If Justin Trudeau really needs a policy risk — what about citizen assemblies on the British monarchy in Canada?

Feb 22nd, 2014 | By Counterweights Editors | Category: Canadian Republic

Justin Trudeau watches the US-Canada semi-final game at the Liberal convention in Montreal on February 21, 2014. (PIERRE-PAUL POULIN/QMI AGENCY).

The Liberal Party of Canada has some reasons for feeling good  at its Montreal convention this weekend.  (Eg : “Majority says it’s ‘time for another federal party to take over’: poll” ; “More Canadians share Justin Trudeau’s values: poll” ; and “Liberals open wider lead over Conservatives: poll.”)

Two members of CBC TV’s most widely watched political panel, however, are stressing  that the jury is still out on just what the Old Canadian Grits under Trudeau the Younger will finally amount to.  See here Andrew Coyne’s “Liberal plan to ‘reinvent’ party appears to be in disarray,” and “Justin Trudeau’s Liberals need to take some risks” by Chantal Hébert.

We want to especially endorse Ms Hébert’s talk about the need to take risks. With a particular eye on Quebec, she notes that Pauline Marois’s Parti Quebecois could win a majority government in an anticipated provincial election soon. And Chantal Hébert explains Ms Marois’s success : “To give the PQ an edge she …  had to take some policy risks. The controversial secularism charter is a by-product of the more competitive Quebec dynamics.”

Chantal Hébert goes on : “This week’s CROP poll suggests that Trudeau’s Liberals will similarly have to adapt to new battle conditions [in la belle province]. It gives the Liberals a four-point lead on the NDP province-wide but that’s a six-point drop from January … In the province outside Montreal — where most seats are — the NDP actually enjoys a five-point lead. To overcome that Trudeau’s Quebec team desperately needs new blood … “

Justin Trudeau and his father in 1973, on grounds of Rideau Hall. He already has experience living in prime minister’s residence.

In fact we’d argue there is an obvious enough new policy risk that could meet the need here quite nicely — and effectively. Chantal Hébert herself put her finger on the thing in an article she wrote about 16 months ago now : “It is hard to think of a stance that would go a longer way to reconnect the federal Liberals with Quebec and with many of the constituencies that make up the New Canada than the offer of a strong post-monarchy vision of the country.”

Intriguingly enough as well, late last month the Monarchist League of Canada posted Justin Trudeau’s (rather late) reply to a query of all earlier federal Liberal leadership candidates “asking their views on the monarchy.” This reply is a minor masterpiece of what might charitably be called constructive political ambiguity. But it seems to us that it can also be read in a way which suggests Chantal Hébert’s advice about  a strong post-monarchy vision has not been altogether ignored by some new Trudeau Liberal brain trust. (Well … maybe, sort-of, etc. Ie,  it is, or could be, only half pie-in-the-sky?? If only someone in Canada had some cojones — or whatever it is they’re supposed to be called in polite company, and all that. )

* * * *

Justin Trudeau and friends in Quebec City this past week. JACQUES BOISSINOT / THE CANADIAN PRESS.

The crux of Justin Trudeau’s message to the Monarchist League lies in a cleverly written four-sentence paragraph, which would seem to allow for a number of practical possibilities, depending on just how the diverse political horoscopes might align at just the right time.

So, the younger Mr. Trudeau finally wrote to the League: “At the 2012 Liberal Party Convention, delegates were invited to introduce, debate, and vote on Liberal policy. Delegates explicitly rejected a motion to include severing Canada’s ties with the monarchy as part of Liberal policy. My view is that severing our centuries-old connection to the monarchy is not a decision to be made lightly. The monarchy remains a cornerstone of Canada’s foundation, and any debate surrounding changes to this institution must include as many Canadians as possible in the discussion.”

Justin Trudeau with family and friends at the Yukon River, on a grey, rainy morning this past summer.

Again, it at least seems to us that these words are at least consistent with, say, an eventual Justin Trudeau Liberal campaign promise (in 2015) to begin a “debate surrounding changes to this institution” which includes “as many Canadians as possible in the discussion.” (Through a series of regional citizen assemblies on the future of the British monarchy in Canada, eg — inspired in part by the citizen assemblies on “proportional representation” in the electoral system, held by such provinces as BC and Ontario.)

The broad and growing appeal of this particular risky policy is suggested in a  Harris/Decima opinion poll last year, which suggested such things as : “55% of Canadians want change to Canadian head of state instead of continuing with any member of the British royal family … Only 34% want royal family member to continue to be Canada’s head of state as federal Conservatives have proposed in questionably unconstitutional Bill C-53 … 79% of people in Quebec want this change, as do more than 60% of people younger than age 34 and 55% of people age 35-64 — 48% of people outside Quebec want this change (39% in BC), while only 39% want to continue with royal family member (53% in BC).”

Justin Trudeau helps celebrate Chinese New Year at Pink Pearl Restaurant in Vancouver, January 31, 2014.

Polling results of this sort also show that there is still a quite substantial minority of Canadians who continue to support the monarchy — especially (of course) outside Quebec. Even statesman-like beginnings for a post-monarchy vision of Canada (should such a thing ever prove necessary, it could be said, if northern Alberta were hit by a giant meteorite, eg) qualify as seriously risky policy. Our argument would be that the Liberal Party of Canada which has played an at least intermittently important role in the growth of what the Constitution Act, 1982 calls “a free and democratic society” in Canada ought to be ready to take the risk.

We’d argue too that taking the risk could pay off politically in the expected 2015 election. To start with, Justin Trudeau and his party would make clear that all they want to do is stimulate public debate on the future of the British monarchy in Canada. No one is talking about actually ending the historic (if also palpably colonial) relationship with the Queen any time all that soon. Yet … the question of her son Charles remains uncertain. Moreover, at this juncture we just raise two final trains of thought :

Justin Trudeau wears Team Canada Olympic jacket as he arrives at Liberal convention in Montreal on February 20, 2014.

(1) Even from what might be called a “progressive monarchist” perspective, there is an argument, for, eg, holding a series of regional citizen assemblies on the future of the British monarchy in Canada, between now and the 150th anniversary of the 1867 Canadian confederation in 2017. Who knows? These assemblies may even finally recommend that the historic relationship with the British monarch ought to be continued by the Canadian people of the 21st century — for whatever good or bad reasons.

(2) The monarchy in Canada today is a truly bizarre (and thus interesting) phenomenon. Suitably civilized public debate on its future will introduce a vital but now lamentably lacking element into Canadian government and politics. And that is simply FUN! Imagine. A political party that manages to bring some fun into our public life, at last. That would be worth voting for — especially, as Chantal Hébert wrote 16 months ago, in Quebec, but “with many of the constituencies that make up the New Canada” as well (including those parts of the New Canada that have long been brewing in the various branches of the Old one).

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