Thank you Tom, Randall, Susan
Congratulations on your first
anniversary - I hope you don’t have too many more because once
you achieve your goal of a Canadian Head of State you can
The great thing about the cause of
republicanism in Australia, New Zealand and Canada is that we
collectively have history on our side. The end of the British
monarchy in our countries is inevitable and it is only a
question of time before each of our nations finally grounds
sovereignty firmly in our people.
In the case of Canada it seems to an
outsider utterly anachronistic that anyone should think that the
British monarchy should have any place in this country. Canada
has led the world in developing a comprehensive system of human
rights for all, in ending discrimination and privilege be it
economic or social.
In fact, when I arrived here last week
I observed Canada taking another proud step forward in human
rights through the Ontario courts recognising the legitimacy of
gay marriages. Yet at the same time your leaders are prepared to
support a constitutional system that has at its apex an
institution that discriminates against women, and will not allow
the Head of State of Canada to be anything other than a member
of the Church of England. The British monarch of course is the
pinnacle of the English system of hereditary privilege!
It is not only incongruous that this
should be the case; it actually makes one stop and think about
whether or not Canada is really serious about human rights and
equity. This nation that adopted a Charter of Rights and
Freedoms still has a Head of State who represents the antithesis
of what this Charter is seeking to represent.
Yet on the horizon I see that things
might be changing in Canada - I hope that this is the case.
Firstly, the man who is assumed to be
Canada’s next Prime Minister, Paul Martin, gave a speech last
year in which he spoke of Canada as being the first ‘post-modern
nation.’ He is also on the record as being in favour of
On May 7 2000 Mr Martin told his
audience at Assumption University in Windsor that:
Canada's success as a society has
depended to a large extent on its success as a political
experiment. Our political system has helped to nurture civility,
compassion, prudence and a sense of fairness - the qualities
that most clearly define us as a people. The solution to the
challenges we face in the modern world must be to strengthen
that system of democracy, not weaken it.
Mr Martin has also proposed in recent
times major reforms to the Parliament to deal with the issue of
It seems to me that if Mr Martin is
genuine in wanting to reinvigorate Canadian democracy then he
will see to it that the symbols that define it are relevant to a
vibrant 21st democracy that is nurturing of ‘civility,
compassion, prudence and a sense of fairness.’ This will
entail grounding sovereignty in the Canadian people by ensuring
that the Governor-General is accountable to no one other than
the people of Canada and that the method of selection or
election of the Governor-General involves no one and no nation
other than Canadians.
Mr Martin’s leadership rival, John
Manley, deserves praise for his political courage. It is rare
that politicians are prepared to offend a constituency to argue
the case for something they believe to be right and essential.
Mr Manley has joined this rare group. Along with the former
Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating, he will be judged by the
historians well. Mr Manley, like Mr Keating before him and in a
different place, is someone who understands that the British
monarchy is essentially a ‘menace to democracy’ and genuine
independence for Canada.
The third contender in the Liberal
leadership debate, Sheila Copps, could be nothing other than a
republican. Her views on same sex relationships, minority rights
and community empowerment are utterly at odds with a system
where only the eldest son gets a tax-free lifetime job!
So there you have it - all three
contenders for Mr Chretien’s mantle seem to be attuned to the
cause of the republic. If Mr Martin and Ms Copps are not at one
with Mr Manley on this then the rest of their rhetoric and plans
on enhancing democracy ring hollow.
Of both might say that a republic is a
second order issue, to which I simply say - the constitutional
arrangements of a nation are never a second order issue! They
define what a nation is, how it is perceived and what are its
But it is not only the Liberals to whom
Canadians can look for a lead on this issue. I would have
thought that the NDP would be to every last member, republican
to the core. After all this is a Party that unambiguously
opposes privilege and all the symbolism that is associated with
it. I trust that you can look forward to strong and overt NDP
support for the republican cause in this country just as its
equivalents in Australia, the Australian Democrats have done
over many years.
All Canada’s political leaders should
heed the words of Randall’s excellent book, Is Canada trapped
in a time warp? In it he notes that:
By continuing to seek reassurance in an
obsolete monarchical authority, as the ultimate symbolic source
of its own rule of law, the Canadian national state is just
evading all the new democratic and other challenges of the
Of course, those political leaders and
the monarchists will predictably argue that the current system
isn’t broken and is stable - so why tamper with it?
The answer to this argument is easy -
the system is well and truly broken and its patronising and
insulting to suggest that Canadians can’t agree on a first
rate republican system.
That the current system is broken was
evident in Australia with the recent Hollingworth saga.
The Australian Governor-General, Dr
Hollingworth was forced to go because an independent inquiry
found that, when he was Archbishop of Brisbane, he allowed a
paedophile priest to remain in the Anglican ministry. On top of
this, there emerged a legal case brought by a woman, now dead,
who alleged Dr Hollingworth raped her 40 years ago.
The case was dismissed but it was
another nail in the coffin of the controversial
As in Canada, the Australian
Governor-General is appointed by the Prime Minister and the
Queen - there is no wider consultation.
In Australia, every political party and
most media outlets now say this secretive system must be
reformed. In fact, most critics argue that the Hollingworth saga
could have been avoided if Australia had voted in a 1999
referendum to become a republic.
In a republic, the skeletons in the
cupboard of any candidate for the office of President, such as
those that emerged in the past 12 months about Dr Hollingworth,
would be revealed by a transparent and democratic election
As to the second string to the
monarchists’ bow - that of instability if you rid us of the
Queen this is elitism at its worst. Canadian monarchists are
simply saying that they don’t have trust in their fellow
Canadians to make a change that will ground sovereignty in them
alone. This is insulting, patronising and thoroughly
un-Canadian. One surely must question the Canadian monarchist’s
belief in his or her country if he or she takes this attitude.
Finally, let me outline to you where I
see the Australian republic debate going. The alternative Prime
Minister, current Opposition Leader, Simon Crean, is committed
to a republic. Our Prime Minister, John Howard is not but his
most likely successor Peter Costello is I think more likely to
move on the issue now that Mr Howard has decided to stay on as
PM and leave Mr Costello with only one alternative if he wants
to be PM - carve out a more progressive policy framework for a
post -Howard government.
Our next election is due in 2004. If
Labor wins it will move on the republic issue again. If Mr
Howard is returned but Mr Costello becomes PM after say 12
months, the latter may well reignite the debate.
I am confident that the republic will
be achieved by 2010. Despite what some commentators here
believe, Australians did not vote for the monarchy in the 1999
Referendum, they voted against a particular model of republic.
If they are given a clear choice of models or status quo then
the status quo vote will only be around 20 percent at best.
As I said at the start, history is
moving with us, and those who embrace this issue now will be
judged well when our children and grandchildren look back.