Background

Presently, Canada is a constitutional monarchy. It shares its unelected, hereditary head of state, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, with that country and fourteen other former British colonies. In Canada, the Governor General is the representative of the Queen and acts in her name on the advice of Parliament. Therefore, in practice, the Queen is Canada's 'official' head of state, while the Governor General is our 'acting' head of state.

The Prime Minister is the head of government.

By definition, a republic is a government without a monarch as head of state.

Our Goals

As the representative organization of Canada's republican movement, Citizens for a Canadian Republic’s broader objective is to promote discussion and awareness of the advantages of amending the Constitution to allow for a democratically-selected head of state independent of the British monarchy.

Specifically however, the following represents our core beliefs and objectives:

  A Canadianized head of state should be the embodiment of Canadian sovereignty, diversity and pride. At present, no Canadian citizen can ever aspire to be head of state of our own country.

  Our head of state should be a true representative of the People of Canada. Presently, the Queen does not represent Canada when she travels abroad, she represents the United Kingdom.

  The act of attaining full-fledged status as a democratic republic within the Commonwealth would be the completion of a process of independence that began over a century ago.

  Canada’s head of state should conform to Canadian laws of religious equality. Presently, the rules governing succession in the royal family constitutionally bind Canada to a process that specifically discriminates against members of the Roman Catholic faith. The monarch is also required to hold the position of Supreme Governor of The Church of England, thereby also preventing, Jews, Hindus, Muslims or anyone not a member of that Protestant denomination from becoming Canada’s head of state. Section 15(1) of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms expressly forbids discrimination on the basis of "race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability".

  Canadians increasingly want to address the so-called "democratic deficit" that’s prevalent in Canada’s political system. In every good democracy, there’s a solid framework of checks and balances to ensure against the proliferation of abuses. One way to address that would be to have an effective and democratically-selected head of state (either by the public, parliament or other such body), not an appointed Governor General who is simply the deputy of a distant monarch, chosen personally by the Prime Minister.

  Inherited rights in government, symbolic or otherwise, is a concept incompatible with Canadian values of egalitarianism. In an opinion poll taken during the height of the Golden Jubilee and Royal Visit in 2002, a majority of Canadians saw the Queen and the Royal Family simply as celebrity figures who should not have any formal role in Canadian society¹ and the monarchy as an outmoded and regressive institution that has no real relevance to most Canadians today².

  New Canadians should not be subjected to swearing an oath to a monarch who not only isn’t a Canadian citizen herself, but also, in some cases, represents many aspects of what prospective citizens are trying to leave behind. They’re coming to Canada to embrace a way of life that emphasizes equality and the rights of the individual, not peerage, royalty and classism.

  Presently, we have an unfair constitutional amending formula on matters related to the head of state. Prior to 1982, amendments to the constitution related to the monarchy fell under the 7/50 amending procedure, requiring resolutions of the Senate, House of Commons and seven provincial legislatures representing at least fifty percent of the Canadian population. Due to heavy monarchist lobbying during the constitution patriation talks, amending Canada's monarchial status now requires the unanimous consent of all federal and provincial legislatures. This new formula is outrageously unfair. We believe that by attempting to put a padlock on our constitution and throw away the key, it inhibits Canada's natural evolution as a nation. Therefore, Citizens for a Canadian Republic believes a priority for any future discussion on the head of state must include addressing this imbalance.

¹ Ipsos-Reid - Oct. 3, 2002

² EKOS Research Associates - May 29, 2002

The Challenge

Even though polls consistently show a significant number of Canadians support fully Canadianizing the head of state, many are resigned to the continuation of the monarchy for two main reasons:

1) the perceived difficulties in altering the constitution to replace it and

2) the perceived lack of a credible replacement formula.

Citizens for a Canadian Republic acknowledges these obstacles. Canadianizing the head of state will definitely require changing the constitution, a feat made difficult by an unfair amending formula. Compounding these difficulties is the subject of how Canadians should choose their new head of state and what role it would play in the federal system. This dilemma is what cost Australian republicans a victory in their 1999 referendum. Many chose the status quo rather than accept a selection process they felt was no better politically than what they had.

However, the time is fast approaching when the present monarch’s reign will end. With poll results indicating that only 18 percent of Canadians oppose replacing Queen Elizabeth II with a Canadian head of state when she dies³, this is a subject that needs discussing now. This is advisable not just to avoid having to rush into constitutional negotiations at the last minute, but also to avoid the insensitivity of raising the issue when the Queen is in poor health or worse, when the world is grieving her loss.

ª Pollara - Dec 2, 1997

A Solution

Ideally, the issue of the monarchy should be dealt with immediately. Citizens for a Canadian Republic will continue to work toward that objective. However, Canadian republicans have to be realistic. Many Canadians do feel a close attachment to the Queen herself but very little for her successor or, for that matter, the monarchy itself as an institution. Therefore, one would assume that any practical goal to fully Canadianize our head of state, outside of any unusual circumstance, would have to be based on the likelihood of it being implemented at the end of the current Queen’s reign.

One also has to acknowledge the lessons learned from the Australian referendum of 1999 in which a split occurred in the result, dashing years of hard work by the Australian Republican Movement. In that effort, Australians were divided on whether a replacement head of state should be elected by popular vote or by the proposed two-thirds majority of both houses of parliament. A new referendum and formula is planned for the future but had the formula been resolved first and a plebiscite held on the simple act of making the head of state an Australian, Australia would be a republic today.

We must also take our cue from Canadians who are telling our parliamentarians and prime minister how important they believe honesty, democratic values and accountability of our government officials are to them.

So it is with this understanding that Canadian republicans must proceed with a plan for our future. Without surrendering a desire for an immediate change to a Canadian republic, it has to be recognized that the work we do today, will, for all intents, be for a result gained in ten or perhaps fifteen years. And in examining the progress in Australia, we must put it in the Canadian context and see how we can apply it here.

One possible way to proceed is to first of all engage now, while the Queen is healthy, in a process of democratizing the office of the governor general and redefining his or her role in government. In effect, we could have a parliamentary or even a direct popular election for the Governor-General, which, unlike the decision on who is our head of state, is one that does not require a constitutional amendment to implement. The name of this democratically chosen candidate for governor general would then be submitted to the Prime Minister as his or her nominee to the Queen.

This process is not without precedent. Canadian senators are normally appointed by the governor general on the advice of the Prime Minister. In 1990 however, Stan Waters, Canada's first democratically elected Senator, was appointed to the Senate by then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney after receiving 43% of over 620,000 votes cast by Alberta voters.

The real benefit to applying this procedure to the Governor General’s position now is that it eliminates the main obstacle to a republican success in a national referendum on the head of state - namely, what do you replace it with. Approval by the provinces would still have to take place, but with all of the divisive issues already resolved, only a simple referendum on just who our head of state should be would remain.

Again, we have to look at precedent, at just where the evolution from a governor general representing a British monarch into an independent ceremonial presidency has been implemented successfully. The most notable example of this transition formula is the Republic of Ireland, where their democratically selected presidents command the highest respect, both at home and abroad. The world's largest democracy, India, is another fine example. Trinidad and Tobago as well.

Since most members of the Commonwealth of Nations are republics, not monarchies, Canada becoming a parliamentary republic has no effect on status in that organization.

So how do we get started? In a March 18, 2004 press release, Citizens for a Canadian Republic called for a special parliamentary committee, similar to the flag committee of the 1960s, to examine revamping the role and selection process of the office of the Governor General as a prelude to becoming a republic. At the time, another parliamentary committee, the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, was in session, primarily to discuss the budgetary excesses of the Governor General's office. On April 2, the committee released a report titled The Governor General of Canada: Role, Duties and Funding for Activities, in which the following recommendations were made:

"That the Parliament of Canada 1) take the necessary measures to conduct a review and initiate a debate on the mandate, constitutional role, responsibilities, and future evolution of the Office of the Governor General of Canada (the Head of State) in which all Canadians be included, and 2) conduct a review of the process for selecting and appointing the Governor General (Head of State) of Canada."

Normally, the government is required to table a comprehensive response to a report such as this within one hundred and fifty days, but, unfortunately, shortly after its release, a general election was called and parliament's obligation to respond was nullified. The committee was formed again when parliament resumed in October. However, only matters related to the budget of the governor general were addressed.

Despite this setback, Citizens for a Canadian Republic remains committed to the establishment of an all-party Parliamentary Committee on the Head of State to deal with the future of the monarchy in Canada. More than ever, we believe it's essential to initiate now, the process of healthy, constructive debate, inclusive of all Canadians, on this important subject.

Finally, Canada has traditionally lead the Commonwealth in initiating legislative, economic and cultural independence over the last century. However, the two decades since the patriation of our constitution has seen remarkably less of that than when our constitution resided in Britain.

Increasingly, Commonwealth nations such as Australia, Barbados, Jamaica and New Zealand have picked up the ball where Canada has dropped it. And while our national leaders cower at the mere suggestion of opening our constitution to allow progressive change in regards to the monarchy, their leaders are refreshingly outspoken. Canada should be embarrassed that we've allowed this to happen. It's time we resumed our leadership role in the Commonwealth. It's time to join the Commonwealth-wide movement toward enhancing national independence and make fully Canadianizing the head of state a national priority in Canada.

It's time for a new option in Canada.


Below is a clip from CBC’s The National - Debating the Future of the Monarchy in Canada (May 31, 2002). Host Brian Stewart is speaking with Canadian expatriate Anthony King, Professor of Government, University of Essex, United Kingdom. As this short passage indicates, we must not waste time in getting this subject before the public and parliament:

STEWART: Still, shouldn't there at least be calm study now while a popular monarch reigns in apparent good health? Isn't it now the time we should be airing this?

KING: Oh, absolutely. I mean, if you're going to take a decision like abolishing the monarchy for Canada, then you should spend quite a lot of time picking it up, holding it up to the light, looking at its various facets, and asking yourselves do you want really to do this. And if you do, what are you going to put in its place? And the further in advance that discussion begins, the better.

Related Information:

Frequently Asked Questions

Commonwealth leaders on the monarchy

Press releases

The History of Republicanism in Canada

 

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