Does the Monarchy Hurt Canada’s Exporters?

2 07 2014

As someone who is interested in constitutional political economy, any newspaper article that deals with the relationship between constitutions and business is of interest to me. No, this post isn’t about the constitutional aspects of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of the Hobby Lobby corporation. Instead, I want to direct your attention north of the Canada-US border to the constitutional issue of Canada’s relationship with the British monarchy.

Queen Elizabeth is Canada’s head of state. Public opinion polls show that while a majority of Canadians feel this state of affairs is slightly anachronistic. Actually,  many Canadians who are non-British ancestry (now a majority of the population) are mildly hostile to the monarchy. However, there is no burning desire to invest political resources in amending the constitution to become a republic. Most Canadians feel that the issue of the monarchy is of little practical importance. In an article that appeared in the Globe and Mail on Canada Day, Paul Heinbecker, a distinguished Canadian diplomat, explains why the monarchy issue is important. [Note: You can read the full paper here.] Canada has a great reputation, a great brand around the world precisely because it isn’t associated with imperialism and colonialism. None of the other G7 countries can say the same. British firms dealing in, say, India, have to confront the social memory of colonialism. This historical baggage was very much in evidence when David Cameron visited the Indian operations of Unilever.

Heinbecker describes, with evident pride, Canada’s reputation in the world:

As a career Canadian diplomat, I have seen Canada as others see us. When I was Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, I was invariably given a respectful hearing because of the people and the values I represented, and because of the constructive foreign policy carried out in their name. Canada was regarded as a model global citizen that made diversity a strength, while safeguarding equality before the law and protecting the interests of our minorities, albeit with some disappointing failures with respect to aboriginal Canadians. As Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s foreign-policy adviser, I saw the high regard with which Canada was held in opposing apartheid in the eighties and in promoting German unification in the nineties, both against London’s druthers. As Canadian ambassador to the UN, I witnessed the respect Canada enjoyed when Prime Minister Jean Chrétien withstood British (and American) pressure to join in the catastrophic 2003 Iraq war.



Canada’s reputation is a great advantage for Canadian companies operating in overseas markets. That’s why the decision of the current Canadian government to display the symbols of the British monarchy in Canada’s international airports, and in Canadian embassies and High Commissions abroad, is so stupid: it involves associating Canada with a country that has a lot of historical baggage.

During the many years in which the Liberals were in power in Ottawa, Canadian diplomatic offices overseas strove to cultivate a distinctly Canadian image. They did so by having lots of painting of stereotypically Canadian landscapes, some Inuit art, and, of course, the flag introduced by a Liberal government in 1965 displayed everywhere. Under the Harper government, the paintings of boreal forests have been replaced by portraits of Queen Elizabeth. [I can attest that this is certainly the case inside the front entrance of the Canadian High Commission in Trafalgar Square. The same change in artwork has been made in Canadian embassies around the world]. The websites of Canadian embassies and High Commissions are no longer in the colour scheme of the Canadian flag: instead, they are in the colours of the old union Jack—red, white, and blue. Although all of the right-wing politicians who fought against the introduction of a distinctively Canadian flag back in 1965 are dead, they are doubtless smiling right now. In 2012, the Canadian High Commission in Trafalgar Square displayed a banner celebrating the Royal Diamond Jubilee for basically the entire year, which was really trying too hard since the Diamond Jubilee bunting in the rest of the UK was up for only a few days.

Please note that I attribute the desire of the current Canadian government to symbolically associate Canada with Britain through these actions is motivated by simple ignorance of how Britain is viewed in much of the world rather than actual malice towards Canada’s export industries.

Heinbecker’s piece in the Globe and Mail shows that the claims that the Queen is really Canada’s Queen too are invalid: in the eyes of people in, say, Germany or the US, Elizabeth is the Queen of the UK, not Canada or Belize. When members of the British Royal Family travel abroad, they are expected to promote the interests of British exporters, not companies based in the other countries that have Queen Elizabeth as their nominal head of state. Heinbecker tried a little experiment when he was Canada’s Ambassador to West Germany. He writes:


The royal family themselves are under no illusion about who they are – British; where they live – Britain; and what they represent – the United Kingdom. When I was posted to Bonn in the nineties, Queen Elizabeth paid an official visit to Berlin largely to promote British industry. Ambassadors from Commonwealth countries were convened to Berlin, at their countries’ expense, to greet the Queen (in reality a photo-op). Because there were Canadian firms in Germany that could have used some high-level support, and because my credentials said that it was in her name and on her behalf that I was accredited as the Ambassador of Canada to Germany, I decided to test what the Monarchists’ assertions – that she is our Queen, too – meant in practice.


Not much, as it turned out. I asked an aide at the photo-op whether while promoting UK business her majesty might put in a good word for Canadian business too. It was evident from his reaction that such an idea was as unwelcome as it was novel. Years later, Kate and William, following their rapturous welcome in Canada, headed to Hollywood where they promoted British artists.


I’m very sensitive to this issue because I’m currently writing an academic article that examines how a British multinational bank worked hard in the 1960s and 1970s to shed the legacies of colonialism: the bank’s executives understood that being associated with a defunct Empire wasn’t going to do the bank any favours in former colonies. Indeed, banks based in the old colonial powers (e.g., the UK, France, and the United States, which practiced its own form of imperialism) are at something of a competitive disadvantage in emerging markets. Banks based in countries such as Switzerland and Sweden don’t have the same historical baggage.

We should not forget that Britain has a unique place in world history. In the 19th century, London really was the capital in the world. The other European colonial empire were much smaller than the British, which is something that comparative historians of Empire sometimes forget. Unlike the other colonial powers, the British Empire in its heyday was able to project power to every continent.[1] The sheer extent of the old British Empire has important implications for business in the present.

France is now resented in its former colonies, most of which are in Africa. The Dutch and their companies aren’t terribly popular in Indonesia. The uniquely global reach of Britain’s formal and informal empire means that resentment of the British Empire is now felt in every corner of the globe. In contrast, global banks based in the other former colonial powers have to deal with the social memory of colonialism in only some parts of the world.  For instance, while US imperialism is deeply resented in Latin American and the Caribbean nations, most people in India have a neutral or positive view of that country. Germany’s national reputation is generally positive in global surveys, notwithstanding lingering resentment in Israel and some European countries.[2] (Volkswagens actually sell well in Israel, but they initially had a marketing challenge in that country).


If you look at this list of the world most important banks, which was prepared by the International Financial Stability Board back in 2013, you will note the absence of any Canadian banks. There are, of course, many reasons for this state of affairs. I should point out that Canadian banks have, of course, long been international players, particularly in the Caribbean and Latin America.


Banks Ranked According to Importance in Global Financial System[3]


Bank Headquarters Colonial Power Associated With Bank Geographical Concentration of Historical Resentment
HSBC London British Empire Worldwide
JP Morgan Chase New York U.S. (informal empire) Primarily Latin America
Barclays London British Empire Worldwide
BNP Paribas Paris French Empire Concentrated in Francophone Africa
Citigroup New York U.S. (informal empire) Primarily Latin America
Deutsche Bank Frankfurt U.S. (informal empire) Europe, also Israel
Bank of America Chartlotte, NC United States (informal empire) Primarily Latin America
Credit Suisse Zurich None No Colonial Baggage
Goldman Sachs New York U.S. (informal empire) Primarily Latin America
Group Crédit Agricole Paris French Empire Concentrated in Francophone Africa
Mitsubishi UFJ FG Tokyo Japanese Empire, 1895-1945 Korea, China, Philippines, Other Asia
Morgan Stanley New York U.S. (informal empire) Primarily Latin America
Royal Bank of Scotland Edinburgh British Empire Worldwide
UBS Zurich None No Colonial Baggage
Bank of China Beijing None No Colonial Baggage
Bank of New York Mellon New York U.S. (informal empire) Primarily Latin America
BBVA Bilbao Spain Latin America, Morocco
Groupe BPCE Paris French Empire Concentrated in Francophone Africa
Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Beijing None No Colonial Baggage
ING Bank Amsterdam Dutch Empire Indonesia
Mizuho FG Tokyo Japanese Empire, 1895-1945 Korea, China, Phillipines, Other Asia
Nordea Stockholm None No Colonial Baggage
Santander Santander Spain Latin America, Morocco
Société Générale Paris French Empire Concentrated in Francophone Africa
Standard Chartered London British Empire Worldwide
State Street Boston U.S. (informal empire) Primarily Latin America
Sumitomo Mitsui FG Tokyo Japanese Empire, 1895-1945 Korea, China, Phillipines, Other Asia
Unicredit Group Milan Italian Empire in North Africa Ethiopia, North Africa
Wells Fargo San Francisco U.S. (informal empire) Primarily Latin America


There are many things the Canadian government can do to help Canadian banks to succeed in global markets. Associating Canada with the empire responsible for such accomplishments as the Sykes-Picot agreement, the Amritsar massacre, and the Opium Wars surely is not one of them. I don’t want to overstate the importance of political symbols in international business, but they do matter, at least at the margins.

Heinbecker’s newspaper article outlines a workable and sub-constitutional solution to this problem. Canadians should follow his advice if they really want to help Canadian companies to succeed.



[1] John Darwin, The Empire Project: The Rise and Fall of the British World-System, 1830–1970 (Cambridge University Press, 2009).

[2] Reputation Institute, “The 2013 Country RepTrak™ Study” 27 June 2013.

[3] International Financial Stability Board, “2013 update of group of global systemically important banks”

(G-SIBs) 11 November 2013

Program of “Globalization and the Making of Canada: Canada’s International Economic Linkages from the Fur Trade to the 21st Century”

17 09 2009
Unknown Artist, Port of Halifax, 1830s

Unknown Artist, Port of Halifax, 1830s

Workshop Theme:

Globalization is transforming Canada and the world. Moreover, it is a process whose roots go back a long time. For many people, the term globalization refers only to developments in the last few decades. The reality is that there have been successive waves of globalization going back centuries.  The papers presented at this workshop will show that globalization has been transforming Canada since the time of the fur trade. The picture above of a ship leaving Halifax harbour in the 1830s is, in a sense, documentary evidence of early globalization. By some measures, the world was more globalized in July 1914 than it is today. The fact that there have been successive waves of globalization and de-globalization helps to falsify the widespread notion that the process of globalization is inevitable or irreversible. The research presented at this workshop will also remind us that globalization is historically contingent and shaped by the decisions by policymakers and other actors. Another aim of the workshop is to connect Canadian historiography with the burgeoning body of literature on the history of globalization and international trade.

Workshop Venue: Woerner House. Woerner House is the conference facility owned by the Centre for International Governance Innovation, which is located in Waterloo, Ontario. It is located in a wooded area roughly thirty minutes from the University of Waterloo campus.

Please note that the papers are protected by passwords. To obtain the passwords, please contact Andrew Smith.

Friday, 29 January 2010

1:00-1:30 Registration

1:30-1:50 Opening Remarks by Andrew Smith, Laurentian University.

2:00-3:00 Session 1: Early Globalization

Professor Mike Dove, Department of History, University of Western Ontario. “Pelts and Profits as Precursors: Antecedents of Globalization in the Canadian Fur Trade”

Professor George Colpitts, Department of History, University of Calgary.  “Early Globalization and the Pricing of Plains Provisions for the Canadian Fur Trade, 1811-1882

3:00-3:15 COFFEE BREAK

3:15-4:35 Session 2: Globalization and the British Empire

Professor Andrew Smith, Department of History, Laurentian University.  “Globalization in British North America in the 1860s: the Economic Foundations of Confederation?

Dr. Andrew Dilley, Department of History, University of Aberdeen, Scotland. “Development Politics and Power in the British World: The City of London and the early years of Ontario-Hydro paper

Commentator: Professor William Coleman, Canada Research Chair on Global Governance and Public Policy, McMaster University.

4:35-4:45 COFFEE BREAK

4:45-5:55 Session 3: Globalization and Canadian Natural Resources

Dr. Daryl White, Grande Prairie Regional College, Alberta. “ Managing a War Metal: the International Nickel Company’s First World War

Professor Mark Kuhlberg, Department of History, Laurentian University. “The Myth of Provincial Protectionism in Ontario’s Forest Industry, 1894-1963

Professor Herb Emery, Department of Economics, University of Calgary. “Natural Resources Exports, Wealth, and Accumulation and Development in Settler Economies: North-western Ontario and South Australia, 1905-1915

6:05-6:35 Keynote Address,”Canada’s Place in Global Business: Past, Present, Future”, Professor Matthias Kipping, Chair in Business History, Schulich School of Business, York University.

6:35-7:15 RECEPTION

7:15-7:45 Travel to Conference Dinner location (Blackshop Restaurant)


Saturday 30 January 2010


9:00-10:20 Session 4: The Political Economy of International Trade 1867-1914

Professor Eugene Beaulieu, Department of Economics, University of Calgary. “The Political Economy of Canadian Trade Policy from 1881 to 1925

Mr. Jevan Cherniwchan, Department of Economics, University of Calgary. “The Restrictiveness of Canada’s Trade Policy: 1880-1910

Michael Huberman, Département d’Histoire, Université de Montréal, “ Riding the Wave of Trade: Explaining the Rise of Labour Regulation in the Golden Age of Globalization

10:20-10:30 COFFEE BREAK

10:30-11:50 Session 5: Multinational Enterprise and Canada

Dr. Greig Mordue, Toyota Canada. “Public Policy Meets Industrial Strategy: Building Paradigmatic Change in the Canadian Auto Industry, 1945-1960”

Professor Graham Taylor, Department of History, Trent University. “The The Whisky Kings: The International Expansion of Seagram, 1934-2001

Professor Robin Gendron, Department of History, Nipissing University. “Seeds of Decline: Inco and Globalisation in the Nickel Industry 1960s and 1970s

Commentator: Professor Joe Martin, Director of Canadian Business History, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto.

12:00-1:00 LUNCH

1:00-2:30 Session 6: The Political Economy of International Trade Since 1945

Dr. Michael Stevenson, Schulich School of Business, York University. ” The Limits of Alliance: Cold War Solidarity and Canadian Wheat Exports to China, 1950-1963

Professor Bruce Muirhead, Department of History, University of Waterloo. “Canadian Participation in the International Monetary Fund, 1944 – 1973”

Commentator:  TBA.

2:30-2:45 COFFEE BREAK

2:45-3:15 Roundtable Discussion


Any questions about this workshop should be sent to . If you wish to attend the workshop, please let us know by 10 January 2010.

Organizing Committee:

Dimitry Anastakis, Trent University
Eugene Beaulieu, University of Calgary
Herb Emery, University of Calgary
Mark Kuhlberg, Laurentian University
Andrew Smith, Laurentian University (Contact Person)

We would like to thank CIGI for its generous support of this workshop.

The image above is in the public domain and is available from the Wikimedia Commons (click here).

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