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Ditch the monarchy

There’s not better place than here, and no better time than now

Canadian PoliticsEurope

Elizabeth II and Prince Charles formally open parliament in 2015. Photo courtesy UK Parliament/Flickr.

For all the great things Elizabeth Windsor was supposed to have done in her life, and for all the good she was supposed to have done as a symbol of strength and unity for her people—particularly during the troubling times over which she reigned—a few things seem to be missing.

Elizabeth never opposed a war or used her apparently incredible global influence to push for peace. She never brokered a ceasefire, never held a peace conference, and never tried to rid the United Kingdom of nuclear weapons.

She never used her power, influence, or vast fortune to redress inequalities around the world—many of which were shaped by the British Empire—just as she never attempted to alleviate the inequalities among the people she called ‘subjects’ in her own country.

And all of this was as true forty years ago as it is today. A great opportunity was missed in 1982 to permanently sever Canada’s ties with the monarchy. For all the good our charter and constitution has provided, it never went as far as it needed in order to begin redressing the entrenched inequalities of our settler-colonial society.

Ignore the propaganda of the mainstream media and its insistence Elizabeth not be critically evaluated or assessed: there is no better time than now to scrutinize the monarchy, critically evaluate its legacy, and propose we collectively move on from an anachronism that is preventing us from fully realizing our democratic sovereignty (to say nothing of accomplishing a meaningful and lasting reconciliation with our past).

It is worth considering that the same establishment media that is glorifying both Elizabeth and the institution of the monarchy will report on Canadians’ growing dissatisfaction with the latter when people on its periphery are discovered to be less than honourable. Remember when we discovered former Governor General Julie Payette (the queen’s representative in Canada) was a terror to work with? Or when we found out Andrew Windsor spent a lot of time with Jeffrey Epstein? Polls and surveys indicated at that time that a growing majority of Canadians were more than willing to move on from the monarchy.

Also worth considering is that the monarchy is a drain on public resources. Not only do we have to shell out millions of dollars every time a member of the royal family comes to visit, the institution of the monarchy in Canada—including the unelected governor general and the lieutenants governors—cost us nearly $60 million annually. It is an understatement to say this money could be better used serving the public, and the poor in particular, than paying for an antiquated institution that can—and has—prevented Parliament from operating in the interests of the people, as during the 2008-2009 prorogation crisis.

Matters of questionable government spending aside, there are other good reasons for Canada to ditch the monarchy.

To begin with, it is an institution an historically high number of Canadians simply have no attachment to. This isn’t a trivial point: why maintain a national tradition if it’s only a minority of the population that has any connection to it? If big traditional institutions are supposed to bind us together, and fail at doing precisely that, then they’re probably not worth holding on to. Why is a minority of the population forcing what matters to them on the rest of us?

Second, consider just how many Canadians have within their own family’s history a negative experience of settler colonialism and imperialism, either by the British Crown or any other monarchy. Irrespective of whatever actual powers the monarchy may have in Canada, the maintenance of the institution sends the wrong message to the world, contradicting our promise to uphold human rights, equality, and democracy. We have made false idols of foreign monarchs—hardly a good look for an ostensibly secular and sovereign democracy.

Third, how is Canada supposed to move meaningfully forward on reconciliation when it continues to accord sovereignty to a foreign monarch over that of the Indigenous nations whose existence precedes British colonialism? Only by ridding ourselves of the monarchy can we have any hope of achieving an honest reconciliation. Until then our efforts amount to little more than lip service. Similarly, Canada has no hope of moving forward with an honest and open conversation about our largely unknown history of slavery as long as we maintain formal bonds with an institution whose power and wealth was built on a foundation of human bondage. One need look no further than our currency to see the smiling proof of Canada’s direct connection to a genocide whose size and scope rivals the Holocaust (and whose destabilizing effects continue to be felt to this day, across several continents).

It is precisely because abolishing the monarchy in Canada would be complicated that it is worth pursuing. We are often told that changes to our constitution would be difficult, but we must ask ourselves: difficult for whom? Though the constitutional negotiations of the past were acrimonious, consider that the acrimony was not a product of the people, but of the provincial premiers who entered negotiations not to build a nation (and certainly not to redress the entrenched inequalities of our society), but to secure reputations as ‘tough negotiators’ for their post-political corporate careers.

I would like to live long enough to see Canada remade in the image of the people who live here, and not by those whose only allegiance is either to foreign monarchs or foreign capital. A post-monarchy Canada would likely look and feel the same though may function differently: if such an effort was driven by the people it might be more fair and just, may set a higher bar to aspire to, and may be more honest with itself about its past.

Elizabeth was said to have provided her people a sense of unity and solidarity in times of crisis. I say she was the crisis: the unity was a mirage, the solidarity nothing more than the dazzling spectacle of illusion. If our nation and its peoples need the strength of union, let it be the product of a new national project. Let us abolish the monarchy and build the country anew: for the people, of the people, and by the people.

Taylor C. Noakes is a public historian and independent journalist.

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