Disabusing the notions of foreign monarchs

Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, have completed their Royal Tour (Diamond Jubilee Edition), and all is well in the land. Support for the monarchy is on the rise in English Canada, the Prince’s Charities are getting off the ground nicely, and Diamond Jubilee medals are being affixed to lapels everywhere.

But as with any royal tour, one starts to get a bit wary of the kinds of depictions used about the Canadian monarchy, and that there remains this ingrained media perception that it is somehow foreign. One CBC anchor event went so far as to call Charles “The future king of England” – never mind that the position of “King of England” hasn’t existed since 1707 with the Act of Union, and the creation of the Kingdom of Great Britain, which later became the United Kingdom. What these anchors, and many of the talking heads in the media, seem to forget is that Canada has a separate and distinct monarchy, which just happens to have the same head of state as the United Kingdom and several other countries.

That’s right – the Canadian monarchy is a separate and distinct institution. It has been since the Statute of Westminster in 1931. And as such, it is not a foreign monarchy. When the Queen is here, she’s the Queen of Canada, not the Queen of the United Kingdom, or the Queen of Australia, or the Queen of Jamaica, or however many other titles she simultaneously wears. And as the Queen of Canada, she is part of our own honours system – in fact, she is the fount of honours in our system. Notice how on her official Canadian portraits, she wears the Sovereign’s Badges of the Order of Canada and the Order of Military Merit, and none of the symbols that she might as the Queen of the United Kingdom. These kinds of symbols matter, and establish that ours is a separate monarchy with its own unique signifiers.

This having been established, it’s worrying that this notion of a “foreign” monarchy remains a trope within our media. It’s largely borne out of ignorance – we don’t teach the actual relationship between the monarchy and Canada in school, nor do we acknowledge the proper role of the Crown in Parliament. (We don’t even teach the proper role of the Senate in Parliament, but that’s a rant for another day.) Nathan Tidridge, who wrote the book Canada’s Constitutional Monarchy, has looked over the curriculums in this country, and not only is the information absent, but there are cases – such as in Ontario – where the information presented in Civics courses is actually wrong, and it remains unchallenged. In the face of this lack of knowledge, most Canadians fill in the blank with the wrong assumption that the monarchy must therefore be a colonial holdover, rather than the dynamic and evolving institution that it is in reality.

So long as our media commentators continue to treat the monarchy as a foreign curiosity, we reinforce this false colonial notion, and the invisibility of the Canadian monarchy as an institution. It also doesn’t help when media outlets become fixated on the cost of royal tours, some of them going so far as to make boneheaded musings about whether the monarchy was an extravagance in a time of “fiscal austerity.” Never mind that we’re actually getting the monarchy at a bargain in large part because we share it with other countries (notably the United Kingdom), and that no royal tour to date has even come close to the price tag of having Barack Obama visit for a single afternoon. Even if you add in the costs of Governor General and all of the Lieutenant Governors, it’s still tremendous value for money as compared to a republic.

The Conservatives compound the problem with this trope about the foreignness of our monarchy with its unchallenged politicisation of the institution. Other parties should be providing alternate, Canadian narratives without catering to knee-jerk republicanism (as with the Bloc Québécois or the tacit endorsement of such positions by the NDP, who are playing into separatist sentiment). It is a Canadian institution after all, and no one party should be allowed to claim it as their own unchallenged. But part of this challenging requires some proper context and history.

People keep bringing up the “royal rebranding” of the military, without acknowledging that it was a long-standing grievance within sections of the Canadian Forces that their history was being effaced with the titles of “Maritime Command” and “Air Command” after the Forces were unified. The restoration of the Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force was something that had been pushed for by many for a long time. This was not simply the Conservatives imposing a particular vision upon the Forces and Canada as a whole. It also reinforces that there are deep ties between the Crown and the military. Remember that the Queen is the titular Commander-in-Chief of our Forces, though this is exercised by the GG. This is an important distinction for lines of accountability and the actual relationship between our armed forces and the government of the day. Members of the royal family serve as the Colonel-in-Chief for a number of Canadian regiments, and that is a big deal for those regiments.

But as long as opposition parties grouse about the “royal rebranding” or this government’s exuberance for the Canadian monarchy, it allows it to become politicised. It allows the “foreign” trope to remain unchallenged, and for it to be treated like some foreign curiosity or a quaint colonial relic when it in fact is an integral and dynamic part of our current system of governance. Helping disabuse these false “foreign” notions is integral for a better understanding of our own democratic system, and strengthens the political discussion within our country.

2 thoughts on “Disabusing the notions of foreign monarchs

  1. An excellent article – I couldn’t agree more. Thank you very much for articulating these points so clearly and compellingly.

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