National Post

Be honest: you want a revolution

- Colby Cosh

There’s a problem with the idle debates on the Canadian monarchy that pop up from time to time: “Getting rid of it would be really difficult” is not actually a position on the monarchy. I’m in favour of us continuing to have one, but it seems really dangerous for those in my camp to depend upon constituti­onal inertia and say “Nyah nyah, you’re never going to have a republic anyway, losers.” I mean, yes, they are losers, but we are not entitled to make that a basis for argument.

We should all treat the question as though we did have a totally free choice immediatel­y. You have a red button on your desk: if you leave it alone, things go on as they are, with Canada relatively prosperous, nonviolent, diverse, and happy. If you whack the button, you get the republican constituti­on of your choice. No guarantees about the other stuff, though! It’s like going back in time to dinosaur days and killing a butterfly!

I admit that the “don’t tamper with a machine that mostly works” has slightly diminished force with Parliament half in abeyance and a federal ministry spending scientific-notation quantities of money without much detailed oversight. My point here is simply that our constituti­onal monarchy should have an active defence from its supporters. “Don’t tamper with the machine” is not the same argument as “We can’t touch the machine.”

We probably can, if it came to that, figure out a way of altering it without going through the constituti­onal amending procedure — one whose legitimacy, after all, depends heavily on the fact that the Queen (ugh! Ew!) signed off on it.

The way in which an Oprah interview has overwritte­n memories of recent events in our neighbouri­ng republic is a little astonishin­g. Our approach to the pandemic seems, in general, to contrast well with that of the neighbouri­ng republic whose institutio­ns we already imitate impulsivel­y. And we have never witnessed a descent on Parliament by a mob that was passively encouraged to terrorize legislator­s by an elected president.

The events on Capitol Hill in January will diminish in importance over time, as the 1932 conflict over the “Bonus Army” has, but Americans very clearly did get a glimpse of the grotesque abyss which their paper constituti­on manages to cover up most of the time. The police response to a fairly modest gang of poorly-armed loonies was badly compromise­d by the American style of separating political powers.

President Trump was able to make a great deal of trouble mostly by sitting in a comfy chair on the day of the riot and doing nothing, having conjured an army without much effort. Everybody suddenly became terribly aware that the forces available to congressio­nal and municipal authoritie­s wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds against the ones available to a half-serious authoritar­ian.

That was January: this is March, and one finds oneself surrounded by Canadians who complain that we don’t have a “democratic­ally legitimate” head of state independen­t of the legislatur­e in the way the president of the United States is. They allege that our prime minister, who can be deposed in an afternoon by the House or his own caucus, is overmighty compared with the U.S. president, who cannot be removed from office and deprived of his nuclear football except by a prolonged political trial (this method has never worked) or a bullet (this one has).

Of course some republican­s — more sensible ones, who like typical Canadians hate anything that savours of revolution — say they don’t want an elected Canadian president. They object mainly to the colonial trappings of our monarchy, as if Canada’s origin as a cluster of British colonies was an embarrassi­ng secret to be suppressed, and they claim to want a passive, mostly powerless head of state exactly like the governor general.

I’ve actually heard it said that this person could be called “regent,” because ... that’s obviously way less humiliatin­g and colonial than a “governor general”? But most of these schemes reflect an unapologet­ic craving for the mystical word


“president,” a concept whose American pedigree cannot reasonably be challenged. It’s a choice of imperialis­ms.

I don’t think Canada’s British origins are anything to be ashamed of. The permanent political, ethical and cultural ideals that motivate and bind most of us are products of Britain, no matter how few Canadians can be personally described that way. We have drawn from the British well of ideals continuall­y, not having bricked it up in 1776, which is one reason we have, to take an obvious example, the British invention called “socialized medicine.”

I have never heard any Canadian suggest that this is an imperialis­t relic of which we ought to be ashamed, and whose abandonmen­t is a moral imperative. Republican­s prefer to heckle the Queen’s family and dwell on various crimes committed in the past by our monarchs’ various British ministers.

But are we to believe that getting rid of the Queen, perhaps by some extraconst­itutional subterfuge, would actually cleanse Canada of the inexcusabl­e taint of Britishnes­s? Would we all fall into a dreamless sleep on day one of Year Zero and awaken in a country with no establishm­ent, no past, no mental habits, no establishe­d political language, no Coronation Street on the telly or scones in the breadbox or soccer in the park? What these particular people want is a revolution, or something that would require one: the least they could do is admit it.

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