By Jason Menard,
For many, yesterday’s announcement of an engagement between Prince William and his girlfriend Kate Middleton was an unforgettable moment; for me, it was a reminder of just how forgettable the monarchy is in our modern Canadian lives.
You see, Canada’s a part of the Commonwealth, a group of independent member states (54 in all), most of whom were part of the British Empire. Queen Elizabeth is head of that organization and is also Canada’s Head of State. So the monarchy is a pretty big deal for many Canucks – and royal watching is a spectator sport.
With all due respect to the happy couple, yesterday’s announcement just showed how absent the monarchy is from our day-to-day lives. It takes William’s celebrity-status cachet to bring the royals back to the Canadian fore. For Canadians, the monarchy has been reduced to the celebrity gossip columnists.
Yes, there are those ardent monarchists who support the Queen and her authority over Canada as a necessary – even defining – component of Canadian life. On the other side, you have those who are equally committed to abolishing the monarchy in Canada and transforming our constitutional monarchy into a republic. The former ties Canada’s cultural identity to its British Empire roots; the latter say we can’t fully consider ourselves as a country until we cut the ties to our former colonists.
But for most Canadians, this passionate and polarizing debate is confined to a small cadre of academics and pundits. Most Canucks just don’t care.
A 2002 EKOS Research Associates survey found that only five per cent of Canadians polled realized that the Queen was our Head of State. Five per cent! That’s only one in 20 people who knew who officially ran the country. Of course, that number would be more shocking if it wasn’t so painfully obvious to everyone how little the monarchy truly matters.
When Canadians think about who runs the country, we think the Prime Minister, the House of Commons, and the Senate. Yes, most people are aware of the existence of the governor general, but see it mainly as a ceremonial post. In that aforementioned poll 52 per cent of respondents felt that the monarchy “has no relevance to most Canadians today.” Which is factually wrong, but sentimentally true.
So the Queen is our Head of State, but most people don’t know and don’t care. She rules her apathetic constituents not with an iron grasp, but rather a casual glance over the shoulder. With so little day-to-day contact and a fully functioning (well, at least when it’s not prorogued or out of session) government in place, it would seem to be a no-brainer to cut our ties completely right?
Not so fast. When asked if it is time to abolish the monarchy in Canada, the respondents were pretty evenly split: 43 per cent disagreed and 41 per cent agreed. And what was interesting is that while one would think our older generations would be more tied to the Queen – and only 33 per cent of those 65 and older agreed it was time to abolish the monarchy – our youngest generations were equally as disinclined to knock the Queen off her throne. Only one third of those under 25 said the time had come – meanwhile 41 per cent of those 25-44 and 46 per cent of those 45-64 were in favour of abolishing the monarchy.
Canadians are fiercely proud of their country, so why aren’t we more ready to stand up on our own, cut our ties to the monarchy, and proclaim to the world that Canada has grown up, moved out of the Queen’s house, and ready to set the world on fire?
Because we already have.
I am a Canadian. I don’t need a republic to know that. I don’t need stump speeches from some guy named Joe or a cute girl on a bike who, distractingly, keeps looking off-camera (I guess to read road-side cue cards) to make me proud of my country. I know what I am, I know who I am, and I’m comfortable with it.
In my youth, I believed that we needed to abolish the monarchy to truly be Canadian. As I’ve aged, I realize that it really doesn’t matter. They don’t matter. Sure, there are some things I’d like changed – I think we should have our own Canadian heroes on our money instead of the Queen’s face, but that’s more because I think it’s important to recognize our past and use whatever tools we have at our disposal to educate future generations – but in general, Canada’s working out pretty well as it is.
We sing Oh Canada, not God Save the Queen. Our flag is the Maple Leaf, not the Union Jack. We respect our past – a country founded and developed with the influence of both English and French colonists. We look with pride to the future and we have a healthy respect for our past. The monarchy is irrelevant to me – and to many others like me. And while I can take it or leave it, I can also respect the opinions of those for whom the monarchy means so much more.
In the end, I am Canadian and proud of it (I just wish that we could have a statement of pride that comes from someone not trying to sell beer or newspapers…) and I don’t need the Queen’s permission to do so.
Despite what the monarchists or republicans may suggest through their rhetoric, we are Canadian in our own hearts and in the eyes of the world no matter what. Of that fact, there is no debate.