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Media Bites: Just Another Royal Pain In the Butt From Britain

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Canada's relationship with the British monarchy is complicated and confusing. That was one of the few takeaways from Theresa Spence's hunger strike -- 145 years since Confederation and we can't even agree on what "The Crown" means, let alone what the Governor General is supposed to do.

But anyone hoping Canada's royal headache would leave with Theresa might not want to put down the  aspirin just yet. There's a fresh monarchical migraine on the horizon.

See, over in merry olde England, Prime Minister Cameron (enlightened progressive that he is) has been pushing hard with this idea that princesses with brothers should be allowed to become queen, and that monarchs should be permitted to marry Catholics -- two scenarios currently forbidden by British law. This sort of bigotry has no place in a modern monarchy, Cammy says. A good monarchy only discriminates on rational grounds -- like who has the right kind of magic blood.

Fine, whatever, you say, shrugging your gentle Canadian shoulders. Not our problem. Prince Harry can marry a Scientologist for all we care -- just don't ask us to pay for the wedding.

But ah, here's where you're wrong, reply the vast array of Canadian political science professors who've been filling our nation's newspapers with monarchical analysis over the weekend. Since Canada is one of 15 countries that "shares" the British royal family, any changes to the rules of said family have to get a thumbs-up from the Canadian parliament before becoming law. It's kinda like how your condo board has to get approval from every owner before banning Easter decorations.

So approval is what Cameron is trying to get from Canada at the moment. Though it could prove tricky, because -- say it with me -- Canada's relationship with the British monarchy is complicated and confusing.

Also: boring. As University of Ottawa prof Philippe Lagassé summarizes (and I use the word charitably) in an impossibly dense, 2,000 word piece for Maclean's, Mr. Cameron's "cavalier" approach to altering royal succession seems to fly in the face of at least eight decades of sleep-inducing constitutional precedent in both Britain and Canada, and thus deserves some good ol'-fashioned Canadian "caution and debate" before getting a quick rubber-stamp from our House of Commons.

Writing in the Ottawa Citizen, U of T prof Carolyn Harris goes even further, and wants us to consider a full 400 years of royal precedent before rushing to sign anything that smoothie Cameron slides in front of us. (Carolyn no doubt being the sort of person who reads every line of her iTunes contract.)

In short, the academics resent London's assumption that Canada is still an obedient little colony ready to do whatever mama wants. Well we're not. We're a big boy now! Or at least a petulant teen.

Doc Lagassé takes the absolutist stance. Since 1982, Canada's been a fully independent country with our own monarchy, he says (albeit with the remarkable coincidence that "Elizabeth Windsor is both the Queen of Canada and the United Kingdom"). So why should we change the rules of our monarchy just 'cause Britain wants to? Maybe old man Cameron thinks the Papist threat has passed, but are Canadians prepared to take that chance?

Either way, Phil thinks any Canadian action to help turn Buckingham Palace into a gender-neutral inter-faith safe space "requires a constitutional amendment" approved by all our provinces, since that's the high bar our constitution sets for mucking about with "the Office of the Queen."

And what a load of laughs that would be, writes Janyce McGregor at the CBC, envisioning a scenario in which Harper has to solicit "unanimous consent from Canada's provincial capitals" -- including the decidedly anti-monarchist gang in Quebec City -- all to ensure some theoretical, unborn Catholic-marrying princess can assume the throne 70 years from now.

So maybe the feds would be better off just approving the dumb thing unilaterally and hope Lagassé sleeps in that day. But that's not great precedent either.

Deciding who gets to be king or queen is a pretty big deal in any monarchical system. And determining the rightful heir to Canada's throne is a potentially worrying power to decide by mere parliamentary vote.

Or, as Maclean's editor Colby Cosh snippily tweeted the other day, "could the Dominion Parliament make ME head of state by ordinary statute?"

Let's not mince words: Canada's constitution has all the elegance and coherence of a badly-translated VCR manual. There are way too many things it simply doesn't explain or only explains ambiguously -- and worst of all there's no troubleshooting page at the back.

The result is that horribly dull newspaper editorials from logorrheic professors end up holding way more power over our democratic process then they probably should. When the constitution is hazy, it's the obsessive constitution nerds whose interpretations often evolve into the settled legal consensus simply because they're the loudest voices offering clarity -- no matter how specious and eccentric their pet theories may be.

Obviously, a better way to get closure on Canada's current royal woes would be to ask the  Supreme Court -- whose eccentric pet theories are legally binding -- to settle the controversy. Maybe once they've finished clarifying Senate reform? (Thanks again, constitution!)

The important thing is that we get an answer soon. I mean, imagine living in a country where the rules of the arbitrary birth order that selects our foreign, absentee head of state were in a prolonged state of legal limbo!

That'd sure look silly.

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