It should happen in an orderly and respectful way, acknowledging the rich history of the relationship and the legacy that will endure in a modernized, evolved Canada. It should happen with sincere, full-throated recognition of the 70-plus years of dedicated public service — pre- and post-coronation — that Queen Elizabeth II and other members of her family have rendered to Canada and the rest of the Commonwealth.
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But above all, it should happen with a minimum of disruption to our system of government, and in a way that simply makes the appointed governor general our new head of state.
We should drop the “de facto” qualifier currently attached to the GG position while maintaining its key role in the operation of Canada’s parliamentary system.
Ideally, this could happen during the term of the current governor general, which would make Mary May Simon, the first Indigenous Canadian to occupy Rideau Hall, an even more profoundly pivotal figure in the country’s history.
The time is right. With a popular Queen nearing the end of her reign, a widely respected and exceptionally symbolic governor general now in office, and a majority of Canadians eager for this historic change, the federal government should set the wheels of reform in motion.
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And make no mistake: Canadians, by and large, want this to happen, as recently reported by Global News.
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The results of an Angus Reid poll, published on Nov. 30, showed that 52 per cent of Canadians don’t believe Canada should remain a constitutional monarchy for much longer, while only 25 per cent supported the status quo indefinitely — a 15-percentage-point drop of that perspective since 2016.
Just five years ago, the pollster noted, 40 per cent of Canadians believed the country should maintain the connection to British royalty for “generations to come.” The rapidly-fading support for the monarchy is attributed to the approaching end of the 95-year-old Queen’s long reign and “a significant decline in support for the system as Canadians grow increasingly weary of their relationship with the crown.”
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We shouldn’t be surprised. It gets harder by the year — in an increasingly multicultural country like Canada — to justify a political system that’s nominally headed by a British dynasty with deep ancestral links to global imperialism and colonial oppression.
Witness what’s happening, belatedly, across Canada’s commemorative landscape: the felling of statues paying too much tribute to problematic patriarchs, the renaming of streets and buildings and more to de-venerate 19th-century slave owners, architects of the residential school system and other figures from the past who are now paying a price for their long-overlooked racist attitudes and policies.
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The monarchy, of course, has rejuvenated itself over time. The leading members of today’s Royal Family are largely devoted to benign public duties and worthwhile charitable causes.
But the dignity of the institution depends too much now on the skills of strategic communication advisers who help the celebrity-like royals spin stories and market their media brands.
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In Britain itself, tourism — not just tradition — is a significant factor in debates about the future of the monarchy. The arguments in Canada are not nearly as strong for maintaining the institution for into the 21st century.
The Queen herself has been a stalwart public servant and a net contributor to social cohesion even in Canada, where Quebec has always — understandably — balked at the Britishness of the monarchy. Elizabeth can likely be personally credited with extending the life of Canada’s connection to the Royal Family by decades.
But we should say goodbye now, parting as friends.
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This process should, ideally, begin before Prince Charles becomes king. His coming ascent to the throne, though not a particularly exciting prospect given the Queen’s tremendous popularity, is a minor motivation for Canada cutting ties to the House of Windsor.
If the transition is at least in train before Charles becomes this country’s head of state, we could perhaps count on his magnanimous presence — as Barbados recently did — when the moment comes for Canada to celebrate its full maturing as a nation.
And this is about maturity. In the 19th century, it made sense for a young country to grow under the wing of Britain and the much-revered Queen Victoria. Perhaps it even made sense through the 20th century.
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But just as the time eventually came for the patriation of Canada’s constitution in 1982, the time has come to take the final, definitive step to end the formal connection between Canada and the British Crown.
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How should this change unfold?
The Canadian government should initiate a formal national conversation about ending this country’s constitutional relationship with the Royal Family. It could strike a House of Commons sub-committee on the issue. It could convene a blue-ribbon panel of experts or announce a special task force or commission. It could invite first ministers and Indigenous leaders from across the country to at least kick-start high-level discussions and approve a plan for study, consultation and possible reform.
The exact mechanism doesn’t really matter. And monarchists wedded to our existing, dusty constitutional arrangement, republicans envious of the American presidential system and everyone in between should be invited to advance their case for the ideal shape of Canada’s governing structure.
That’s only fair. And experts highlighting the complexities of finally unbuckling ourselves from British royalty — including the implications for Indigenous nations, who have a special relationship with the Crown going back centuries — should be heard.
But the best path forward for the country would be a system virtually identical to the present one — minus the monarch. Snipping the now-tenuous link that remains between Canada and the regal figure residing in Buckingham Palace would only mean that the present vice-regal representative at Rideau Hall would become the country’s sole constitutional figurehead.
We’re more than ready for that.
Randy Boswell is a Carleton University journalism professor and former national writer with Postmedia News. He has previously argued in favour of maintaining the monarchy in Canada.
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