Taking a Zoom meeting on the Chrétien and Martin years — and the royalist mythology in Canada today

Mar 20th, 2021 | By | Category: In Brief
Queen Elizabeth II is greeted by Prime Minister Jean Chretien and his wife Aline as she arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa for an inter-faith religious service, 1997.

FROM THE COUNTERWEIGHTS EDITORS, GANATSEKWYAGON, ON. SAT 20 MAR 2021 : Our most immediate news is that our colleague and friend (and intermittent self-declared editor-in-chief), Randall White (PhD), has finally handed in the almost next-to-last chapter of his long-meditated current work in progress, tentatively entitled Children of the Global Village : Democracy in Canada Since 1497.

(Or perhaps it should be, some at the publisher say, Democracy in Canada Since 1497 : Children of the Environment and the Global Village. Dr. White agrees : “Who knows? Still early days.”)

The at-last-completed new draft chapter in any case is called “The Return of the Natural Governing Party, 1992–2006.” It also appears at CLICK HERE. (And for more on the larger work in progress see The Long Journey to a Canadian Republic.)

Prime Minister Paul Martin at signing of Kelowna Accord, First Ministers Meeting at Kelowna, BC, November 24, 2005. Photo by Dave Chan-PMO.

Meanwhile, we thought CBC polling guru Éric Grenier’s recent “Apathy might be what’s keeping Canadians from ditching the monarchy” hit several nails on the head. One secret of the survival of the British monarchy in Canada (and other remaining “Commonwealth Realms”) is that in practice the modern monarch does nothing beyond visiting occasionally. The institution is so unobtrusive that it seriously annoys almost no one as a practical matter. Despite its increasing lack of popular acceptance in what the Constitution Act 1982 calls our “free and democratic society” today, there is thus no driving incentive to get rid of the monarchy — especially if there are said to be many troubling technical complexities.

At the same time, it also seems important to ask another question. If Canadians are all that apathetic on the subject, why has there been such a spate of Canadian commentary in response to Oprah’s recent interview with Meghan and Harry?

Here, just hastily selected at random, are a dozen current examples :
Canada’s relationship with Monarchy won’t get pinned under Royal rumble” ;
Despite the Oprah interview, the monarchy is here to stay in Canada” ;
The British monarchy loses its feathers in English Canada” ;
Monarchy must adapt or die” ;
Over Half Of Canadians Say The Royal Family Is A ‘Negative Symbol’ For Canada” ;
Buckingham Palace blues … fully 79 per cent of respondents said that the Royal Family was either less relevant, or of no relevance at all” ;
So you want to break free of the Royal Family?” ;
Abolishing the monarchy would not end Canada’s treaties with Indigenous peoples” ;
New poll suggests support of monarchy in Canada continues to diminish” ;
Can Canada engage in a significant constitutional change that leaves us more united?” ;
Who needs the monarchy, for heaven’s sake?” ;
Canadians back Meghan Markle, want no role for Royal Family in Canada: poll … 66 per cent of respondents said the Queen and the royals should not have any formal role in Canadian society … Roughly six in 10 people said the relationship between Canada and the monarchy should end when the Queen dies.”

Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister Jean Chretien at an official dinner in St. John’s, Newfoundland, June 1997. Photo : Jacques Boissinot, The Canadian Press.

Through the global pandemic marvels of a late afternoon Zoom meeting (over coffee and biscuits) we asked Randall White in his second-floor media room close to the lake whether the latest chapter of his work in progress had anything to say about the monarchy in Canada. Has Canadian democratic political history during the Chrétien and Martin years (1992–2006) something to tell us on this subject today?

He finished his biscuit and took a gulp of coffee : “A few things, I think. But I won’t spoil the story for anyone who might actually want to read ‘The Return of the Natural Governing Party, 1992–2006.’ I’ll just raise one intriguing if not crucial side of the issue that’s not always appreciated.”

He went on : “Prime Minister Chrétien had an almost warm personal relationship with Queen Elizabeth II — if not any philosophical attachment to monarchic ideals. He appreciated how she spoke French with him, and he once told her he was ‘the monarchist from Quebec.’ As a sign of her esteem for him, after his retirement as prime minister she appointed him to the Order of Merit, an award established by Edward VII in 1902.”

“On the Road in the GTA” by Michael Seward (for a book he did with Randall White), 2003.

Dr. White took another gulp of coffee and added : “It’s also intriguing, I think, that the British monarchy has appointed only two other Canadian politicians to the Order of Merit. And they have also been Liberal prime ministers : Mackenzie King and Lester Pearson.”

He concluded : “One other reason the British monarchy has survived in Canada has been shrewd or even enlightened management by the royal family. I don’t know whether the Harry, Meghan, and Oprah event changes this. Or just what can survive the much-admired Elizabeth II. But you could say my entire project on Democracy in Canada Since 1497 is finally about abolishing the monarchy in Canada (in one way or another, and at some point not too far down the road).”

The Zoom meeting ended, as all such things do. The political (and economic) historian’s last quick remark asked us to remind anyone who might actually want to read “The Return of the Natural Governing Party, 1992–2006” that they can also just CLICK HERE!

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