Why does a Canada “ready to stand on guard for itself” still need to be propped up by the British monarchy?

Feb 19th, 2010 | By | Category: In Brief
The rumour that Prime Minister Harper will be appointing “BC bombshell Pamela Anderson” as Canada’s next Governor General is almost certainly not true. But here she is practising anyway, at a fashion show in New York City, February 17, 2010.

The rumour that Prime Minister Harper will be appointing “BC bombshell Pamela Anderson” as Canada’s next Governor General is almost certainly not true. But here she is practising anyway, at a fashion show in New York City, February 17, 2010.

One of the almost sensible parts of the rather bizarre 10-and-a-half-page nationalist poem that Prime Minister Stephen Harper recited before the BC legislature last Wednesday [February 10, in case you’ve already forgotten] appeared close to the end: “So let us hold our flag high/ … Let it be a cheerful/red and white reminder/of a quiet and humble patriotism/that, while making/no claims on its neighbours/is ever ready/to stand on guard/for itself.”

Say whatever else you like: a Canada that is at last “ready to stand on guard for itself” is worth cheering about. And Mr. Harper would deserve some genuine multi-partisan credit for saying such things, were it not that so many other parts of his apparent higher (or is it lower?) vision for the true north strong and free so often seems to contradict them.

A mere week after the minority PM’s patriotic poetry reading in beautiful BC, eg, Jane Taber’s “Ottawa Notebook” blog was reporting that “Olympic gold medal snowboarder [and now Liberal candidate in Stockwell Day’s BC riding] Ross Rebagliati is being mocked by Stephen Harper’s Tories in an internal memo for his views opposing the monarchy in Canada.”

Marianne St-Gelais of St. Félicien, Quebec, celebrates her silver-medal finish in the women's 500-metre short-track speed-skating finals at the Vancouver Olympics. Now she probably would make a good next Governor General of Canada — except you likely can’t have two in a row from Quebec!

Marianne St-Gelais of St. Félicien, Quebec, celebrates her silver-medal finish in the women's 500-metre short-track speed-skating finals at the Vancouver Olympics. Now she probably would make a good next Governor General of Canada — except you likely can’t have two in a row from Quebec!

And then only a day after this the National Post flagship of the (still in bankruptcy protection) Canwest newspaper empire was telling us that, according to certain Ottawa rumours, Mr. Harper will replace Governor General Michaelle Jean a bit early, on Canada Day, July 1, 2010 — so that her successor can be “sworn in by Queen Elizabeth II herself during her nine-day tour of Canada that starts on June 28.”

(And even the Conservative-friendly Post also noted: “If a British monarch anointing his or her colonial stand-in has happened before in Canadian history, the precedent could not be found yesterday by staff at Rideau Hall or the Library of Parliament.”)

At least two aspects of all this seem puzzling — in testimony to what Canadians from coast to coast to coast are increasingly coming to recognize as the many internal contradictions of Stephen Harper’s political science.

First is just the sheer logical dissonance. If Canada is ready to stand on guard for itself nowadays (and surely this ought to be true, 143 years after the birth of the old first self-governing dominion of the British empire, with the confederation of 1867), then why is it still apparently so important  to retain the British monarch as Canada’s official head of state — even though it is the governor general appointed by the Canadian prime minister who does all the work?

Second is what increasingly appears to be the tragic political tin ear of the new Conservative Party of Canada, which has kept even the kind of majority-government-without-anything-near-a- majority of the popular vote that Jean Chretien managed to win three times in a row beyond the reach of Stephen Harper over the past four years — and certainly in the current opinion polls.

More of Pamela at the same fashion show. This is probably not the right image even for head of state of the “new Canada” Mr. Harper (or someone like him) has talked about.

More of Pamela at the same fashion show. This is probably not the right image even for head of state of the “new Canada” Mr. Harper (or someone like him) has talked about.

Of course everyone still respects the remarkable “Queen Elizabeth II herself.” All Canadians will be polite to her when she visits early this coming summer. Even Ross Rebagliati agrees with that. But as Mr. Rebagliati also points out, it “boils down to Canadians wanting to be Canadians and not have another country … set the standard or path for Canada.” At the very bottom of everything Canada today is a democracy, whose real sovereign is the Canadian people, and Mr. Rebagliati does not “see the word monarchy in democracy.”

As virtually all the opinion polling and down-on-the-ground public reaction to Prince Charles’s Canadian visit this past fall made clear enough to anyone taking the trouble to listen, a growing democratic majority of Canadians actually share  Ross Rebagliati’s views. The British monarchy in Canada survives today because substantial numbers of Canadians still think it is not important enough to bother getting rid off, in the midst of other more pressing problems.

More of Pamela at the same fashion show. This is probably not the right image even for head of state of the “new Canada” Mr. Harper (or someone like him) has talked about.

There may be something of a princess quality to the pose Pamela is striking here. But still ...

Yet the more Mr. Harper urges that Canada is now ready to stand on guard for itself — and the more “pompous Brits” in the international media indulge in spiteful critiques of such Canadian events as the current Vancouver Olympics — the more Canadians will start to think that it really is time to politely retire the British monarchy from our Canadian parliamentary democracy once and for all. (Is anyone from the Conservative Party of Canada actually listening to what the young people on the streets of Vancouver are saying on TV these days, about Canada’s historic “British connexion”?)

And, contrary to what our own dwindling band of pompous old colonial Canadian monarchists still likes to pretend, with substantial numbers of “Westminster” parliamentary republics among the members of  today’s Commonwealth of Nations, there are plenty of road-tested practical non-monarchical models, quite unlike the USA, from which to choose. When push finally does come to shove, it will not be a hard thing to do. And whatever wrenching change lies ahead has already largely happened. (That, it seems, is what the spiteful Brits in the international media are finally so upset about.)

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