patriotic norm.”
We owe the foregoing insight to Polly Toynbee, explaining in The Guardian on Tuesday how the monarchy has been weaponized by the right.
“The miasma of monarchy sets a stamp of respectability on whatever rottenness hides beneath,” she explained in an essay prompted by the Royal consort’s departure from this plane of existence that could be quite helpful to Canadians as we decide what to do about this anachronistic institution when Mrs. Windsor, better known as Queen Elizabeth II, transitions and we are confronted with the prospect of having to get new business cards from all our lawyers because they have transitioned from Q.C.s into K.C.s.
We don’t know much about the actual politics of the Royal Family, although it’s reasonable to assume that they’re pretty conservative in the traditional sense of the word, Philip’s son Charles’s dalliance with green causes and populist architecture criticism notwithstanding. (This may explain why certain otherwise royalty-loving conservatives are anxious that the Crown pass over Charles and land upon his son, William.)
But while “the monarchy never stopped the country electing a progressive government,” Toynbee observed, “the pomp of the Crown acted as useful cover for the wild insurgents subverting the Tory party.”
There were better choices every step of the way along the conservatives’ “ruinous post-1979 path,” she argued. Britain could have put their North Sea oil revenues into a sovereign wealth fund like Norway, instead of pissing it away like Alberta. They could have invested in education, instead of weaponizing ignorance.
“The authentically patriotic choice now is to invest, with inspiration from Joe Biden,” she wrote. “Instead of planned cuts, plough funds into our sciences, the arts, sport and invention.” The same could be said, in the same words, about Alberta.
“This week is a reminder of how their culture war weaponizes the monarchy,” she explained. “Unchecked, these bullies will terrorize all unorthodoxy as unpatriotic.”
Of course Kenney’s strategic brain trust views the monarchy in exactly the same way.
Toynbee proposes that Britons “see off the rotten party that brought the country low, and end the Elizabethan era with some of the optimism with which it began.”
As for us Canadians, I think we can do one better. Not only should we see off the conservatives until they’re truly conservative again, we should bid a fond farewell to Britain’s monarchy, set a course to become a progressive republic, and perhaps even realize the dream of leaving neoliberalism where it belongs, with kings and princes on the ash heap of history.
In such a Canada, conservatives might be Republicans, but republicans would be democrats!
Coverage of Prince Philip’s funeral, dominated CBC programming throughout the day on Saturday. The consort’s photo, presumably, will be removed from Alberta.ca sometime next week.
Author’s note: despite the quotation marks, The Guardian’s British spellings have been edited to reflect prevailing Canadian practice, just as I was taught on the copy desk at The Globe and Mail, which in those days always knew better, even when it came to what a politician’s first name was. Joseph Clark, c’mon down!
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 at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.
Image: Government of Alberta screenshot