The National Post: April 11, 2002 

Monarchists get a rival in new republican movement

Sarah Schmidt, National Post

Just one day after Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was laid to rest, Canada's first organized republican movement sprang to life.

Citizens for a Canadian Republic, founded yesterday, issued a blunt if awkwardly timed challenge to domestic monarchists intent on protecting Canada's status as a constitutional monarchy: Get with the times and move beyond the "archaic" concept of peerage and inherited rights in government.

Queen Elizabeth II is the Queen of Canada and the official head of state; the Queen delegates her power, rooted in symbol rather than function, to the Governor-General of Canada.

"We can't select our own head of state. The symbolic implication is significant. It's really the last thread of colonialism," Tom Freda, a founding executive member, said.

The Monarchist League of Canada, founded in 1971, has dominated discussions about the role of the Crown in Canada.

The new organization, which has yet to establish provincial chapters or hold executive elections, represents the first attempt to pull together anti-monarchist sentiment in Canada. It postponed the announcement last week after the Queen Mother died, but yesterday weighed in on a highly emotional debate. Recent polls suggest Canadians are evenly split over whether to keep the monarchy, except in Quebec, where the majority consistently express opposition to the institution.

Canadian politicians are also divided. The Bloc Québécois' objection is so virulent it blocked a unanimous message of condolence to the Royal Family this week over the death of the Queen Mother because she was referred to as the sovereign of Canada. The New Democratic Party is more tempered in its opposition to a foreign head of state; it advocates "Canadianizing" the position. Leading members of the federal Cabinet share that view. John Manley, the Deputy Prime Minister, said last year "the monarchy is out of date and Canadians would do better with an elected head of state instead."

Jeff Brownlee, Mr. Manley's spokesman, reiterated that view yesterday. "In an appropriate course of time, the head of state can be Canadian, who reflects Canadian diversity and who is chosen by Canadians," he said.

According to the Settlement Act, passed by the British Parliament in 1701, the head of state must be Protestant.

"Not only can we not have our own head of state, we can't have a non-Protestant head of state," Mr. Freda said. "No Jew, no Muslim, no Hindu or Catholic may become head of state of Canada. This not only contradicts our Charter of Rights, but our whole way of being as Canadians."

Among Britain's former colonies, Canada was the first to gain dominion status (1867), secure legislative independence (1931), adopt a distinctive flag (1965) and institute a republican-style Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982).

"We've always been far ahead of the other dominions in asserting ourselves, but we seem to have been bogged down with the head of state," Mr. Freda said.

Still, anti-monarchist sentiments have surfaced in recent decades. In 1964, the Queen's visit to Quebec City sparked anti-monarchist riots.

During his visit to London in 1965, Lester B. Pearson, then prime minister, announced his intention to sever Canada's ties to the monarchy.

Pierre Elliott Trudeau, in particular, raised the ire of monarchists. In 1977, Mr. Trudeau, then prime minister, performed a pirouette behind the Queen at Buckingham Palace. The Queen stated she worried the Crown "had little meaning for him," reinforced the following year when she visited Canada while he vacationed in Morocco.

In 1978, during a debate to strengthen the role of Governor-General, Mr. Trudeau said, "If I were an anti-monarchist, I should leave the post alone and let it become obsolescent, let the Governor-General do nothing but attend Boy Scout rallies."

Until today, the debate has been dominated by the Monarchist League of Canada, founded in 1971. John Aimers, its chairman, yesterday welcomed the debate. "The crown reflects a historical reality."

Mr. Aimers added while some aspects of the constitutional arrangement might seem "anachronistic," the monarchy is in perpetual reform.

Michael Bliss, a Canadian history professor at the University of Toronto, said there has been little appetite in the last half century to alter the constitutional arrangement. "Canada has been dominated by a British-born, British-oriented population, so residual monarchism has been strong in the Canadian populace. As it weakens over time, the monarchy manages to stay around. The constitutional problem is trying to figure out an alternative."

Mr. Bliss said it is difficult to gauge public opinion because of the recent death of the Queen Mother. "We have just had a kind of feeding on the carcass of the Queen Mother ... so it's a bad time to get a clear view of the future because we're still influenced by this most recent event."