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.

No comments: