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Welcome delegates and guests to Winnipeg 2016, the Liberal Liberal Party of Canada Biennial Convention.

Frequently Asked Questions

►What is a republic?

A republic is a form of government without a monarch as head of state and which political power is explicitly vested in the people who elect representatives.

Obviously, the latter part of this definition has already been attained by Canada, although in an indirect way. Technically, as a monarchy constrained by a constitution, Canadian executive power resides with and is exercised in the name of the Queen by the Governor General, Prime Minister, Cabinet and the legislature. Thus, the monarch has a symbolic presence, with no power to exert without direction by the elected government. Constitutional experts therefore, often refer to the function of a constitutional monarchy as a "crowned republic" or "veiled republic."

So in the Canadian context, a parliamentary republic wouldn't be that different in function from what we have already, except our official head of state would be the person we now refer to as the governor general.

In contrast, the USA has a presidential republican system, where one person, the president, is both the head of state and head of government. No republican movement in the Commonwealth thinks this is a good model to emulate.

Traditionally, the choice when peacefully evolving away from monarchies has been the parliamentary republic model, where either the link between the monarch and the governor general is removed or a new redefined office is created to replace it.

Contrary to popular belief, this position need not be political or popularly elected.

►What is a republican?

A republican is someone who wants a government without monarchy. Yes, our neighbour to the south has a Republican Party, but while the name was inspired by their revolutionary republican ideals two hundred years ago, it has since evolved to be just the name of a party, with no reference to anything to do with monarchy.

In countries like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica or Barbados, where discussion of ending the monarchy is prevalent, republicans come from all political backgrounds and are not identified as left or right wing.

Also, when not referring to the name of a political party, the word 'republican' is not capitalized.

Why go to the trouble of changing things?

On the world stage, we just plain deserve better. These aren't colonial times, it's the Twenty-First Century. Canada has matured as a nation and is well beyond sharing its head of state with any country, much less one that used to colonize us. How will the world ever take us seriously as a nation if we send the impression that we're not quite grown up yet?

We've evolved as a people, as well. But if we're to allow our unique identity and sense of national self to fully flourish, our head of state must not just be one of us, they must be chosen by us.

And above all, every Canadian child should be able to grow up knowing that a position is not off limits because he or she was born into the wrong family. Canadians are increasingly realizing that a country like ours, that rejected titles and aristocracy many decades ago, and which triumphs merit over bloodline, deserves to have the same values mirrored in the highest office of the land.

►Wouldn't we have to give up our royal patronages and remove symbols of the crown from our institutions?

Absolutely not. The criteria for the title "royal" includes no reference to removing it if a country transitions from monarchy to republic. Ireland has been a republic for over sixty years and has many royal institutions - as do other republics with British colonial history - including India, Sri Lanka, South Africa, even Hong Kong in China.

Likewise, royal symbols such as crowns would not have to go either. The national flags of the republics of Montenegro, Serbia and Croatia, as well as the coats of arms of Russia, Hungary and the Czech Republic all include crowns from their previous monarchies in the designs. Poland hasn't had a monarchy in nearly a hundred years, yet has historical kings on all its bank notes.

I like being part of the Commonwealth. Wouldn't we have to give up our membership?

That requirement was changed in 1949. Today, most member states of the Commonwealth are republics. 

The monarchy provides protection of our democracy in case of abuse by governments.

The democratic values we have today are, in fact, republican in principle, and historically, were won at the expense of monarchs. In Canada, the true constitutional referee is the governor general, our de-facto head of state, not the Queen - although many would agree the position is under-performing in that regard. Canada's democratic evolution away from our colonial link to the monarchy can only improve that protection, not deter it. 

Wouldn't ending the monarchy also cut ties to our history, traditions and culture?

The monarchy is only one part of our history and it can still be celebrated without a connection to our constitution. Parliamentary traditions can remain identical. And making Canada more Canadian would enhance our distinctive culture, not harm it. 

Instead of the monarchy, shouldn't our government spend time on the economy or environment?

Of course those issues are important, but many of the defining moments of Canadian history have been born from debates that took place during difficult times. The Statute of Westminster (1931), The Citizenship Act (1947), the National Flag of Canada Act (1964), The Canada Act and Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) are among those historic changes.  

And leading up to the end of the Queen's reign, we have a perfect opportunity to stimulate a healthy debate over how to proceed with our next step on the path to Canadian independence.

Doesn't the monarchy provide unity and stability?

On the contrary, in Canada, we witnessed the near breakup of our country as a monarchy. The colonialism it represents is still a major irritant to the gradual healing of those wounds. 

Under the monarchy, Britain itself has had a multitude of secessionist revolts, plots, revolutions and three civil wars. Queen Victoria barely escaped being overthrown in 1857. Northern Ireland's problems are well-known and not fully dealt with yet. Scotland had an independence vote in 2014 and may have another.

"The Crown" is expressed everywhere in Canadian government and law. How do we replace that?

You don't. "The Crown" is not the physical crown, nor is "Queen Elizabeth II in Right of Canada" the Queen "the person." Both have evolved to become synonymous with "The Canadian State."  

This is a view supported by former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, who believed the governor general to be the direct representative of "the Crown", and not of the monarch.[3] In addition, the late Jack Layton stated that he too understood “the Crown” to be “the concept of our collective statehood” and not simply an expression of the monarchy.[4] 

If we choose not to have a monarch at the pinnacle of the Canadian State, nothing happens to it. The state still goes on. It's even quite possible it could continue to be referred to as "The Crown" after we become a republic. 

What about our First Nations' treaties that were negotiated before Confederation? Some believe they are only guaranteed by the monarch.

Although the Queen, or her successors, may have a symbolic or cultural connection with indigenous people, the legal relationship is not with the family of those in whose name their treaties were signed, it's with the contemporary Canadian Crown, a distinct legal entity that inherited the application of royal prerogative from King George VI in the Letters Patent 1947.

Shawn Atleo, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, confirmed this in a newspaper article in 2013, when he referred to the "relationship between First Nations and the Crown (now Canada)."

Therefore, all legal matters relating to the Royal Proclamation of 1763, or other pre-Confederation treaties, are between indigenous people and the Government of Canada, and will not change for the worse if we choose to have a non-monarchical head of state.

The Queen herself has confirmed that legal relationship, for example in 1973, when she reassured Chiefs in Alberta that the Government of Canada now recognized "compliance with the spirit of your Treaties."

Consequently, all grievance letters to the Queen regarding treaty rights are politely accepted and then forwarded back to Canada. Even letters personally accepted by members of the royal family during visits to Canada, are promptly handed over to a representative of the Canadian government, as was documented by the media in 1994 and 1997.

And very importantly, since 1982, all indigenous rights, including those as expressed in the Royal Proclamation, are further protected in Section 35 of the Constitution Act, and Section 25 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Finally, in 2016 Canada has committed to endorsing the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which includes "nation-to-nation relationship based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership."

Sadly, despite all of these protections, one doesn't have to be a constitutional expert to realize that legal interpretation of historic treaties has differed from that of the indigenous community, in virtually all cases, to their detriment. This needs to be addressed, not just for the welfare of indigenous people, but for Canada as a whole.

The Queen is famous the world over. How could a Canadian president represent Canada abroad and get the kind of attention she does?

The Queen is known as the Queen of the UK and is never referred to as the Queen of Canada - except on Canadian soil. What kind of international representative is that? The rest of the world will continue to view Canada as a colonial outpost of Britain as long as our head of state is a British monarch. 

The late Hon. Mitchell Sharp remarked in his memoirs that he often crossed paths with the Queen in his travels as Minister of State: He while promoting Canadian interests; the Queen while promoting Britain’s - in direct competition. He also encountered foreign dignitaries who believed "when they saw our governor general in their midst, that Canada had not yet achieved independence from Britain."[5]

When Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge left Canada in July, 2011, they headed to Hollywood to promote the British film industry, not Canada's. 

Discussing cutting ties to the monarchy is futile anyway. Doesn't it require all provinces plus both federal assemblies to approve?

That's the conventional thinking. However, there are many areas of contention that a parliamentary committee could help clarify. For one: Section 41(a) of the constitution actually refers to amendments to "the office of the Queen," not the institution of the monarchy. So it may be possible to keep the integrity of "the office of the Queen" unchanged, with an elected Canadian as the office holder.

It's not certain that provincial approval would be needed to do this anyway. With only parliamentary approval, the Succession To The Throne Act, 2013 (Bill C-53) appears to have already changed who can occupy the Office of the Queen - without the province's approval. Cementing its legitimacy, and possibly creating an ironclad precedent, the act was upheld in Ontario and Quebec courts.

Even if the provinces do have to agree in unison, the degree of difficulty in obtaining that approval is overrated. What if the selection process for a future Canadian head of state was delegated to the provinces? If the vast majority of Canadians desired an end to the monarchy, the provinces could find this a very attractive option.

Constitutional scholar Edward McWhinney also theorizes that a future government of Canada could, after the Queen ends her reign, cut ties to the monarchy "quietly and without fanfare by simply failing legally to proclaim any successor to the Queen in relation to Canada," leaving the position of sovereign vacant.[6]  

There are even questions about the legitimacy of the present 1982 amending formula. In a blatant example of foreign interference in Canada's internal affairs, British High Commissioner Sir John Ford lobbied the premiers extensively to insist that they block approval of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's repatriation, unless they insisted on a tougher amending formula relating to the monarchy. His term in Canada was cut short due to this meddling.[7]  

Canada has been a monarchy for 150 years. Is it even possible to change to a republic?

No need to reinvent the wheel. What we propose; replacing the absentee British monarch with a domestic head of state, has been done many times, both within and outside the Commonwealth, by countries with a much longer history as a monarchy than Canada. Successful examples of parliamentary republics that used to have a British monarch as head of state include Ireland, India, Malta, and Trinidad and Tobago. Outside the British sphere, many European countries are also parliamentary republics that evolved out of their monarchies. Austria, Germany, Finland and Italy are among them. Iceland replaced their Norwegian monarchy with their own parliamentary republican system as well.

I don't see people demonstrating in the streets for this change. Do Canadians even want to break with the monarchy?

With rare exception, Canadians have never been the type to take to the streets for any of the pivotal moments in Canada's evolution. However, when asked, they do have strong views on the monarchy:  

In a 2005 national public opinion poll, only 23% of Canadians believed the monarchy was important enough for Canada to keep.[8] In 2010, only 32% of Canadians opposed opening the constitution to address the monarchy.[9]  Between 2001 and 2011, the majority preferred ending the monarchy either now or at the end of the Queen's reign - or couldn't care less - in twelve out of fourteen national public opinion polls.

Thank you for reading this far. (Yes, it's long!) If you have a question about republicanism that isn't addressed here, please contact us.

[1] Bryce, James (1921). Modern democracies. Kessinger Publishing. 

[2] Bagehot, Walter (1919).  The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9. Longmans, Green & Co. 

[3] Clarkson, Adrienne (2006) CBC Newsworld interview with Don Newman 

[4] Layton, Jack (2006) interview in Other Press by J.J. McCullough 

[5] Sharp, Mitchell (1994). Which reminds me ... External affairs and the monarchy. University of Toronto Press 

[6] McWhinney, Edward (2005). The Governor General and the Prime Ministers. Ronsdale Press. 

[7] New York Times Feb. 14, 1981. Canada's Tangle - and Ours, Canadian Monarchist News, 2001 

[8] October 2005 - Centre for Research and Information on Canada (CRIC) 

[9] May 26, 2010 - Angus Reid Public Opinion

 

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Citizens for a Canadian Republic