The death of Queen Elizabeth II has struck Canadians “palpably,” with so many reflecting on the loss of a monarch during whose reign Canada truly “came of age,” says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trudeau spoke in the House of Commons Thursday to offer an opening tribute as members of Parliament gather in Ottawa to reflect on the queen’s death. Her reign spanned 70 years and saw Canadian milestones like the repatriation of the Constitution and the signing of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“Last week, Canada lost the only sovereign most of us have ever known,” said Trudeau. “When someone lives to 96, this should not have come as a surprise. Yet her sudden absence has struck us all palpably.”
“The queen meant so much to so many of us,” he continued. “In a way, everybody knew her. Canadians feel like they’ve lost a family member – a family member who grew up beside us.”
“Our country came of age under her reign.”
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre reflected on the long history of the British monarchy and the constitutional limits on its power, emphasizing the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215.
“The queen had a special place in our hearts, and we had a special place in hers,” he added, and expressed condolences to the Royal Family.
Both Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh acknowledged the difficult relationship of the monarchy for many Canadians, but said now is the time to reflect on the passing of the individual rather than on the role of the institution itself.
Blanchet called the history between French Canadians and the British Crown “thorny and cruel.”
“History separates us, but respect must come first and we have to distinguish institutions from the people, politics from sincere sadness,” he said in French.
“So it’s without any other thoughts that we would like to express our deepest condolences to the people of England.”
Following a moment of silence for the queen, he said Bloc MPs would withdraw from the chamber.
Singh said Queen Elizabeth’s life was an example of a “life well-lived.”
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“For many, her passing marks the end of an era. She is the only queen we have ever known,” he said.
The NDP leader went on to note that he hopes King Charles III will use his reign to “rise to this challenge of reconciliation.”
“There is also much work to repair the relationship of the Crown with people around the world who experienced the pain of colonialism … I believe the new King has a duty and responsibility to do what he can to right the wrongs of the past,” Singh said before encouraging “deepest sympathy” for the Royal Family in the loss of a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.
He added in comments prior to the tribute that discussions about the future of the monarchy in Canada are important, but that “those discussions are not for today.”
The House of Commons had originally been scheduled to return from its summer break on Sept. 19, but the queens passing on Sept. 8 and her funeral date being set for Monday forced a change.
As a result, MPs returned for a tribute, with regular House of Commons business set to resume Sept. 20. In the meantime, MPs from all parties are expected to be part of the commemoration. Each MP who wants to speak will get a maximum of 10 minutes to do so.
If by the end of the day Thursday there are still MPs who want to speak who haven’t gotten the chance to do so, the House can decide to run late into the night or potentially even Friday morning to allow for more speaking time.
The tributes comes as the conversation around how best to honour the death of the queen increasingly acknowledges the role of the monarchy in colonialism and racism in Canada as well as around the world.
There are 12 Indigenous MPs in the House of Commons from First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities, all of which have long and challenging relationships with the Crown, and with which the country is increasingly reckoning.
Quebec MPs and those from francophone communities like the Acadiens in Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and New Brunswick may also offer different perspectives about the role of the monarchy in Canada and the harms done to members of their communities on behalf of the Crown.
MPs with roots in communities that have fought for independence from the Crown such as Ireland, African states or diasporas, and Caribbean countries could also offer differing views.
“There’s a movement shifting away from, ‘don’t talk badly about the dead,’ to ‘let’s talk about people more authentically,” said David Kessler, a grief specialist and founder of Grief.com, in a recent interview with USA Today.
“And these more authentic conversations include acknowledgement of both the good and bad in all of us.”
The public viewing galleries of the House of Commons will be open for anyone who wants to attend and watch the tribute in person. There are 338 MPs in the chamber, though it is not yet clear how many will wish to speak in tribute to the queen.
– with a file from Global News’ Michelle Butterfield