You don't know much about Kim Kardashian, but you've seen her on TV a few times. You don't understand why she has her followers. She doesn't really do anything, does she? But in any case, she has her fans. Come to think of it, you don't especially like Kim Kardashian. But guess what? Kim Kardashian is on a publicity tour for her latest TV show, and she wants to make a stop in a city some 200 kilometres away from yours. She's going to be there for the day. You're going to have to foot some of the bill. Seems rather silly, doesn't it?
We often mock our American neighbors for their fascination with the Kardashians and Hiltons. People like Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton are famous for, well, being famous ("She knows people," Ricky Gervais says in Extras about Sadie Frost); products of the sometimes incomprehensible but highly profitable celebrity machine. We act like it's something new for us in the 21st century. But it's been in existence a lot longer, though its products are often better groomed, dressed, and don't have such big (if any) mouths. I'm speaking, of course, of the monarchy.
Now, while they may not have their own reality TV show, the monarchy is a perfect example of fame for fame's sake; one needn't achieve anything to become a monarch other than be born at the right place and at the right time. Either that, or have a royal fall in love with you.
Now, before someone calls out treason, the monarchy may be slightly less vapid than a Hollywood celebrity; careful attention must be paid to the philanthropic endeavors of the Royal Family. The Queen alone is patron to some 600 charities, with the family in its entirety pledging allegiance to over 6,000 causes -- ranging from the All England Lawn Tennis Club and Croquet Club to the Henry van Straubenzee Memorial Fund, to the Canadian branch of Save the Children. This is nothing to scoff at. And while some may say the Royal Family has further rooted itself in charitable causes in order to maintain legitimacy in an otherwise democratic 21st-century world, they are nonetheless doing good work, and tirelessly at that.
But does this charity work warrant a Canadian to "swear that [he] will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors?" Absolutely not. It may very well warrant respect, but only in the sense that any charitable person (be it Prince William or William Shatner) should. Because when it comes down to it, beyond this, what else does the Royal Family do? They're benign figureheads, symbolic of a once-great empire and colonialism's chains.
Yet the Harper government has decided to engage in a sort of rapprochement with our once-masters, forgoing a true Canadian identity for one that is irrevocably linked with that of England. And the Liberals (in a rare showing of courage) are protesting this, going so far as to say Canada should sever its ties with the monarchy.
Good. The monarchy has no business having any business in a democratic country such as Canada. And it's not so much a Liberal, Conservative, or even political issue as much as it is a Canadian one. We are an independent nation of Canadians first and foremost, and should not be subjugated to professing our love, let alone allegiance to some woman (for that is what she is, some woman) across the Atlantic, living in a palace.
If the British want to be reigned over by an unelected person, then so be it; but the same must not be applied to Canada if we wish to call ourselves an independent country. A woman with no executive, legislative, or judicial power should not occupy our currency in the same way that Canadian figureheads such as William Mackenzie King and Robert Borden do. For all their foibles, at least they did something for the country.
Furthermore, it's wrong that the country's head of state is a position that no one can aspire to unless they have the same blood. Again, if the Brits want it to be that way, then let them have it. But to have a country that calls itself a) democratic; and b) independent such as Canada, consent to the fact that the highest position in the land is unattainable by any resident, and on top of that, anyone who is not Anglican, is not only contrary to all notions of democracy, but it is downright nepotistic in the most honest sense of the word (for it is truly and only based on family) and religiously discriminatory.
Maybe for the time being, and the way the monarchy is with the mute Queen Elizabeth II, things don't seem so bad, let alone embarrassing for Canadians. But as Daniel Defoe asked in 1713 in An Answer to a Question that Nobody Thinks of and Christopher Hitchens in 2010 in "Charles, Prince of Piffle," what's going to happen if the Queen dies? The answers are incredibly different, and more important, show why that family has no business reigning over anyone. Should Elizabeth die, Canada's head of state will be Prince Charles, a man who believes "plants do better if you talk to them in a soothing and encouraging way." People everywhere mocked Spencer Pratt of MTV's hit reality show The Hills for his fascination with the cleansing properties of healing crystals, yet Charles proves it's not an "eccentricity" reserved for Californian celebrities alone. Some head of state, huh?
And take a peek into the life of Prince Andrew. I say the monarchy does nothing save for charity work. Well, that's wrong. Prince Andrew has very little chance of ever sitting in that throne, but the fact that he is in line to and that he may one day reign over Canada is something that this nation should be ashamed of. We mocked Berlusconi for his sexcapades; well, at least he wasn't guaranteed his place as head of state by the rules of archaism and nepotism and the holy man in the sky.
The Liberals have put forth the argument that Canadians are paying more for the monarchy than the British are, with visits for the Queen last year costing taxpayers $2.5 million (not including policing costs). But hand it to the young liberals to dance around the real debate: it's not how much Canadians are paying, it's what they're paying for, which, according to Robert Finch, COO of the Monarchist League of Canada, is "the stability of the Crown [...] for the price of a cup of coffee"; i.e. $1.53 per capita each year.
Amounting to $40 to $50 million a year (according to Tom Freda, of Citizens for a Canadian Republic), the sum is not necessarily a large one by any means. But paying for the Crown, and for those visits from William and Kate and Elizabeth, comes at the cost of Canadian dignity and independence, regardless if the fee is $50 million or $50.
If they want to come say hello to their fans, let them, but on their own dime, or at that of their ardent fans (à la Lady Gaga). Me, I'll happily forgo the stability of archaism for an extra coffee every year. At least I know I'll be drinking it as a free man, and not a serf.
To read why the Queen matters, click here. For an excerpt from Sally Bedell Smith's biography: Elizabeth The Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch click here.