With His Excellency, the Right Honourable David Johnston’s term as Governor General of Canada coming to an end a new vice-regal representative has been chosen. Her name is Julie Payette, she hails from Montreal, Quebec, and has an impressive resume albeit one that is rather unusual for the position for which she has been selected. At first a computer engineer, she underwent training as an astronaut in the 1990s and served in this capacity for most of the first decade of this century. Her experience as an astronaut included flights into space aboard both the Discovery and the Endeavour shuttles. The National Post quoted Robert Finch, the Dominion Chairman of the Monarchist League of Canada, as saying that this breaking of new ground in appointing someone whose experience is outside the political provides “a good opportunity for her to elevate that office right across the country.” Juxtaposed with Finch’s comments was one by Philippe Lagasse of Carleton University who is quoted as saying:
The reaction might be, well, look, why do we need Royals when we can have such stellar people as our head of state, as opposed to our head of state’s representative? It calls into question, I would say, the necessity of having the monarchy.
Thanks to decades of failure on the part of our educational system to teach our history and civics with the respect they deserve there are many, sadly, who would like to complete the Liberal Party’s agenda of Americanizing our country by turning it into a republic. While this sentiment is most often found on the left, there are, sadly, a number of prominent neoconservatives – or perhaps pseudoconservatives would be the more appropriate term – such as Anthony Furey, Lorne Gunter, and J. J. McCullough who have also indicated their support for republicanism. Conversely, of course, there are a handful of individuals on the left who as staunch monarchists are better conservatives than the aforementioned. Green Party leader Elizabeth May is one, the late leader of the NDP, Jack Layton, was another. The following is my answer to republicans, whether of the left or the phony right, who raise this question.
First, the false Canadian nationalism that says that we should become a republic and have someone who was born and who lives here as our head of state, goes against the very idea of Canada.
150 years ago the Fathers of Confederation had a certain idea in mind when they founded our country. The building blocks out of which they fashioned the Dominion of Canada were the provinces of the British Empire that had remained loyal when the Thirteen Colonies rebelled and which had fought alongside the British army in repelling the American invaders in the War of 1812. The idea the Fathers of Confederation had, was to join these provinces into a federation that would be large enough and strong enough to resist being pulled into the orbit of the United States whose institutions would not be drawn up from scratch based on the abstract ideals of Enlightenment philosophy, like those of the United States, but would be borrowed with some appropriate adaptation from those of the United Kingdom with which we would deliberately maintain our connection. The monarchy that America’s Fathers rejected, the Fathers of Confederation embraced and to say that Canada ought to replace the monarch with some other kind of head of state is like saying that the United States ought to abandon “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for “death, slavery, and the pursuit of misery.”
Second, a hereditary, royal, monarch is the best possible head of state. Although this is considered heresy in our democratic modern age it is nevertheless easily demonstrated to be true. A legislative assembly consists of elected representatives. Except for city-states small enough to include all of their citizens in the assembly this will inevitably the case. Our legislative assembly, the House of Commons, is formed by members elected as the representatives of constituencies. This, by the way, is the best way to elect an assembly. The alternatives, such as proportional representation, that are much touted by progressives today, would have the effect of producing a more partisan, ideological, assembly in which the representatives, even more than is already the case, would be accountable only to their party and its party line. This would in no way be an improvement. The members are ideological and partisan enough as it is, but it is the role of each to represent and speak for the interests of the constituency which elected him. None of them represents the country as a whole, nor do the parties to which they belong. Even the Prime Minister, who heads the party that commands at most a majority, often merely a plurality, of the elected members, does not represent the country as a whole. This most important of roles falls to the head of state. For the head of state to perform this role properly she must be above partisan politics. This cannot be the case if the office is filled by popular election. Consider last year’s presidential election in our southern neighbour, the hostility and division it generated and how the United States remains bitterly divided still.
There is another dimension to the way in which a royal monarch can represent the whole of a country in its unity better than any president. A royal monarch inherits the throne from those who reigned over the country in past generations and passes the throne on to those who will reign over future generations. A monarchy, therefore, embodies and represents the organic unity of a country over time. This is sorely needed in our day and age as a counter to the temptation to forget the past and ignore the future in pursuit of our interests in the present.
Those who point to the unpopularity of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales in comparison with his mother as an argument for breaking with the monarchy at the next secession fail completely to grasp these points. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are very popular indeed but the republicans see the relative unpopularity of the Prince of Wales in the present as an excuse for robbing future generations of a more popular king and queen. Furthermore, it is precisely the fact that the monarchy does not derive its legitimacy from the fickle whims of a present day electorate but from tradition, that the monarch can transcend partisan politics to represent the country as a whole. Those who make an idol out of democracy would do well to pay heed to G. K. Chesterton’s wise words about how “tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.”
It is a fiction of liberal and American thought that equates hereditary monarchy with tyranny. Plato and Aristotle knew better and warned that democracy was the seed from which tyranny springs. Jean-Jacques Rousseau is called both “the father of modern democracy” and “the father of totalitarianism” for a reason. The government should be the voice of the “general will” of the people, he maintained – democracy – and those who dissent from the general will must be “forced to be free” and if he resists exiled or put to death – totalitarianism. Those most susceptible to being corrupted by power are those who desire it for themselves and to be elected to office, a person must first run, thereby indicating his desire for power. Tyrants, typically, begin as demagogues who rally the masses behind them and history’s most notorious despots are those who saw themselves as belonging to and speaking for the common folk, as the first among equals or, in Orwell’s phrase “Big Brother.”
The monarch who, by contrast, stands in loco parentis to the nation is a safeguard against tyranny. Sir Winston Churchill famously observed that had we not at the insistence of the Americans forced the monarchs of Austria and Germany off their thrones at the end of the First World War, Adolf Hitler would never have risen to power. In our own country freedom, as John Farthing and Eugene Forsey pointed out, “wears a crown” and the Liberal Party started us down the path to Prime Ministerial dictatorship eighty-nine years ago by challenging the royal prerogative to refuse a requested dissolution of Parliament and so hold the Prime Minister accountable to the assembly.
Our monarchy is, as the Fathers of Confederation intended, the source of internal unity in our country. The first English Canadians were the Loyalists who refused to join in the Thirteen Colonies’ rebellion against the Crown, were consequently persecuted by the American republicans, and fled up here. It was also the Crown which offered protection to the language, religion, and culture of the French Canadians against Puritan bigotry and with whom the native tribes entered into treaties. Immigrants who wish to become citizens have been required to pledge their allegiance to the monarchy thus joining them into our national unity. The monarchy is also, however, and this is my final point, our connection with something beyond our own borders, something larger than our own country.
It is as Queen of Canada that Elizabeth II reigns over us. It is as the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland that she reigns over Great Britain. The distinction between the two crowns is an important one because the one country is not subservient to the other. That the same person wears both crowns is also important because it joins the two countries with each other – and with Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu over each of which Elizabeth II reigns as Queen. The crowns are distinct, none of these countries is subservient to any of the others, and each parliament passes laws for its own country and not for the others. Yet through the Queen who reigns over all of us we are connected.
A connection with other nations of this sort that in no way infringes upon our own right to pass our own laws and determine our own policies is a rare and precious heritage. The kind of “nationalism” that would throw this away is introspective and short-sighted and completely out of sync with the spirit of the Fathers of Confederation. Let us, as true Canadian patriots, ever be on our guard against this kind of thinking.
Congratulations to Julie Payette on her appointment. May she remember what Liberal nominees have been prone to forget in recent decades, that the job of the Governor General is to represent the Queen in Canada and not to represent Canada to the world.
God save the Queen!
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