Protecting the throne
The Victoria Day long weekend produced the usual outburst of ill-mannered resentment at the monarchy. I'd say just ignore it, except for the harm three decades of presumptuous ignorance have already done to our constitutional order. Last Thursday Toronto Star columnist Bob Hepburn wondered why we "continue to set aside a national holiday to honour a foreign monarch who died 107 years ago," in a country where people "can celebrate their unique heritages while at the same time being proudly Canadian." Simple: because if there's nothing common for us to celebrate we're going to have problems being proudly Canadian, and a heritage of good government is among the most important things we do have in common.
The incapacity to recognize this point on the May long weekend underlines a fundamental problem with foes of the monarchy. They don't seem to have any idea what it does or what to replace it with. Except perhaps abuse. On Sunday in this newspaper Janice Kennedy weighed in with an ill-tempered outburst about "Colonel Blimp" and humiliation that wound up claiming Queen Elizabeth II couldn't understand Stompin' Tom Connors and "wouldn't recognize a hockey puck if it ricocheted off her gem-encrusted crown."
Its brazen inaccuracy manages not to be the most offensive feature of this passage. That honour goes to its mean-spirited irrelevance. Not only would the Queen, who is extremely well-informed, certainly recognize a puck if one slammed into Janice Kennedy's head (ha ha ha funny isn't it?), she has a sound grasp of constitutional principles unlike certain columnists I could name.
For instance, that any system needs a head of state in some form. A key question the anti-Victoria-Day crowd never seem to answer, or even understand, is what we replace the monarchy with if we toss it onto the rubbish heap of history. An elected chief executive who is also head of state, on the (gasp) American model? We could have someone appointed by the prime minister who rubber-stamps everything the latter does. But who then guards the guardians in our brave new constitution? Bud the Spud?
As to the monarchy being anti-democratic and foreign, I didn't even know in this era of multiculturalism it was still OK to jeer at foreigners. But the Queen of Canada is not a foreigner. And it is a great strength of our monarchy that she did not become queen based on a partisan program and no one, however offensively ambitious, can aspire to make themselves our head of state. (The last to scheme his way into the post was William of Orange and he died after falling from his horse in 1702.) If the Queen's formal and informal capacity to obstruct obnoxious measures from this exalted non-partisan position has nevertheless atrophied it presents a problem but I don't see what the anti-monarchists propose to do about it.
More generally, I don't see what they think are sound constitutional principles. Do they favour a separation of powers, with or without checks and balances? Should the chief executive have a veto over legislation? Should Supreme Court appointments and foreign treaties require legislative assent or remain part of the executive prerogative? Or would they prefer "convention" government by an all-powerful legislature, a quasi-monarchical system where all power rests with an elected executive, or perhaps pseudo-aristocratic government by appointed judges accountable only to their own impeccable political correctness? Do these people have a theory of government at all? Resentment doesn't qualify, and neither does insolence.
A singular feature of our constitutional history is that since 1981 fools have rushed in, unencumbered by knowledge of history or theory, and created governments at once vast and inept. In Britain, former prime minister Tony Blair tried to get rid of the ancient office of Lord Chancellor on a constitutional whim and only managed to politicize it instead. Let's not make a similar blunder here with the far more important office of head of state.
Mr. Hepburn concluded that "we can't be a grown-up country in the 21st century if we stick with Victoria Day." Don't blame the century. In this or any era a nation, like an individual, has grave difficulty being grown up until it comes to terms with its past.
If people don't know our history, including why we honour Queen Victoria, they should learn it. Good government isn't just for dead white males. All Canadians enjoy an enviable constitutional heritage. And while suggestions for refining it are welcome, they require a foundation more solid than ill-informed scoffing and hitting distinguished people in the head with hard objects.
So God Save the Queen ... and us.
[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]