How Canada could break up with the monarchy
Many Canadians want to cut our country’s ties with the monarchy, but breaking up is hard to do, says a constitutional expert.
According to an Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News, half of Canadians believe that Canada should end its ties to the monarchy when the Queen’s reign ends. About 61 per cent of Canadians believe that the Queen and Royal Family should not have any formal role in Canadian society, as “the royals are simply celebrities and nothing more.”
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Support for the Royal Family ebbs and flows with the news, said Sean Simpson, vice-president of Ipsos Public Affairs. “When the Royals are behaving badly, we see Canadians saying we should end formal ties but when Will and Kate got married and the world celebrated the birth of their children, we see more excitement and softening of negative views.”
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Canadians overwhelmingly agree that Queen Elizabeth has done a good job as monarch, but they’re not sure on what comes after. “The question is do we continue with the monarchy and that’s a more divisive issue. We have Canadians split down the middle, and demographics are important for this – Quebec is anti-monarchist,” said Simpson. “It’s split down the middle and pits Quebec against the rest of the country. That’s a disaster for Canada.”
But if half of Canadians did get their wish and the country chose to abolish the monarchy, it would be a “nearly impossible” task, according to Emmett Macfarlane, assistant professor of political science at the University of Waterloo. The monarchy is written into the constitution so it would have to be removed.
“Any change we made of that nature that would really disrupt if not abolish the office of the Queen requires a constitutional amendment with unanimous support of the provinces. So all provinces would have to agree in addition to the federal Parliament,” he said.
Over the last few decades, it’s become difficult to discuss changing a single element of the constitution, he said. Provinces like to add in their own issues until nobody can agree on anything. So, it’s hard to make any change at all.
What a Canada without the Queen could look like
Assuming all the provinces agreed to change the constitution, we’d have to decide what we wanted to do instead.
The simplest solution would be to just crown a Canadian, said Macfarlane. “On the one hand maybe what offends people about the monarchy in Canada is that the royal line of succession is really housed across the pond in Great Britain.”
“A more modest reform would be we retain the Crown, but we constitutionally entrench the embodiment of that crown in someone who is physically in Canada and we appoint them much the way the Governor General is appointed now.”
That could mean looking for someone with an exemplary record of public service and appointing them King or Queen of Canada for a fixed term. The country would still be run in more or less the same way, except the monarch would actually be living in Canada.
The second option is much more radical. “A more major change would be to say, become a republic. So let’s have an elected head of state who would functionally be a president instead of a king or queen,” he said.
“That would be a fundamental change to our constitution and how our politics work because you can imagine that someone who has all those formal powers and is elected would decide that they have the democratic legitimacy to act on their own discretion in exercising those powers.”
This would also be expensive, since a person with actual executive power would probably need a much larger staff than the Governor General’s to perform their day-to-day functions, he said. “It would make the current cost of Canada’s contribution to the monarchy look like peanuts.”
But although Canadians aren’t always crazy about the monarchy, Macfarlane isn’t sure the Queen matters much to most people. “I think if you ask people where this lines up on their list of priorities, or how important this is relative to things like our own domestic politics or issues such as health care or education, I suspect it’s really low on the list.”
Simpson agrees. “It’s a political hot potato. With polling in the past, Canadians say it’s not really broken so do we need to have a constitutional crisis over this?”
Exclusive Global News Ipsos polls are protected by copyright. The information and/or data may only be rebroadcast or republished with full and proper credit and attribution to “Global News Ipsos.”
This Ipsos poll on behalf of Global News was an online survey of 1,004 Canadians conducted between May 19 and 23, 2017. The results were weighted to better reflect the composition of the adult Canadian population, according to census data. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is considered accurate to within plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
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