Point: Knee-jerk withdrawal from the Commonwealth is ill-advised
With the Queen’s visit earlier this year and the announcement of a royal wedding next spring, it’s come time yet again to debate the importance of the monarchy to Canada.
There are historical, financial, practical and political reasons why the British monarchy should continue to play a role in the Canadian political system even after the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
Historically, our nation has been tied to monarchies for 500 years. In that time we have grown as a country from a mixture of British and French colonies to the nation we are today.
We have become a democratic country whose laws are determined by our legislatures, not the monarchy.
Despite our history with the monarchy, recently public support of the monarchy has waned. A 2009 survey found that 86 per cent of Quebecers favoured abolishing our connection with the monarchy, whereas about 27 per cent of Canadians were in favour of keeping it. Populism alone, however, is not a sound reason to drastically change a political system.
Support for the British monarchy in Quebec has always been the lowest in Canada, and casting aside the monarchy, especially with the idea of making Canada a republic, would present danger to a unified Canada. Given that traditionally, separatists in Quebec have been vocal about their animosity towards the monarchy and have favoured an independent Quebec republic, abolishing our connections with the monarchy could be seen by Quebec voters as legitimizing separatist views.
Considering the tremendous costs associated with years of carefully planning a new constitution, the failures of both the Meech Lake and Charlestown accords to change our constitution, as well as the amount of time and effort that would be required to rewrite Canadian laws to accommodate these changes, it makes little financial sense to declare ourselves a republic following Queen Elizabeth II’s death.
At a cost estimated at about $50 million a year to maintain the monarchy, including maintaining a few buildings for the royalty to use, it is definitely worth avoiding that outcome.
The governor general David Johnston, Queen Elizabeth II’s Canadian representative, has a very practical role within the government of this country.
While the Queen is away, the governor general attends ceremonies and banquets across the country. This allows the prime minister and cabinet to focus on issues pertaining to the operation of the country. More importantly, the governor general, acting on behalf of the Queen, has the time to be able to travel across the country and speak with ordinary Canadians.
In 2008 Canadians witnessed the political side of the responsibility of the governor general when Michelle Jean had to make a difficult decision of whether to prorogue government at Prime Minister Harper’s request or allow the government to fall. In a climate of minority governments and potential coalitions, the power of an independent entity determining who governs is essential to Canada’s political stability.
Similarly, this past year, following an election in Britain, the Queen herself determined that the Conservative and the Liberal Democrats could form a coalition government.
While ideally this would be left up to voters to decide in an election, in cases where there are more than two parties represented in a legislature have a majority, the possibility of having to form a coalition government exists.
In those situations it is prudent to have a person independent of the political process to decide which parties have the greatest legitimacy in forming the government. David Johnston, knowledgeable in constitutional law, is a good choice to act in this manner.
Ultimately, maintaining our connections with the monarchy and its traditions provides our country with greater political stability and improves our relations with an important ally.
When this is compounded with the importance of our historical traditions and maintaining our national identity, it is hard to see why a knee-jerk reaction against our monarchy is worthwhile.