At the 2010 Canada Day festivities on Parliament Hill, Elizabeth started her speech by addressing the 100,000-strong audience as “fellow Canadians…”
As a Canadian, Elizabeth is our “guardian of constitutional freedoms.” In law, she personifies the state and is the symbol of both its authority and its unity.
She’s custodian of the Canadian Crown’s democratic powers and represents the “power of the people above government and political parties.” Which makes her our chief watchdog — if mostly absent and toothless.
She’s visited Canada twenty-five times — more than any of her other Realms and Territories except the United Kingdom, where she lives.
As Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Forces and Honourary Commissioner of theRCMP, Elizabeth is Canada’s highest-ranking military officer and top cop.
She’s titular owner of all Crown lands (90% of Canadian territory), Sovereign of theOrder of Canada, Chief Scout of Canada, formal guardian of Canada’s foster children, and employer of all government staff including MPs and judges. Canadian passports and currency are issued in her name. Most bear her likeness.
During her 60 years on the Canadian throne, 11 Canadian elections have been called in her name and 11 Canadian prime ministers duly appointed. All members of Parliament must swear allegiance to her before they sit.
Oddly, the independiste Bloc Québécois, doesn’t seem to have much of moral problem with the oath:
Je, [nom], jure que je serai fidèle et porterai une vraie allégeance à Sa Majesté la Reine Élisabeth II.
I, [name], do swear, that I will be faithful and bear true Allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Perhaps they keep their fingers crossed.
Any institution as peculiar as Canadian monarchy has to have a few anomalies.
Theoretically, Elizabeth can embark on a lifetime of crime in Canada without fear of punishment. Since she’s “the fount of Canadian justice,” she can’t be prosecuted in her Canadian courts because that would mean she judges herself.
Less theoretically, should Canada go to war with any of Elizabeth’s other Realms and Territories, as monarch of all she would be at war with herself.
Practically — to honour the traditional Westminster separation of powers — she’s the only person in the world barred from entering the House of Commons, so has to deliver her Canadian throne speeches from the nearby Senate.
Somewhat ironically, Elizabeth’s representative in Canada is the Governor Generalwho’s supposed to be above politics but is chosen and can be fired by the Prime Minister of the day. To critics, it’s something like letting the home team appoint the referee.
Also known as the Right Honourable Viceroy, the Governor General’s main duty is to write a letter to Elizabeth every Thursday keeping her up to date on events in her Canadian realm. Otherwise, it’s a mirror image of her own job.
The Governor General reads speeches, signs documents, cuts ribbons, plants trees, shakes thousands of hands and is expected to solve the very occasional constitutional crisis. The 10 provincial Lieutenant-Governors carry out lesser versions of the same ceremonial and constitutional role.
The bill for these 11 people who represent Elizabeth in Canada adds up to more than $50 million a year — $1.53 from every Canadian. Which is a lot more than the 94 centtribute paid by her British subjects.
(For that money you can buy enough mosquito nets to save five million African children from malaria. Or more than one hundred Rolls-Royce Phantom limousines. Whichever you prefer.)
A couple of years back, fewer than one out of four Canadians could name Elizabeth as Head of State. Nearly half believed the monarchy was “an irrelevant relic of the colonial past.” More than half wanted to cut ties after Elizabeth’s death.
Today — in spite of the recent Canadian tour by Elizabeth’s grandson and heir-to-the-heir Prince William and his bride — not much has changed. An online Angus Reid pollearlier this month found two out of three Canadians would rather live in a republic than a monarchy. Two out of five simply don’t care.
The same survey says three of four Canadians have a favourable view of Prince William and almost half would rather have William, rather than Charles, as King of Canada after Elizabeth’s death.
Which means, at least in this poll and at the moment, most of us Canadians want to live in a republic with our own elected leader instead of in a monarchy under an hereditary king who lives in another country, 3,500 miles away. Even so, we believe that if there has to be a Canadian crown, Elizabeth’s grandson, not her son, should wear it.
All this foreshadows monumental constitutional headaches.
Declaring a Canadian republic will be nearly — but not quite –impossible. It requires the unanimous consent of the federal parliament and each of the provincial parliaments. This in a country in which the feds and provinces seldom agree on what time of day it is.
Charles could, of course, voluntarily giving up his right to the Canadian throne in favour of his son. He certainly doesn’t need the money. But after all these years of watching, waiting and, no doubt, rehearsal, that’s highly unlikely.
Anyway, there’s no constitutional way — either in Britain or Canada — for the crown to skip a generation.
It goes to heir. Or, in a recent reform, the heiress.
This article was originally published on the Huffington Post on June 1, 2012: Queen Elizabeth, Canada’s Chief Watchdog
This series was adapted from Knight’s proposal for a multi-part TV series on the Queen now in pre-production, seeking sponsors. It will examine her role in each of the 16 nations over which she reigns.