Monarchy and Politics – Strange Bedfellows

Speak Freely About Our Politicians, But Never Question the Monarchy: October 9, 2002

This week Queen Elizabeth visits Canada and, as always, her arrival brings controversy.

It is a controversy that will not go away. Every year more Canadians question if Canada still needs an official monarch, and royal visits will always bring this argument to the fore.

It is a reasonable question. For decades, the official function of the Governor General has been little more than to rubber stamp bills passed by our government, and lend an air of royal prestige to the government’s major social functions. Officially, the Governor General has the power to challenge a bill, but it is now generally understood that this will not occur, as the Queen now rarely meddles in Canadian politics and Canadians prefer it that way.

The monarchy’s official function is primarily sentimental. However, to allow our government to function under the auspices of a ceremonial figurehead, when that figurehead is still legally capable of vetoing Canadian Government’s political decisions, is patently foolish. It is akin to giving an honoured private citizen official authority to command the Canadian army, but with the understanding that the privilege is “?for show’ and should not be exercised.

The Queen exercises no significant role in Canadian politics, but nevertheless, she has some authority over our political decisions, plus we must expend enormous sums of money any time the royals want to make a visit to their beloved colony.

Why? We love royalty – or at least the idea of it. Fairytales imbue royals with mystical charm, and history is replete with real and imagined stories about royal conquests, lives, loves and untimely ends. What would the works of Shakespeare be without monarchs? His tales could just as easily be told about regular people [as shown by many modern remakes of his plays], but when the subject is royal [if you’ll pardon the pun], the tale takes on an epic quality. Stories about royalty also sparks our fixation with the secret lives of the palace-cloistered oddities that have had such power over nations, but been so vexingly inaccessible to those they rule.

Indeed, the very concept of royalty is intriguing – especially today, when it is entirely at odds with the professed social philosophy of our society.

We believe [or at least profess to] that all men are equal, and that anyone, rich or poor, privileged class, or working class, should enjoy the same opportunities for respect, honour and social advancement. No longer is it acceptable to assume that the richer class is stronger, smarter or more capable than the lower class. Today we believe that the child of a machine-shop worker could be as capable of ruling our country as the child of a corporate head might be. In general, expressions of class superiority are offensive to Canadians. If the son of an old-money family were to boast his superiority to other men due to his lineage, we would scoff, “Who do you think you are, and what have YOU done to earn this distinction?

But we also support the elevated status of the monarchy – a class that enjoys an almost-holy status due only to their bloodline. Any other family that expected such treatment would be deeply resented, but North Americans are loath to revoke the status of royals for fear of debunking centuries of romantic and heroic rhetoric about the ruling bluebloods. Perhaps by accepting the notion that you can be born superior, we allow ourselves to harbour the notion that we too may be superior to others, regardless of our failures in life.

In America, which has no ties to a royal family, monarchs are created to fulfill the need – hence the fascination with the Kennedy family, and the use of the “?Camelot’ in association with their time in power. False monarchies abound in the U.S., as evidenced by the American predilection for electing leaders whose close family members have served in public office. George W. Bush and Robert Kennedy are just two political figures that gained significant credentials due to their family affiliations. Rumblings have already begun, suggesting that Chelsea Clinton might one day be president, based on nothing more than respect for her father.

There is nothing wrong with romanticism, sentiment, or cherishing old symbols for their historical and cultural significance, but these factors should be distinctly separate from law and the distribution of authority. When these two realms are allowed to become entangled, foolishness can result. This week, Joe Clark has done a fantastic job of showing just how foolish the obsequious pursuit of royal approval can make even the most experienced politician.

Yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister John Manley commented (SEE: that it is not “necessary for Canada to continue with the monarchy” and that he would like to see “an “?entirely Canadian institution’ once the Queen’s reign end.”

Mr. Clark responded to this suggestion by stating: “I thought (Manley’s comment) represented, first of all, simple rudeness, and secondly, the worst possible political judgment. I was astounded.”

I’m astounded by Mr. Clark’s toadying response. When did it become unacceptable for a Canadian politician to question the status quo?

Mr. Clark has certainly made ample use of this freedom throughout his career, and especially in the last few years of the Chrétien reign [pun intended this time], which he has publicly criticized at every opportunity. Nevertheless, Clark is outraged – and I think even a little embarrassed – that another government member has exercised his right to question, because this time the topic is monarchy.

It is as though mommy has come home after a long time away, and all her children are vying for favour…. Mr. Clark wants to be first in line.

Is he an insecure child, greedy for the approval of a woman he perceives as his better, or an experienced politician who understands that in a democracy all things can, and should, be questioned, examined, evaluated, and re-thought?

Sadly, I fear it is the former. Mr. Clark has even gone so far as to make a public apology to the queen, on behalf of the Canadian government: “It should be made abundantly clear to Her Majesty that [Manley] does not speak for the people of the country when he says that on the day she arrives in Canada.”

Does Mr. Clark have any self-respect? It seems that he is more concerned with demonstrating to the Queen that he is a good little subject, than he is with assuring Canada the best future possible. It’s pathetic and embarrassing.

And he’s not alone in his sycophancy. Elsie Wayne, a Conservative MP, also denigrated Mr Manley as she fears that “the Queen will almost certainly learn what Mr. Manley said and that will reflect badly on Canada.” Well, we can’t have that…

Does she think that the Queen is oblivious to this kind of thinking? A gentle suggestion that she may be no longer required as a Canadian Head of State, is nothing compared to the under-currents of anti-monarchism that are rumbling throughout her home in Britain. And it most certainly pales in comparison to the more venomous anti-royal sentiment that has been levelled at her by India, Hong Kong, and even Scotland and Ireland. Let us not forget that many British colonies were taken by force, at great loss of human life and cultural identity. The royals were never in the business of being liked, and the Queen was born, bred and raised to be thick-skinned, and she certainly understands that times change, as do politics.

Besides, Mr. Manley’s statements were relatively benign, and phrased with the utmost respect. He did not denigrate the monarchy, but rather stated that Canada may no longer require them. In fact, he very tactfully stated: “I have always said that, first, I think Queen Elizabeth is doing a good job … [but] personally, I would prefer it if we could have a uniquely Canadian institution after Queen Elizabeth.” Nevertheless, this did not stop opposition members from describing Manley’s carefully worded comments as “rude, insulting and boorish” and stating that they lacked any “degree of civility. (SEE:{F8215F69-76E8-4774-8D0D-E1FAC5639416}).”

Even the National Post [SEE: above link] lost all journalistic perspective when reporting the story. Journalist Chris Wattie opened the article “Manley Calls For End of Monarchy” with the statement: “John Manley, the Deputy Prime Minister, called for the abolition of the monarchy yesterday as the Queen arrived for a 12-day tour of Canada.”

No, he didn’t. And what, exactly, would “?abolishing’ the monarchy entail, anyway? Would the royals be banished to an un-owned island in the deep Pacific? Or disintegrated in a hot oven, perhaps? The whole concept of “?abolishing’ the monarchy is vague and nebulous at best: heinous at worst. What it is generally understood to mean, however, is that the royals be stripped of their political power and social privileges, and be forced to eke out a commoners existence on their few billion dollars of ancestral wealth.

This has been suggested by many people – even in Britain – but not by Mr. Manley. At least not on the occasion in question. What he said was that he felt the monarchy should not longer have an official role in Canadian politics. He said nothing about removing power from the monarchs within Britain, or any other country. Ending royal representation in Canada is a far cry from abolishing the monarchy, and Wattie certainly knows this.

Wattie’s article, however, is rife with prejudicial language, and takes great liberties in presenting Mr. Manley’s statements in the most negative context possible.

Freedom of speech in Canada is a nebulous thing. Criticism, accusation and spite are the shameful and unproductive modus operandi of our House of Commons, yet even the most carefully phrased and logical arguments may result in an MP being shunned if they encroach upon the taboo topic of royal representation in Canada. Ironically, in this one special case, Members of Parliament and the National Press have banded together admirably to vilify the man who spoke the heresy. I think this proves – clearly – just how dangerous to democracy the Canadian deification of the monarchy is, and why we probably do have to get rid of it. At least we are not afraid to question our politicians.

Tamra lives in Calgary with her husband and two cats. A fulltime AU student, she splits her free time between her duties as an AUSU councillor, writing her first novel, and editing written work by other students and friends.

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