Friday, 17 July 2009

Jean Chrétien’s appointment to the Order of Merit highlights the understated role of our monarchy

The following piece was written by Nathan Tidridge, the League's Education Coordinator and himself a high school teacher in Hamilton:

A few months ago it was announced by the Dominion Institute that only 23% of Canadians knew that their Head of State was Elizabeth II as Queen of Canada. As a history teacher, as well as of Canadian government, I was not surprised.

Canada enjoys one of the most stable forms of government that exists on the planet, but its citizens barely understand it beyond a “Wikipedia” standard lacking the depth and respect it deserves. A classic example of this understanding was highlighted during the political events of last December when the Governor General (as representative of our Head of State) prorogued parliament on the recommendation of her prime minister. Newspapers and other media plastered the country with headlines reading “crisis” and “coup” – a complete misunderstanding of how our system operates. In fact, our constitutional monarchy was doing exactly what it was designed to do.

The Prince of Wales will be visiting Canada this fall, followed by The Queen herself in 2010. I can already see the headlines. The recent poll published by the Globe and Mail citing that only 35% of Canadians want to retain the Monarchy will undoubtedly come up. Without proper education and understanding it makes sense that whenever Canadians encounter the Monarchy they do so with confusion.

In Ontario, Civics is a government-mandated course taught to all Grade 10 students. Often times this course will focus on the ideas of global citizenship and community participation (which are very important), while ignoring the mechanics of our government. As a teacher, this makes some sense because Grade 10 students have a difficult time fleshing out our political structure (which can be too abstract for them).

As far as teaching about the role of the Canadian Monarchy, since most (if not all) of our textbooks are produced by private companies, the information presented is blatantly wrong. The Governor General is often referred to as the Canadian Head of State, while the Queen is almost uniformly identified as the British Monarch (even though she has been Queen of Canada – a separate entity politically – since 1953). The Monarchy is always presented as something on the way out to our youth – tied to such things as the old Canadian Red Ensign (a relationship that makes no sense since it was the Queen of Canada who proclaimed our new flag in 1965).

The fact that a former prime minister has been appointed by the Queen of Canada to the highly prestigious Order of Merit brings to light that this institution is still working for us. It must be remembered that the Crown is not designed to promote itself, rather its role is to highlight and honour our country.

Instead of the Prince of Wales’ visit being framed as part of our past, we should be looking at it as an affirmation of our history and political institution as it continues to evolve. As a person, it is interesting to note that The Prince’s views on the environment, rural support and global citizenship are in step with a majority of Canadians.

The Prince of Wales has not visited Canada very often – as heir to the throne he must be invited by the Canadian Government. His visit in the fall represents the future of our country’s political system – a system that is chronically misunderstood by its citizens. Before entertaining the perennial debate on retaining the Canadian Monarchy, we must learn how it works.

This must be a grassroots campaign to understand an institution that is not designed to advocate for itself. In an age of celebrity politicians, The Queen has stood quietly in the background as a source of stability and subtle affirmation of our political institutions and cultural personalities, even in the face of superficial and uneducated attacks. In the end, when looked at in depth, the Crown presents itself as quietly familiar and ultimately Canadian.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Bye, bye federation, if republicans had their way

This week's edition of Maclean's features a piece on the cost of the Canadian Crown. As you know, the League has just published its triennial survey that shows the cost of Canada's monarchy to be about $1.53 per Canadian per year. That's a heck of a bargain if you ask me when you consider the many benefits we receive...a sound system of government with a non-partisan Queen and Governor General providing stability and unity.

The one thing that jumped out at me, though, was the republican gentleman's suggestion that the Lieutenant Governors are more or less "redundant and obsolete." Wow! This revelation should sound alarm bells to anyone who believes in the Canadian federation.

What republicans are, in effect, saying is that provincial sovereignty means nothing. In Canada, where ultimate authority is vested in The Queen, we have eleven sovereign governments: one federal and ten provincial. Each has its very own representative of the Crown: the Governor General and the Lieutenant Governors.

Abolishing the offices of the Lieutenant Governors would leave the provinces with no counterpart to the Governor General. The provincial governments would become mere subordinates of the federal government. Probably not what Canadians would want for the governments which are so close to them and handle important things like health end education, eh?

The mere thought of abolishing the provincial vice-regals reeks of constitutional vandalism. Of course, no province is ever going to voluntarily give up its sovereignty to Ottawa. But, if the republicans had their way, we would have a President (with no provincial counterpart) and a federal government that could run roughshod over the provinces. Bye, bye federation!

Until next time,

BTW, please vote in the poll on the right hand side of the Maclean's article.

Monday, 13 July 2009

The Queen is Coming; Former PM Chrétien Appointed to Order of Merit

In recent weeks, it certainly seems like there's been more than usual news related to the Crown. Yesterday, the Governor General made it official...that Her Majesty The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh will return to Canada in 2010.

Royal Visits - or Homecomings, as we Monarchists like to call them - are always a reason for celebration. They are a chance for Canadians to again reacquaint themselves with their Sovereign and the monarchy. So, while the Crown is often left to function in the background away from the public eye much of the time, during the days when The Queen is here Canadians' focus is on HER and this wonderful system of government we call constitutional monarchy.

Of course, The Queen's visit will follow on the tails of the visit of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall. That's two Royal Homecomings in less than a year apart. Great time to be a Canadian monarchist!

* * *
Monday, The Queen announced the appointment of former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien to the Order of Merit. Mr. Chrétien served as Minister of Justice in the early 80s and, as such, was a key player in the negotiations leading to Canada's new, repatriated constitution. Eventually, Mr. Chrétien served three "terms" as prime minister - and was Canada's head of government during The Queen's hugely successful Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2002.
Love him or hate him, one thing that I always admired about Mr. Chrétien was his insistence that the monarchy was not an issue in Canada and his refusal to open a debate on the subject.
Congratulations, Mr. Chrétien.
Until next time,

Thursday, 9 July 2009

State Dinner for Emperor and Empress of Japan

This past Monday, I had the honour of attending a State Dinner at Rideau Hall in honour of the Emperor and Empress of Japan. Their Majesties are visiting Canada to mark the 80th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries.

Emperor Akihito's only other visit to Canada was in 1953, en route to the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II - something the Governor General alluded to in her speech.

Walking into Rideau Hall always gives me butterflies in the stomach. This building is steeped in history and character. It was refreshing to see the large portrait of Queen Victoria in the Tent Room and, of course, the Lemieux painting of The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh in the ballroom. (There's no need to dwell on the past movings and removings of royal portraits; we'll leave that for another day!)

I had the fortune of speaking with many people - new contacts and old acquaintances - including Claire Boudreau (Chief Herald of Canada), Peter Milliken (Speaker of the House of Commons), and Sheila-Marie Cook (Secretary to the Governor General). After meeting briefly the Emperor and Empress, who are lovely people, I enjoyed a good conversation with Her Excellency the Governor General.

If you ever have an opportunity to attend a state dinner, I would strongly encourage you to go. The people you meet, the conversations you share, and the memories you create - not to mention the wonderful food (and wine!) you consume - will leave you in awe. Monday was truly a magical evening that I will cherish forever.

Until next time,

Friday, 3 July 2009

Reply to Republican Columnist's Tirade Against Charles

The Globe and Mail helped Canadians celebrate Canada Day with an opinion piece by known republican columnist Jeffrey Simpson that heaped praise (rightfully so) on our Governor General but went on to vilify Canada's future king.

My letter to the editor was published on the Globe's Website. The condensed response appears here.

Here is the text of my full letter:

Jeffrey Simpson's praise for Her Excellency the Governor General is welcome. True, Michaëlle Jean deserves such praise. She personifies modern-day Canada: bilingual, multicultural, global, hardworking, tolerant, and friendly. And, as he rightly points out she clearly demonstrated her constitutional acumen when it came to the whole issue of Prorogation last Fall.

But, as much as he is spot on when it comes to his assessment of Mme Jean, Mr Simpson loses all credibility with his attack on Prince Charles. Mr Simpson's republican leanings are well known, but to paint such a rosy picture of our Governor General at the expense of the heir to the throne is shameful. His portrayal of Charles as being a "stodgy British prince" is simply a byproduct of his hate-on for all things Royal.

The same characteristics he uses to pump up Mme Jean can just as easily be attributed to Charles, as well: bilingual, multicultural, worldly, modern, etc. The Prince of Wales is (and has been for some time) ahead of the world when it comes to the environment, organic farming, architecture, etc. He has raised millions of dollars for worthwhile charities, many of which he has personally founded, and has been a true leader in helping to reconcile a world of different religions and cultures. As far as I am concerned, Charles very much reflects the ideals of today's Canada...perhaps more than anyone else.

Mr Simpson's peculiar fascination and praise for Canada's Governors General past and present boggles the mind. He says we're lucky to have had them. However, he surely must realise that as representatives of The Queen they are all creatures of the monarchical system of government we have. With no monarchy we would have no Michaëlle Jean. Instead, we would be stuck with a politician as president. How un-Canadian!

Until next time,

Promoting the Prince of Wales

Canada Day is always a day I look forward to. I enjoy the pomp and circumstance, the fireworks, and the performances on Parliament Hill. It is a day to reflect on our history as a nation, what it means to be Canadian, and how fortunate we are to live in such a country.

But, this year something soured the occasion for me. And, no I'm not talking about my beloved Tiger-Cats' dreadful performance...although that didn't help. Rather, I am referring to a poll published by the Globe and Mail that indicated only 35% of Canadians want to retain the monarchy after The Queen's reign ends.

Of course, we all know that polls are not definite. They're simply the opinions of a particular cross-section of the population on a particular subject at a particular point in time. So, while there is no need for us monarchists to hit the panic button we do have some work to do.

We need to do a better job at promoting the Prince of Wales. Period. Charles' ideals are ones that resonate with Canadians: the environment, organic farming, architecture, charity, bridging the gap between the world's diverse religions and culture, etc. I am confident that if Canadians knew more about their future king they would be much, much more supportive of him.

Of course, it hasn't helped that Canadians have not seen Charles on Canadian soil since 2001. Fortunately, we will host Their Royal Highnesses this Fall on a cross-country tour. But, eight years is simply too long between royal homecomings. Is it any wonder that Canadians have lost interest?

Between now and November the League will launch a series of initiatives promoting Canada's future king. In the meantime, I encourage you to spread the word on the many wonderful accomplishments of Charles, Prince of Wales.