Like it or not, the monarchy has its place in Canada

The late Queen’s Crown and personal Canadian flag, Department of Canadian Heritage

There’s been renewed talk about the role the monarchy plays in Canada with the recent passing of Queen Elizabeth II. Some people have called for abolishing it and cutting our last formal ties with Great Britain.

I wouldn’t mind this myself. I’m not a big fan of the monarchy, and I’ve never liked the fact that our head of state resides in a foreign country. However, abolishing the monarchy is an extremely tall order for multiple reasons.

The first issue is the Constitution’s amending formula. Section 41(a) of the Constitution Act, 1982 requires that the federal government and all ten provinces agree to changing the office of the Queen (now the King). Every provincial legislature has to get on board, all the way from Ontario down to Prince Edward Island. Our previous attempts at changing the Constitution with the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords show just how hard it is to get that kind of unanimous agreement. Not to mention that if we were to reopen the Constitution on that, many other groups, particularly the Indigenous nations, would probably want to have their issues addressed as well.

The reaction of many Indigenous peoples themselves is another issue. Indigenous commentators such as Iyahe Nakoda Rachel Snow, Plains Cree Doug Cuthand and Anishinaabe Niigaan Sinclair have all written about the bonds and respect many Indigenous people feel towards the monarchy. They view the various Treaties as not just bills of sale allowing non-Native people access to the lands that form Canada, but sacred bonds representing a deeper relationship. Snow, Cuthand and Sinclair all emphasize that many of their people feel those bonds are made with directly with the monarchy, and that the monarchy has a role to play in making sure Canadian governments respect their rights. At the very least, many Indigenous nations will demand to be involved on any discussions of the monarchy’s future, and might flat-out oppose abolition.

Even if by some miracle we overcome these obstacles, and abolish the monarchy, what do we replace it with? Supporters of abolishing the monarchy often don’t offer much detail on what they’d replace it with. Under our British-derived parliamentary system, the monarch ‘reigns, but does not rule’. King Charles, as represented by the Governor General and Lieutenant Governors, only acts on the advice of his main counsellors, the democratically Prime Minister and provincial Premiers. Since the King and his representatives aren’t elected, their main role is to formally approve legislation and determine which political parties are able to form government. The King’s representatives can’t change tax rates or decide the contents of bills.

That all changes if the Governor General, or any future Canadian President, is elected by the public. What happens if the President and Prime Minister disagree on whether legislation should be passed, or how much money Canada should borrow or spend? If they’re both democratically elected, they could both make a case for having their decisions be followed. How would these disputes be resolved? These disputes could paralyze governments, keeping them from providing basic public services.

I’d like to have a fully Canadian head of state, it’s just not in the cards right now.

Originally published at https://www.stalberttoday.ca on October 31, 2022.

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Jared Milne

Passionately devoted to Canadian unity. Fascinated by Canadian politics and history. Striving to understand the mysteries of Canada. Publishes every few weeks.