Earlier this month, Canada celebrated 147 years of independence and although our night skies were streamed with red and white, there remained an asterisk. While Canada’s place on the international stage is resolute and we have held our independence in practice since the Statute of Westminster, our head of state is still not Canadian.
Even a year after his birth, the arrival of the royal baby is still perhaps a stark and much- needed reminder that our country remains a relic of the 19th century British Empire. Prince George, according to the rules of succession and under Canada’s Constitution, may very well become our next King and head of state. At the very least, this fact ought to reinvigorate a national dialogue on the role of the monarch in a 21st century Canada.
As a constitutional monarchy today, Queen Elizabeth II serves as the head of state in writing only and, according to procedure, acts entirely on the advice of our elected representatives. To this end, the Queen of Canada — distinct from her role as a Queen of the United Kingdom — personifies the state, is heralded as a personal symbol of allegiance, grants honours to outstanding Canadians and pays patronage to Canadian charities and public organizations. Niceties notwithstanding, the monarch’s role does beg the question: at what cost?
Robert Finch of the Monarchist League of Canada is noted for routinely insisting that, “For the price of a cup of coffee, Canadians can enjoy the stability of the Crown”. As novel as a justification that this may seem, any Canadian with a modicum of knowledge of our parliamentary system knows the suggestion that the monarchy bring Canadians stability is as baseless as it is insulting.
While the Queen does not receive a salary, every Canadian pays $1.53 — approximately $50 million in Canadian tax dollars — to fund the monarchy, a figure that has more than doubled in the past decade. The Queen’s annual income will also see a raise by 5% to a salary of almost $58 million annually. Perhaps most astonishing is that the Queen costs Canada more than it does the United Kingdom, with the Brits paying only $1.32 annually.
This unwarranted excise brings to mind the “no taxation without representation” adage that iterated the primary grievance of British colonists in the Thirteen Colonies ultimately leading to the American Revolution. While the Canadian contribution to the monarchy is no paltry sum, rather than regressing into a discussion on more effective spending, it is perhaps better to unearth what the monarchy represents — and more importantly, whom it does not.
Since the 1970s where we began our multicultural experiment by opening our borders to immigrants from every corner of the globe, Canada has endeavoured to create a cultural mosaic that weaved the best and the brightest without discrimination. This undertaking was formally legislated when the Constitution Act of 1982 enshrined in it, a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that placed a prohibition on discrimination of any form, and guaranteed equality rights.
While Canada remains undoubtedly successful in its multicultural experiment, it is unbelievable and bizarre to learn that Canada is still beholden to the British laws of succession that dictate expressly, that Canada’s head of state cannot adhere to any form of religion save for Anglican Christian and cannot be Canadian.
Canada’s antiquated traditions that pay homage to the British monarch extend even to the Citizenship Act, which requires applicants to swear to “bear true allegiance to Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, her heirs and successors”.
Monarchists have routinely argued this requirement ought to be preserved, as it pays tribute to Canada’s foundational heritage. But a tribute seems more justifiable in the form of printed currency rather than a forced allegiance that will exempt a person from the benefits of citizenship if not taken.
To be sure, Canada’s current political landscape is hardly inhibited by the Royal family, and a move to abolishing the monarchy is purely symbolic; but symbols matter. There is something to be said when in 2014, Iraq has an elected head of state that is an ethnic minority, while Canada still remains beholden to the rules of British succession on the basis of hereditary privilege.
It is simply antithetical and hypocritical to a multicultural democracy that aspires to meritocratic advancement, that we routinely criticize the inept democratically elected leaders of our neighbours to the south, and praise our head of state for winning the lottery and being born “royal”. Undoubtedly our own polity is enriched by the traditions of British common law and parliamentarianism, but as history has quite clearly indicated, Canada has rightly evolved her own separate national identity.
It is time Canada’s head of state move into the 21st century, became sovereign, and most of all, Canadian.
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