Myths about the Monarchy of Canada

Some people believe that Canada should have a head of state because the Queen is a foreigner. Others assume that national unity will be strengthened if the monarchy is to be abolished. Here are some common myths about the monarchy of Canada.

The Queen Is Not a Canadian

Monarchists point to the fact that in a multicultural, inclusive society, individuals should not be judged based on ethnicity, race, or place of birth but by the contribution they have made to society. Given that the Queen is the guardian of the Canadian Constitution and source of law, the Queen is as Canadian as everyone else.

The Monarchy Wastes Taxpayer Money

The monarch only uses Canadian funds while acting as a Queen of Canada on her visits to other countries and when performing duties in the country. No funds are used to support the monarchy when Queen Elizabeth II is acting as the Queen of the United Kingdom or the Head of the Commonwealth. In fact, the monarchy costs taxpayers less than the Canadian Tourism Commission, Canadian Museum of Civilization, and Senate. It costs taxpayers the same as the Federal Court of Canada and the National Library of Canada. Citizens contribute about $50 million a year or about $1.60 each. Costs are mainly related to honouring citizens who made important contributions and for the maintenance of historic buildings.

National Unity Will be Strengthened

Some people also argue that if the monarchy is abolished this will help strengthen national unity and cohesion. In democratic states, however, the political system and its structure, functions, and characteristics will always be subject to debate. This doesn’t mean that the founding principles of Canada must change, be it that the country is a federal state or a constitutional monarchy.

The Charter of Rights Takes the Functions of the Queen

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Queen have different functions and roles. The role of the monarch is symbolic as she is the personification of the state. The Queen is also the patron of different organizations such as the Royal Canadian Humane Association, Canadian Red Cross Society, and Canadian Cancer Society. Queen Elizabeth II and her representatives also participate in different traditions and ceremonies such as celebrations, anniversaries, and royal tours. Her role in the country’s armed forces is only symbolic, and all accompanying duties and responsibilities are performed by the Governor General. The Queen’s approval is only necessary for certain matters such as creating Senate seats, the appointment of the Governor General, and patent letters.

While the monarch has more of a symbolic role, the Charter of Rights is actually a political document that parties or constituencies may seek to amend. The Charter is a bill of rights, including language, equality, legal, mobility, democratic, and fundamental rights that all citizens are entitled to.

Canadians Approve of Abolishing the Monarchy

In fact, there is a debate whether Canada must abolish the monarchy. A 2020 Ipsos poll shows that 81 percent or 8 in 10 Canadians believe that the Queen is performing well in her role of a monarch. The share of those who strongly agree has actually increased from 30 percent in 2016 to 36 percent in 2020. Approval rates are the highest in Quebec (72 percent), Manitoba and Saskatchewan (75 percent), Alberta (82 percent), Atlantic Canada (84 percent), Ontario (84 percent), and British Columbia (85 percent). Men (77 percent) are less supportive than women (84 percent).

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Debate on the Monarchy in Canada

Canadians are divided on whether the monarchy should be abolished and the country should have an elected head of state instead. Proponents claim that Canada has a long legacy and is the cumulative work and effort of many generations. The monarch is the personification of the state, which is an abstraction, and its government and laws. Opponents point out that the royal family is nothing more than celebrities and should not have a formal role in Canada.

The Monarchy Debate

According to proponents, the monarchy is an institution that is deeply interwoven with the Canadian state and constitutional order. It is the organizing principle of governance and the foundation of the executive power. It is also the centrepiece of legislatures and courts and the symbol of provincial and federal sovereignties. The monarch is also the foundation of a fair and just civil service, the Indian treaties, and the system of land tenure. Constitutional experts also point out that any change of this magnitude will not be easy as it will require a constitutional amendment that all provinces support. Even if all provinces were to support such an amendment, a radical change can be expensive. If Canada becomes a republic with an elected head of state, exercising formal powers will require more human resource than the Governor General. Opponents, on the other hand, believe that the monarchy should be abolished because the Queen is not a Canadian citizen, does not live in the country, was not born here, and knows little about political and social life in Canada.

What Canadians Think

Polls show that Canadians are divided on the issue, with 61 percent of respondents saying that the monarch should not have any formal role in the country. According to YouGov data, support for constitutional monarchy varies by age group. In the 45 – 54 age group, 40 percent support abolishing the monarchy while in the 55+ age group, 46 percent support such a change. An Ipsos poll also shows that Canadians are somehow sceptical about the role of the institution after Queen Elizabeth’s reign. In Manitoba and Saskatchewan 63 percent of respondents support this, and the figure is even higher in Quebec (70 percent).  The group of opponents is a minority in other provinces, including British Columbia (46 percent), Ontario (46 percent), and Atlantic Canada (49 percent). A small share of surveyed participants (24 percent) strongly agrees that Canada should not have any formal ties with the royals after the end of the Queen’s reign. The majority of respondents (81 percent) also believe that the Monarch “has done a good job”. The poll was conducted in the form of online interviews and included over 1,000 Canadians, showing that overall people are supportive of the Queen in her role as the head of state. What Canadians are less supportive of is the monarchy as an institution and its role in society.

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Canada’s Ties to the UK Monarchy

As the constitutional monarch, Queen Elizabeth II has more of a symbolic role to play and is the personification of authority, unity, and allegiance. Members of the police and armed forces, public servants, ministers, and legislators swear allegiance to the Queen and so do all new citizens of Canada. The monarch is a symbol of national pride and identity and the collective values that individuals cherish.

Queen’s Role as a Head of State

Under the current arrangements, it can be argued that the monarch’s role as a Brain’s Queen is separate from its role as a Canadian Queen. This means that the country has its own constitutional monarchy. Other countries that have similar ties with the British royal family are New Zealand, Jamaica, Australia, Antiqua and Barbuda, and Papua New Guinea to name a few. States with similar arrangements are referred to as a Common Realm.

Roles and Functions of the Monarch

Whether the Queen has any power and functions is a difficult question to answer. Most would agree that the monarch rarely pays visits to Canada and primarily has ceremonial functions. At the same time, many formal powers were left at the discretion of the monarch after independence. The Constitution Act, 1867 states that these powers would be exercised through the provincial Lieutenant Governors and the Governor General.  The Governor General of Canada is tasked with withholding consent and vetoing legislation, appointing Senate members, calling new elections, and dissolving the Parliament. He also has the power to dismiss the Prime Minister and the members of Cabinet. Lieutenant Governments have similar functions and powers as they appoint members of the legislature, approve or withhold legislation, and appoint members of Cabinet and the Premier. These powers are largely symbolic, however, as decision-making is mostly in the hands of the Premier and Prime Minister, with the Lieutenant Generals, Governor General, and Queen following advice.

While the monarch only has a symbolic role to play, symbolism is entrenched in the fabric of government and institutions. In Canada’s criminal justice system, the prosecution is called the Crown and the government – Regina. The Prime Minister governs the country on the Queen’s behalf. Canadian laws include reference to Her Majesty wanting or requesting that, which symbolizes delegated powers. The monarch is largely a symbolic figure but as an institution, it is deeply interwoven in society and Canadian culture, traditions, history, and heritage. Experts also point to the fact that abolishing the monarchy would be an expensive venture that requires the consent of all provinces. Canada would also have to replace all military titles, passports, stamps, and money.

Canada’s Divide

Canadian society is divided into republicans and monarchists at the two ends of the spectrum. For republicans, the institution not only has no formal functions but makes the country look like a British colony. Monarchists, on the other hand, argue that the royal family is a positive role model for Canadians while the monarch symbolizes Canada’s unity as a nation. So far monarchists tend to prevail and have an upper hand over republicans but the debate on the role of the monarch has been going on for decades.

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