Thirty-eight years after Pierre Trudeau’s infamous pirouette behind the Queen, Justin Trudeau’s government has sparked another monarchy-related controversy.
Less than a week after being sworn in, newly-appointed Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion removed the Queen’s portrait from the foyer of the Foreign Affairs building, to be replaced with a pair of Alfred Pellan landscapes. While Liberals defended the move as a restoration of the building’s original artwork, Monarchist League of Canada Chairman Robert Finch accused Trudeau of attempting to “excise” pictures of the Queen.
For what it’s worth, the removal seems like a misstep. As Finch told the Huffington Post Canada, it is “natural to have a portrait of the head of state in a prominent place” in the Foreign Affairs building. The portrait also possessed significant historical value, having been installed in 2011 to mark the first visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
But this controversy goes beyond the government’s choice of décor.
A May 2015 Forum Research poll found that nearly “four in 10 favour abolishing monarchy in Canada upon the death of the Queen.” However, doing away with the Canadian monarchy would be a grievous error.
Firstly, the monarchy cannot be abandoned without opening a constitutional can of worms.
In response to the Forum poll, uOttawa Public and International Affairs Assistant Professor Phillipe Lagassé told the CBC that abolishing the monarchy would not only necessitate re-opening the Constitution, but also (as paraphrased by CBC’s Karen Pauls) extensive consultations with provinces and First Nations who “would want to renegotiate their roles in the confederation.”
Considering the pressing domestic and international issues facing Canada, is this really the time to re-start the tortuous Constitutional amendment process?
Secondly, the Crown plays an essential role in maintaining stability. As Lagassé explained on his website, the institution of the Crown remains stable throughout democratic turnover, “allowing the executive to enforce the law, attend to Canadians, and operate the machinery of government.”
Pragmatism aside, Canada’s connection to Britain is a legacy worth celebrating.
The traditions that have kept our democracy functional and stable, including our Westminster parliamentary and common-law judicial systems, all came from Britain. It was the British monarchy, through the Royal Proclamation of 1793, that recognized the rights of Canadian Aboriginals. It was Queen Victoria who wisely chose Ottawa as the capital of Canada. It was a British Privy Council ruling that recognized women as persons. And (despite Pierre Trudeau’s noted contempt for the monarchy) our Charter of Rights and Freedoms would likely never have been written had it not been for the English Magna Carta.
Canada’s symbols and traditions foster unity and shape our national identity. Monarchs such as Queen Elizabeth, who has visited Canada 22 times, provide Canadians with non-partisan figures to rally behind during times of strife. (Also, her hats are always fabulous).
Canada’s version of constitutional monarchy retains a link to our history without sacrificing our national sovereignty. In the face of increasing antipathy towards the monarchy, I say God save our gracious Queen.
Originally published in The Fulcrum as “Democratic Stability Save the Queen;” November 19, 2015