The return to Canada of Prince Charles provides an opportunity to look again at the institutional eccentricity of the Canadian monarchy, writes Conrad Black in the National Post (30/10) ( “The monarchy a useful anachronism.”)
The visit he says has received completely inadequate attention, in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, for its novelty. But these are all “among the most successful and promising countries in the world, and no other serious countries in history have had a non-residential monarchy.”
“Mercifully,” he says, ”Canada has graduated from the adolescent self-consciousness of an insecure country preoccupied with the symbolism of national sovereignty, and concerned that a British royal family which comes among us fairly disparately and randomly, includes our chief of state. But it has not quite reached the point of appreciating the endearing originality of this system.”
….France abandoned Quebec…
“Of course it's an anachronism, but most Canadians would now say that there is nothing wrong with that. But most would also decline to subscribe themselves as committed monarchists. The old Quebec reservations about the monarchy were attached to ancient and discredited nonsense about French Canadians being drafted to fight the battles of an empire that had gained rulership of them by force.”
“In fact, they were abandoned by sticky-fingered French colonists who preferred retention of Guadeloupe and Martinique to Voltaire's notorious "few acres of snow" in Quebec, and who took everything with them when they fled except the roofs off their seigneurial manors. Only the clergy remained behind to preserve the French language. The French Canadians and the greatest of the British governors, Sir Guy Carleton, (Lord Dorchester), struck one of the most brilliant bargains of British Colonial history, the Quebec Act of 1774.”
“This assured the rights of the French language, the Roman Catholic Church and the Civil Law. “
“And the French Canadians, on the verge of the American Revolution, pledged allegiance to the British crown.”
“Both sides faithfully adhered to the agreement, and the French Canadians sent Benjamin Franklin and the then revolutionary Benedict Arnold packing from Montreal and beneath the walls of Quebec.”
….Quebec is abandoning secessionism…
“After its lengthy and inexpressibly irritating flirtation with the fantasy of a two-cake political regime of sovereignty and association, i.e. exchanging embassies with the world while continuing to receive transfer payments, Quebec is gradually returning to the canny and constructive spirit that gave us the Quebec Act and the Pact of Confederation.”
“In this atmosphere of revenant political rationalism, the status of the royal family, whose principals have always been respected personally in Canada, is not an issue at all. And the monarchy may yet, surprisingly, be a very useful complement to the foreign policy of its leading constituent states.”
….a crowned republic…
Lord Black says that the arrangements should of course be updated, “perhaps by making the monarch co-chief of state in the overseas countries, with a domestic governor-general (now a campy colonial title), or president, endowed with enhanced status and a more legitimizing form of selection than nomination by the prime minister.”
“Canada could be both a Realm and a Republic, according to the individual preferences of its adult population: all would be citizens, and those who wished would also be Commonwealth subjects."
" The only form of orthodox republic that makes any sense is the American and French model where the president is chief of state and head of government, effectively monarch and prime minister. (The French prime minister is really a disposable vice-president.) "
"Ceremonious presidents as in Germany and Italy are just pallid replacements of deposed royal houses, rotated through every five years. They have none of the mystique or pageantry of a monarch, and are on a treadmill to be ever more "democratic," i.e. pedestrian.”
The monarchy he says could yet take on another life is “as the head of the rumpled but perhaps still recyclable Commonwealth. The perseverance of British traditions in most of the Commonwealth countries is an amiable fraud, if not a degradation, as in Zimbabwe. The credibility of it as a fraternity of tradition-sharing states is not raised by the presence of Mozambique, which was never British territory, and was admitted at the request of Nelson Mandela after he divorced the terrifying Winnie and wed the widow of Mozambican President Maputo. “
“Whatever happens with the Lisbon Treaty, the British public does not want to go any further or deeper into the floundering and over-bureaucratized European Union. Good relations between those 27 ancient nationalities is something to celebrate, but the dreams of dancing sugar plums of some of its champions, of the restoration of world leadership to Europe, is bunk.”
“The prospect of closer association with the United States is chimerical, as that country has become inexplicably erratic; it is also undesirable because of that country's urgent need for profound economic, social, and legal reform; and it is impossible because of America's aversion to any power-sharing. The only international organizations to which the U.S. concedes any authority are those which it runs itself: NATO and the IMF.”
“Yet this is a time when compatible nations are wise to group together. The U.K. will remain in the EU and Canada in NAFTA, but something could be done with a senior tier, or Primary Commonwealth, composed of the U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, Singapore, and perhaps Malaysia, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates (which would have to be drafted into the existing Commonwealth first).
“Such a group would be composed of countries that do share some traditions, are mainly English-speaking (the EU parliament at Strasbourg has more interpreters than members), have hard currencies and are democracies (with a bit of liberalization in the UAE). They would have combined GDP of about $7-trillion, nearly half the U.S. and the EU, and about the same as China and Japan combined."
" They would have over 200 million people not counting India, and could take integration as far as convenient, without trying to force the pace in the annoying EU manner, with Brussels' endless pettifogging directives on the size of condoms and bananas and so forth.”