My softening sentiment toward the monarchy


We are not, in my my family, mindlessly wedded to the notion of constitutional monarchy. The reason may have something to do with a latent strain of Scottish republicanism that I detect, especially on those occasions when we discuss the gathering independence movement among our ancestral tribesmen.

Still, I have noticed that some of the members of my extended households – as fine and as highly tuned as their intellects are – revert to an atavistic state of hero worship whenever they pass a copy of HELLO! Canada on a newsstand. The  comments invariably devolve into versions of vacant fashion statements.

“Doesn’t Kate look marvellous in her condition? Why, she’s eight months pregnant, and you wouldn’t know it.”

“It’s too bad Wills is losing his hair at such a young age. In every other respect he’s the picture of youthful kingship.”

“My, how good the Queen looks. She just keeps going and going.

This little item in a recent edition of HELLO! literally commandeered one relative’s attention for a good 10 minutes:

“They might be an unlikely pair, but Prince Charles and Cara Delevingne got on famously as they chatted in the grounds of Clarence House. The 20-year-old model clearly found Charles to be a hilarious host, and laughed heartily as she spent time with the amiable royal. Cara was among the guests at a ball thrown by Charles and his wife Camilla in support of the conservation charity The Elephant Family on Tuesday evening.”

Even I have found myself softening, in recent years, to the British Royals. I was once an ardent republican – the sort who inveighed loudly and frequently against their irrelevance, cost and annoying tendency to dominate the summertime headlines. Who cared which garden party which aristocrat at the top of the food chain attended to the delight of genteel supplicants foaming at their mouths to obtain their audiences?

Nowadays, I’m more likely to roll my eyes at the people who insist the monarchist  institution and tradition in Canada present a clear and present threat to their liberty. People, like the ones now involved in legal action against the federal government, which requires them to swear an oath of fealty to the Queen before their landed immigrant status can be transmuted to full citizenship.

As the Globe and Mail reported last week, “A small group of landed immigrants with republican views who have refused Canadian citizenship because the ceremony involves swearing an oath to the Queen will be in a Toronto courtroom. . .facing off with the federal government in an attempt to have this citizenship requirement declared unconstitutional.”

“The court fight is the latest chapter in more than 20 years of failed legal challenges to the citizenship oath spearheaded by Trinidadian-born Toronto activist and lawyer Charles Roach, who died last year at 79, never having become a Canadian citizen. Mr. Roach. . .refused to swear the oath and become a citizen because he believed the Queen was a symbol of imperialism and because of injustices done to his ancestors in the name of the British monarchy.”

Fair enough, I suppose. But, as the Globe pointed out, it’s an uphill battle.

Polls taken last year showed Canadian support for the monarchy was actually rising. A Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey found that 51 per cent people thought that maintaining a connection to the British Crown was a good thing. That was six points better than the results from a poll in 2009.

Some, such as Quebec historian Jocelyn Letourneau, have observed that the Harper government has deliberately raised the profile of the Royals in this country. “The restoration of royal symbols (central to British heritage in Canada as a constitutional monarchy) and the importance given to the War of 1812 (presented as a pivotal moment of resistance to American invasion and the preservation of the country’s distinctiveness) are not the expression of a foolish plan on the part of a disconnected government,” he wrote in a Globe commentary recently. “These initiatives are contributing to the reconstruction of Canadian identity at a time when the country is looking for a new symbolic basis for its current reality.”

Perhaps, but it’s just possible that the Royals represent certain virtues that have all but vanished from the political landscape in Canada. Their popularity may have to do with the simple fact that they, alone, give no offence.

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