National Post (National Edition)
An institution worth saving
People have been piling on the royal family in recent days, due to the extraordinary interview the Duke and Duchess of Sussex gave to Oprah Winfrey over the weekend. You could say it goes with the territory, but now that Meghan has brought up the corrosive subject of race, it is not going to be a simple matter to brush over. The Queen's message that this was a “family” matter was typically dignified and sensible, but it doesn't end the matter — not by a long shot.
One of the most insidious questions left hanging is: who made the comment about baby Archie's skin colour? Neither the Queen nor Prince Philip are the culprit, as Oprah graciously revealed, which means she may know who it is, but the rest of us are left to wonder because, Prince Harry argued, revealing the information would be too damaging to the institution of the Crown.
The trouble is that Harry did not exonerate his father, Prince Charles, or his brother, Prince William, both of whom are crucial heirs to the throne, so this wretched business is left swirling about.
Like many people who witnessed Harry and Meghan's wedding, I find it hard to believe that the same man who walked Meghan down the last part of the aisle when her own father bowed out, and later so movingly escorted her mother out of St. George's Chapel, is a racist. It's as hard to believe as Meghan's own naivete about what it would be like marrying into the royal family.
While Harry and Meghan mean exactly zilch to our system of government, Charles and William are very much bound up in it and this has to be cleared up, one way or another.
Of course, even if it was Prince Charles or Prince William, we may never know if it was a purely racist statement (“Oh God, they're going to have a Black baby”), or a benign discussion of the physical characteristics of an eagerly expected child, which every family gets into one way or another.
Western society is doing a lot of soul searching on the race issue these days, much of it long overdue, but some of it verges on vindictiveness. Our own prime minister has had to grovel for his past naivete when we learned that he had worn blackface a number of times in the past. Harry himself, despite being the great-grandson of a righteous gentile (Princess Alice, his grandfather's mother) who harboured Jews during the war, donned a Nazi uniform at a fancy dress party.
Clearly, members of the royal family are not immune to these winds of change. Actually, no family is. And for all the pomp and circumstance, the royal family are a family like any other, which can descend into dysfunction like all our families can, unless you happen to be a member of the one family on earth that has never had a dysfunctional moment.
In 1990, the Queen was in Canada as our head of state when the country was going through a rough spot. The Meech Lake Accord had collapsed, Quebec nationalism was at the fore again and many people saw the national
fabric dangerously fraying. It was just a short time before the nearly catastrophic 1992 referendum.
“I'm not just a fair weather friend and I'm glad to be here at a sensitive time,” she said at the time. “The unity of the Canadian people and their will to live together will be tested in the months ahead. … I'm not just here for the good times. I'm here in all times.”
The test for Canadians in the days ahead is whether or not we are fair weather friends to an institution that is going through a troubled and testing period, but which has served us well over the past 200 years or so.
This particular royal brouhaha also comes at a time when the office of governor general is still vacant and it is going to require some astute handling to figure that one out — and it better be soon. Yet our system of government can weather this crisis.
It is a system under which the extraordinary diversity of Canada has evolved. The real question is whether Canadians are astute and generous enough to give it a chance to work out its current challenges without scuttling an institution that stitches together our convoluted and complicated history, and can even assist us in healing our own issues of systemic racism, and reconciling with Canada's First Nations, for which the Crown remains a crucial ingredient.
THIS WRETCHED BUSINESS IS LEFT SWIRLING ABOUT.