Canada 150 project: End the monar­chy

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - Bob Hep­burn’s col­umn ap­pears in Torstar news­pa­pers.

Which na­tion stages a mas­sive birth­day bash in front of its own par­lia­ment build­ings where 30,000 par­ty­go­ers are asked to sing an­other na­tion’s na­tional an­them?

Which na­tion cel­e­brates its an­niver­sary by mak­ing peo­ple who are be­com­ing new cit­i­zens that day swear or af­firm allegiance to mem­bers of a royal fam­ily in an­other na­tion?

Which na­tion marks its an­niver­sary by pro­duc­ing a se­ries of com­mem­o­ra­tive coins that carry the im­age of an­other coun­try’s Queen and not one coin that car­ries the im­age of any of its own his­toric fig­ures?

The an­swers are easy: Canada on its 150th an­niver­sary.

What’s not so easy is un­der­stand­ing why, af­ter 150 years of be­ing de­clared a sep­a­rate na­tion, Canada still has a Bri­tish monarch and a mem­ber of the Church of Eng­land as its head of state.

With im­ages of Prince Charles and Camilla on Par­lia­ment Hill on Canada Day still fresh in our me­mories, we need to re­flect on an­other ques­tion: When will we toss off the last relic of our colo­nial past and install a Cana­dian as head of state?

Prince Charles was in Canada in place of his mother, Queen El­iz­a­beth, who at 91 years of age is start­ing to cut back on her of­fi­cial du­ties and is hand­ing them off to her son, the fu­ture King of Eng­land.

Queen El­iz­a­beth has served with grace and dig­nity since as­cend­ing to the Bri­tish throne some 65 years ago. But her reign is com­ing to an end and, with Canada still in 150th an­niver­sary year, now is the time to be­gin a dig­ni­fied sev­er­ing of for­mal ties to the Bri­tish monar­chy.

We wouldn’t be the first to do so. Some 16 na­tions have dropped their for­mal ties with Bri­tain since Queen El­iz­a­beth took power, leav­ing her the head of state of just 16 other coun­tries, in­clud­ing Canada.

If Canada moves smartly, we could com­plete the process once the Queen’s reign is over, and be­fore Charles be­comes King of Canada.

It would be a move many Cana­di­ans would favour. An Ip­sos poll con­ducted in June for Global News in­di­cated 61 per cent of Cana­di­ans, in­clud­ing 55 per cent of On­tario res­i­dents, be­lieve the Queen and the other roy­als shouldn’t have any for­mal role in Cana­dian so­ci­ety be­cause they are “sim­ply celebri­ties and noth­ing more.”

Half of those sur­veyed said Canada should end all for­mal ties with the Bri­tish monar­chy once the Queen’s reign is over.

Even Prince Harry raises ques­tions about the monar­chy, say­ing mem­bers of his fam­ily are re­luc­tant to do the job. In an in­ter­view last month with Newsweek mag­a­zine, he asked, “Is there any one of the Royal Fam­ily who wants to be king or queen? I don’t think so, but we will carry out our du­ties at the right time.”

Tom Freda, di­rec­tor of Cit­i­zens for a Cana­dian Re­pub­lic, says the prince’s com­ment begs the ques­tion of why Canada is “per­sist­ing with the cha­rade” of hav­ing a for­eigner as our head of state if the post “is held by a re­luc­tant Bri­tish royal and the ma­jor­ity of Cana­di­ans pre­fer that po­si­tion be held by a Cana­dian.”

Ashok Charles, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Re­pub­lic Now, agrees and says “we de­serve a head of state who shares our cit­i­zen­ship, and who is cho­sen demo­crat­i­cally, on the ba­sis of merit.”

Over the past month, Re­pub­lic Now, a non­profit ad­vo­cacy group, has placed ban­ner ads on city buses in Toronto and with an im­age of Prince Charles be­side the mes­sage: “We don’t need a king. Our next head of state should be Cana­dian.”

True, Canada faces more press­ing is­sues in ar­eas such as health care and jobs than di­vest­ing it­self of its ties to the monar­chy. And yes, win­ning pas­sage by all 10 prov­inces won’t be easy.

But th­ese should not be ex­cuses for po­lit­i­cal in­ac­tion and in­dif­fer­ence when it comes to tak­ing the fi­nal step on the path to full in­de­pen­dence. If such at­ti­tudes were al­lowed to pre­vail in the early 1960s, Canada would never have seen the in­tro­duc­tion of uni­ver­sal health care and the Maple Leaf flag as the na­tion ap­proached its 100th an­niver­sary.

We can start the process by hold­ing a na­tional ref­er­en­dum with a sim­ple yes-no ques­tion: “Should Canada sever ties with the Bri­tish monar­chy?”

If the an­swer is yes, a bi­par­ti­san fed­eral-pro­vin­cial com­mis­sion can de­cide how to se­lect a head of state, such as by di­rect elec­tion or ap­point­ment.

What are we wait­ing for? Let’s abol­ish our ties to the monar­chy.

It would be a per­fect Canada 150 project — and one that lasts for­ever.

BOB HEP­BURN

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