By Chris Blatch
With the recent passing of Alberta’s Lieutenant-Governor, Canada’s constitutional monarchy has reemerged into the media spotlight. But why, in this day and age, do Canadians need a monarchy? Most Monarchists faced with this question retreat to the old standby response of “tradition”, which is just as weak as many of the attacks on the Crown. Because it’s the way things have always been done is almost as horrible a reason for doing something as “change for changes sake” is. There must be deliberate reasons for keeping the Monarchy that prove its worth as more beneficial than detrimental to Canadians. But how can something that is so often described as a symbol be a necessary component of Canadian society?
The Monarchy has become a sort of symbol that is bestowed upon everything that is “best” and admired in the Canadian ideal (in that the title “Royal” is bestowed on our Houses of Learning and Arts, military regiments and police forces, and upon titles and awards given to our best, brightest, and most noble citizens). However, we must make the distinction between symbol and a symbolic role.
By choosing to take a largely symbolic role the Monarchy provides us with a non-partisan leader to rally behind. In Canada if you criticize the Prime Minister you aren’t labeled “anti-Canadian”. That’s because the PM isn’t the leader. Because of this our government and our Nation can have legitimate debate and opposition. You can criticize the ruling party and still support your country (a fact that the Dixie Chicks learned doesn’t necessarily apply in Republics). Therefore government can better speak for its people, minority and majority. The wishes and needs of all the people in a monarchy are addressed because ideas are actually discussed and debated; government in Canada is for the refinement of ideas and present them for approval, not the forcing of one group’s decisions on another.
A politician, by the very nature of the game, owes his selection for office to a political faction, a fact which divides people. An elected president will always be partisan and bend to the will of the majority, as he constantly needs to be re-elected. A Queen can transcend petty politics, and still be our national leader. She is non-partisan between levels of government and political parties. The Crown makes the federal system possible. A Monarch can bind people of diverse faiths, origins, and political stances through her non-partisan stance. By being the source of all authority in Canada the Queen allows for petty populism to be overcome. How can minorities in a Republic possibly be protected against the “Tyranny of the majority”? In Canada, minorities are protected by a fair and autonomous head of state, which will not be punished for doing what is right, as opposed to what is popular. A Queen is free of the repercussions of elections. How long would a President like George W. Bush last if he made the same holiday television address to the people as the Queen did espousing the benefits of immigration and many faiths and peoples coexisting as one nation? Not long.
The Monarchy allows for the best of both worlds. We elect our representatives to advise so our voices are heard, but the possible detrimental effects of democracy are held in check, allowing right to exist even when it is not popular.
Contrary to popular thought, the Queen is not purely symbolic. The symbolic role that is fulfilled by Her Majesty is possible because special powers are held in reserve. Although rarely used, they do exist. The powers of the crown have been described as a “constitutional fire extinguisher”, and like a real fire extinguisher, we hope we will never need them; although they are rarely used it does not render them useless. In the daily conduct of government, the Queen’s right to be consulted, the right to encourage and the right to warn, coupled with the right to dissolve any parliament that acts against Canada’s best interests, provide a check on excessive Prime Ministerial power. The Queen’s very neutrality enables these powers to be exercised effectively. The Queen is the referee and the politicians know she’s watching. We must remember that like a fire extinguisher, there are consequences for tampering or throwing it away.