Canada And The Monarchy: Royal Treatment Part Of Tories' Cultural Agenda

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First Posted: 01/01/12 04:30 AM ET Updated: 01/05/12 09:11 AM ET

TORONTO - Depending who you ask, the Conservative government's high-profile attempts to strengthen Canada's ties to the monarchy over the past year are either a savvy attempt to lure votes or a finger in the eye of Quebec.

Whatever the pundits may think, however, they agree on one thing — the strategy is rooted more in a vision for the country's future than deference for its past.

Political observers of all stripes believe the revival of interest in Canada's colonial history is part of a broader Conservative effort to rekindle patriotism and reshape Canada's culture more in the government's own image.

Tom Flanagan, a former adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper who now teaches at the University of Calgary, said that vision took root many years ago — and originated at the top.

"Stephen once said to me that a conservative party in any country ought to be party of patriotism," Flanagan said in an email.

"He is now creating a conservative version of Canadian patriotism."

Harper's brand of national pride relies heavily on elements common to many right-wing political movements, including unwavering support for the military and a push to lay claim to the country's far-flung northern regions, Flanagan said.

But strong affiliation with the monarchy is another key building block of that vision, one that received considerable attention over the past 12 months.

Ottawa greeted news of Prince William's engagement with enthusiasm, issuing a silver and crystal commemorative coin in honour of the event. Harper himself was slated to attend the nuptials and was prevented only by a federal election.

When the Duke of Cambridge and his new bride Kate made their inaugural visit to Canada as a married couple, the government spared no effort in promoting their visit. Officials even whisked the newlyweds to Harper's personal retreat at Harrington Lake, Que., for a reprieve from the unrelenting public spotlight.

The most controversial move, however, came in August when the government rechristened Canada's military institutions to reflect their royal heritage.

The air and maritime divisions of the armed forces both had the word "royal" added back into their title, resurrecting the nomenclature last used in the 1960s.

Opponents decried the move as a needless expense — the government has resisted releasing the cost of the switch — and a retrograde step.

Carolyn Harris, a Queen's University PhD candidate specializing in the monarchy, said the move marked a surprising about-face for a government that initially took a more diffident approach to the royal family.

Harris said the government had deliberately refrained from inviting royal representatives to the anniversary of the founding of Quebec City in 2008, adding the move would have been politically damaging.

Harper was focused on wooing the Francophone vote at the time, and Harris said a royal presence would have been perceived as a slap in the face by the many Quebecers who regard the royals as a symbol of an oppressive colonial past.

That priority has clearly shifted now, she said, adding the Tories have done more than any other modern Canadian government to foster royal connections by promoting the monarchy's presence in the country, both on state and charitable visits.

"It's difficult to tell what approach the Conservative government may have going forward, but they certainly seem to be encouraging royal visits and royal involvement in Canadian institutions," she said.

The Department of Canadian Heritage declined requests for an interview, but a spokeswoman emphasized the Queen's role as Canada's head of state in an email.

"As an enduring institution, the Crown serves to safeguard Canadians' rights and freedoms," wrote spokeswoman Dominique Collin.

Bryan Evans, associate professor of politics at Ryerson University, said the Conservative government's growing emphasis on royal involvement is just one phase of a project to shift Canadian society in a new direction.

By emphasizing English symbols at the expense of French-Canadian history and making them the focus of the Canadian narrative, Evans said the government is trying to undercut the traditions of bilingualism and multiculturalism that flourished under generations of Liberal leadership.

"This is very much an ideological, cultural campaign," he said. "It's not so much about the monarchy in and of itself. It's about a reshaping of Canadian identity along more Conservative lines."

Flanagan dismissed the notion that Harper was trying to uproot the Liberal legacy, but acknowledged it will take a back seat to the Prime Minister's emerging narrative.

"Except for anti-Americanism, he has not repudiated the Liberal version of patriotism, but he is layering the Conservative elements on top," he said. "Get used to it."

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said it was the land and maritime divisions of the armed forces that were renamed.

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  • The Royals Leave Canada

    Will and Kate wave goodbye to Calgary as they conclude their royal Canadian tour.

  • The Royals Sign The Guest Book

    William and Kate sign the guest book at the ENMAX Conservatory in Calgary with Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach, left, and Lt. Gov. Donald S. Ethell.

  • Kate Meets Frances Miller

    The Duchess of Cambridge meets with Frances Miller as she prepares to leave Calgary with her husband to head to Los Angeles.

  • The Portraits Of Honour

    Prince William and Catherine view the Portraits of Honour on display at their official departure ceremony in Calgary.

  • The Royals In The Conservatory

    William and Catherine tour the ENMAX Conservatory at the Calgary Zoo.

  • Kate Arrives At The Zoo

    The Duchess of Cambridge visits the ENMAX Conservatory at the Calgary Zoo.

  • The Royals And Stelmach

    Will and Kate speak with Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach at the ENMAX Conservatory in Calgary.

  • Will And Kate In Matching Hats

    The Royals at the Calgary Stampede Parade.

  • Royal Greeting

    Will and Kate wave to the crowd while at the Calgary Stampede parade.

  • The Royals Watch The RCMP

    Will and Kate watch the RCMP march in the Calgary Stampede parade.

  • The Royals Watch The Parade

    The Duke and Duchess watch the beginning of the Calgary Stampede parade.

  • The Duke Arrives

    Prince William arrives in cowboy gear to the Calgary Stampede parade.

  • The Royals Push The Button

    Will and Kate push a button to start the Calgary Stampede parade.

  • The Rodeo Shocks Kate

    The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge watch a rodeo demonstration at the Calgary Stampede.

  • Kate And A Calgarian

    The Duchess of Cambridge speaks with a little girl while at the Stampede.

  • The Duchess Receives Flowers

    Catherine meets well-wishes and receives flowers at a Government Reception in Calgary.

  • The Government Reception

    A view of the Government Reception at the BMO Centre in Calgary.

  • Kate Checks Her Hat

    Will and Kate watch Stampede activities in Calgary at the BMO Centre.

  • Will Tips His Hat

    Prince William during a speech at the Calgary Stampede.

  • The Royals At The BMO Centre

    Will and Kate watch traditional Calgary Stampede activities.

  • Will Gets Down To Work

    Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, throws a barrel into the back of a chuckwagon during his visit to the Calgary Stampede on Thursday, July 7, 2011, in Calgary, Alberta.

  • Royal Tour Canada

    Prince William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, arrive via stage coach for a reception at the BMO Centre in Calgary, Canada as they continue their Royal Tour of Canada Thursday, July 7, 2011.

  • The Royals And Harper

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper, second from right, Prince William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Laureen Harper, left, watch a child sheep ride event at the Stampede in Calgary, Alberta on Thursday, July 7, 2011.

  • Stampede Dancer

    Prince William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper watch dancers while attending a reception at the Calgary Stampede on Thursday, July 7, 2011 in Calgary, Alberta.

  • The Royals Go Western

    Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, wear their new Smithbilt cowboy hats as they watch a rodeo demonstration in Calgary, Alberta, July 7, 2011.

  • The Royals Wave To Admirers

    Prince William and Kate after a tour of the 21st Century Research and Innovation Centre in Calgary.

  • Will Waves From The Car

    Prince William waves from his car with Kate on the eighth day of their Canadian tour.

  • The Duke And Duchess Are Greeted

    Prince William and Kate are greeted when arriving at 21st Century Research and Innovation Centre Calgary.

  • Kate Inspects A Mannequin

    Kate follows her husbands lead and saves the life of a medical test mannequin at the University of Calgary.

  • Will And Kate Tour U of C

    Prince William and Kate are shown how to save a life with a medical test mannequin at the University of Calgary's Ward of the 21st Century.

  • The Royals And RCMP In Calgary

    Prince William and Catherine look at a RCMP officer after arriving in Calgary.

  • A Calgary Chinook?

    Kate's hair doesn't agree with the wind as the Royals land in Calgary for the final stretch of their Canadian tour.

  • Will Meets Shy Calgarian

    Prince William meets -- or tries to meet -- shy 6-year-old Diamond Marshall in Calgary.

  • Catherine Gets A Hug

    Kate hugs 6-year-old Diamond Marshall in Calgary after arriving.

  • Kate Is Greeted

    The Duchess meets with shy 6-year-old Diamond Marshall in Calgary.

  • Will, Kate And Flight Crew

    The Royals get their photo taken with flight crew members as they arrive in Calgary.

  • Will Gets A White Hat

    Prince William is presented with a white cowboy hat from Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

  • The Royals Land In Calgary

    The Royals land in Calgary for the last Canadian city on their tour of the country.

  • Royal Tour

    Prince William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, pose for a photo with members of the Canadian Forces flight crew upon their arrival in Calgary, Alberta on Thursday, July 7, 2011.

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Filed by Lauren Strapagiel  |