Absence or obsolescence

The Vancouver 2010 Olympics will be missing Canada’s head of state, the Toronto Star reported Nov. 8.

Queen Elizabeth II declined the Government of Canada’s invitation to open the Olympic ceremonies this winter. Governor General Michäelle Jean will do the honours instead.

Columnist Rosie DiManno said the Queen’s choice defies royal protocol and misses an opportunity to make the monarchy of interest to young Canadians.

The Queen opened the Olympics in Montreal in 1976, but declined to do so in Calgary in 1988 and Sydney in 2000.

It’s unfortunate the Queen won’t be involved with the Vancouver Olympics, but given her track record in recent years, it’s hardly unexpected.

Queen Elizabeth II last visited Canada during her golden jubilee in 2002. As Canada’s reigning monarch, she should ideally make herself more prominent in the country through more frequent visits.

But it’s unlikely the Queen has declined to open the Olympics as a calculated snub against Canadians. Her age makes it less reasonable to expect a heavy travel commitment.

The Queen’s choice not to open the Olympics this winter gestures to the larger issue of the monarchy’s decreasing relevance to Canadians. In a nation that functions with virtual independence, it’s easy to forget the figurehead.

As a more visible presence on the home front than the Queen, Governor General Michäelle Jean is a relevant figure to open the Olympics.

But moving away from Canada’s image as a smaller power controlled by a British monarchy doesn’t call for nostalgia. Rather, the monarchy’s changing relevance is a positive step in Canada’s self-identification as a vibrant national entity. Hosting a monarch in Canada during the Olympics would burden taxpayers with a significant expense, and avoiding this price tag is worthwhile when it’s unlikely the Queen’s absence will be widely regretted—or even noticed.

Other issues surrounding the Vancouver Olympics, like a looming deficit and dwindling funds available to support the Games, require more attention and concern than an arguably obsolete monarch’s choice to stay home.

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