Democracy in Rideau Hall .. last steps on Canada’s long journey home

Apr 3rd, 2006 | By | Category: Canadian Republic

MONDAY, APRIL 3, 2006. FIRST DAY OF THE 39TH PARLIAMENT OF CANADA. As strange as it may seem, in theory the ultimate source of sovereign authority in Canada even in the year 2006 is still Queen Elizabeth II, who lives in Buckingham Palace in the United Kingdom.

She is a remarkable lady. But carrying on with Canada’s remaining very vague ties to the British monarchy after her reign ends is not the best future for the Canadian people, who are the final practical source of sovereign authority in Canada today.

Our best future is in our own hands, in theory as well as practice. Dwindling defenders of the old “constitutional monarchy” urge that ending it will be a complicated constitutional business. Yet such other British-modeled or Westminster-style parliamentary democracies of the 21st century global village as India and Ireland have already shown that it is not that complicated. And the time to start is now.

Without opening up any immediate constitutional issues at all, Canadians can take a big first step in the right direction by democratically reforming the present office of the governor general of Canada (who lives in Rideau Hall in Ottawa) – within the five-year term of the current excellent incumbent Mme Michaelle Jean.

The new prime minister has said it’s time for Canadians to start “writing, e-mailing, faxing and telephoning their MPs.” One big question to ask is does the fresh crop of elected representatives have the right stuff to get this ball rolling at last – and really start standing up for the future of Canada?

The old status quo is already withering on the vine …

Believe it or not, things just may be changing in Canada. Over the past few years proposals for an independent ceremonial Canadian head of state to replace the old colonial monarchy have been advanced by journalists like Jeffrey Simpson at the Toronto Globe and Mail and Barbara Yaffe at the Vancouver Sun, by new grass-roots organizations like Citizens for a Canadian Republic and the Fireweed Democracy Project, and by the former federal finance minister John Manley.

An April 2005 opinion poll conducted by Ipsos-Reid for CTV and the Globe and Mail reported that 55% of Canadians now agree with the statement: “When Queen Elizabeth’s reign ends, Canada should end its formal ties to the British Monarchy.”

Democratic reform of the present office of governor general of Canada over the next five years will turn this office into something that can replace the monarchy with an independent Canadian head of state, retaining the same essentially ceremonial functions as the present governor general, but accountable to the real democratic sovereign authority of the Canadian people today.

The actual legal replacing, however, will finally require a formal constitutional amendment. And experience over the past quarter century suggests that organizing major constitutional amendments of this sort is a difficult enough business in Canada.

Canadians are ready for change …

The opportunity for an amendment that finally entrenches an independent Canadian head of state now seems most likely to arise in conjunction with amendments on such other subjects of unfinished Canadian constitutional business as clarifying the unique role of Quebec in the 21st century confederation, reforming the present federal Senate, and clarifying the traditional rights of what section 35 of the Constitution Act 1982 calls “the aboriginal peoples of Canada.”

As a practical matter, the opportunity for any such broader set of constitutional amendments – which would in effect successfully revive the premature federal-provincial constitutional discussions of the late 1980s and early 1990s – still seems a distance down the road. (Though following the 2006 election, there is some fresh political interest in taking parallel first steps towards the democratic reform of the present federal Senate, which the new prime minister of Canada has called “a relic of the 19th century” – an apt description that might also be aptly applied to the present constitutional monarchy.)

When the opportunity does arrive, on this longer-term scenario the theoretical republican reform of replacing the British monarchy with a reformed office of governor general as a new independent Canadian head of state will also help set the stage for a broader group of practical political reforms that secure a strong and independent Canadian future for the 21st century.

The Ad Hoc East Toronto Republican Constitution Committee has prepared some preliminary draft working notes on one potential real-world evolution of this kind of scenario, as a contribution to current public debate and discussion on strengthening Canada for the interesting but tough new age of the global village that apparently lies ahead.

However the longer-term future finally unfolds, the urgent shorter-term priority remains: Without getting into constitutional questions at all, Canadians can right now take a big first step in the right direction by democratically reforming the present office of governor general of Canada – within the five-year term of the current excellent incumbent Mme Michaelle Jean.

That’s what Canadians and their politicians ought to be doing, as an important preparation for the end of the present reign of Queen Elizabeth II (who, whatever else might be said, still does live in Buckingham Palace in London, England, and not anywhere in Canada). The new 39th Parliament could get this ball rolling – if only someone or something can convince enough MPs that a growing majority of Canadians are finally ready to grow up altogether at last. It’s time to start writing, e-mailing, faxing, and telephoning our MPs.

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For deeper background on the historical evolution of the de facto republican democracy Canada already has CLICK HERE.

For a list of all the elected members of the current Parliament of Canada, complete with postal and email addresses and fax and telephone numbers, CLICK HERE.

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