BBC News – Commonwealth summit opens with Queen’s climate speech

28 11 2009

The Queen has urged Commonwealth leaders to take action on climate change, a statement that some people see as a rebuke of Canada’s go-slow approach to the issue. I wonder if the Queen’s statement will influence the debate over the future of the monarchy in Canada, since it may alienate people on the right of the political spectrum, especially those in the Alberta oil patch. I don’t like the monarchy, but on this issue the Queen is saying something important.

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Behiels on the Monarchy Debate

6 11 2009

Prof. Michael Behiels, University of Ottawa

Prof. Michael Behiels, a historian at the University of Ottawa has been interviewed by the Ottawa Citizen about the monarchy debate. I agree with most of what he had to say, but I thought he was on shaky ground when he answered one of the reporter’s questions about the monarchy’s role in Canadian politics.

The reporter mentioned that there had been speculation during December’s constitutional crisis that if Michaëlle Jean had denied Stephen Harper’s request to prorogue Parliament, Harper would have asked Queen Elizabeth to fire her.  The reporter wanted to know whether the Queen would have agreed to such a request. Behiels said the Queen would have turned down such a request from Harper, “I’m sure she [Jean] was speaking with the Queen throughout the crisis. She would have been on the blower all the time, and they would have been on the same page.”

As a young assistant professor, I don’t know if I should dissent from the opinion of such an accomplished historian as Behiels! However, I’m not certain that Behiels is right about this particular point. In 1975, there was  constitutional crisis in Australia when Governor-General suddenly announced that he was dismissing Gough Whitlam, the left-of-centre Prime Minister. The GG appointed the leader of the conservative opposition as Prime Minister. The new Prime Minister quickly called an election, which he won. In the days immediately prior to Whitlam’s dismissal, the Governor-General kept his plan to fire the Prime Minister secret for fear that if Whitlam found out what was being planned, he would telephone the Queen and have the GG  replaced before he could act. In this case, it seems to be have been assumed by all parties that the Queen would have removed the Governor-General had the incumbent Prime Minister asked for it (in time). As it happened, the Prime Minister was fired before he had the chance to learn about the GG’s plans and telephone London. If it was assumed in 1975 that the Queen would automatically defer to the advice a Commonwealth Prime Minister, I think it is safe to say that in 2008 she also would have deferred to Harper’s request.

Aside from this quibble, it was a very good interview.

Why Prince Charles Should Be Chucked Out of the Country

2 11 2009

Prince Charles and his wife arrived in Newfoundland a few hours ago to begin their tour of Canada. Their arrival has re-started the debate about the future of the monarchy in Canada, with many columnists using the tour as an occasion to pontificate about what should be done. See here, here, and here. Lord Black of Crossharbour has published a lengthy article in the National Post on this issue.

Acting with impeccable timing, the CanWest newspapers have published the results of an Ipsos-Reid survey of Canadian attitudes to the monarchy. They show that a small majority Canadians want Canada to become republic.

Charles,_Prince_of_Wales in 2005

Prince Charles in 2005, in White House Rose Garden

The tour of Canada has been billed as Charles’s last chance to convince Canadians that he should be allowed to become their king. I’m not certain whether he will win Canadians over. In fact, he appears to have already made a serious error, for his first speech of the tour loudly praised Canada for sending troops to fight in the Anglo-American War in Afghanistan. Unfortunately for the Prince, most Canadians oppose the presence of Canadian troops in that country. The Prince has given the appearance of trying to interfere in Canada’s internal politics— Canada has announced that it is pulling out of Afghanistan, whereas Britain and the United States are ramping up their efforts there. Most Canadians probably think that a sufficient number of Canadians died for King and Empire in the twentieth century and that we need no sequels.

The Prince, who is the honorary colonel of no less than eight Canadian regiments, will visit several military bases in Canada. By associating himself with a very unpopular cause, Charles is doing himself no favours. The Canadian military and its traditions are a reflection of Canada’s colonial past and the political culture of Atlantic Canada, the most ethnically British part of the country. The problem for the Prince is that Atlantic Canada and the military represent Canada’s past, not its future. Canadians of British ancestry are a dying breed, with a birthrate even lower than that of francophone Quebeckers. The traditions of the Canadian military, such as playing “Rule Britannia” whenever a ship enters port, are literally laughable to Canadians descended from the post-1945 waves of immigration and indeed anyone familiar with the course of world history since, say, 1897.

If Charles wishes to ingratiate himself to the multicultural Canada of the present, he needs to do a walkabout in the shopping centres of Toronto and Vancouver. While in Vancouver, he might apologize for the racist anti-Asian remarks made by his father. The Prince might also talk to the workforce of Calgary’s office towers or the scientists in Waterloo who are working on genetically modifying crops.  This would allow him to see the future being made. Unfortunately, the Prince doesn’t believe in shopping centres and office towers, preferring organic farmer markets and traditional cottage architecture to consumerism, freeways, GM foods, Blackberries, and modern buildings.

Poundbury, the experimental pseudo-medieval town recently built by Prince Charles in Dorset, represents his vision of the future: white people in Tudorbethan homes eating organic food. It has little resemblance to the world inhabited by most modern Britons. It is even more alien to the values of most Canadians.

Opposed as he is to so much of capitalist modernity, Prince Charles is reactionary in the deepest sense of the word. He is also represents the most pathetic last vestiges of British militarism. He would be a singularly inappropriate head of state for Canada, a country that values technology, consumerism, multiculturalism, and peace. His values are antithetical to our most fundamental values.