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For Queen, Princes, and Country: In Defence of Canada's Monarchy

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July 2013 has been a good month for Canadian monarchy watchers so long as they didn't stray into internet chat rooms and commentary sections. The birth of a prince has been marked with all manner of vituperative and asinine commentary aimed at the monarchy in general.

However, it is hard to imagine how any true Canadian could possibly be against the idea of the monarchy and the role it plays in our government and society.

Some writers allege that the monarchy is a link to our "colonial past" and a potential insult to newcomers from diverse backgrounds. Others hold that the role of the monarchy represents a fundamental immaturity that Canada could dispense with.

Alas, the Tower of London has not been available for imprisoning and beheading traitors since the 11th Lord Lovat in 1747. Nor has any case of lese majesty against the British Crown been prosecuted since 1715. In the absence of dungeons and big sharp axes, the defence of the monarchy is going to have to be waged with reason.

In his novel Soul Music, the great British novelist Terry Pratchett had one of his characters observe: "Here's an important rule: Never give a monkey the key to the banana plantation." P.J. O'Rourke also wrote that giving politicians access to power was the equivalent of handing the keys to the liquor cabinet and the car to young boys.

Most of us recognize a need for executive power in the hands of our leaders but resent and distrust its exercise. The struggle to develop and control political power is the history of democracy, and after many centuries of painful evolution we have two models that work: republics and parliamentary monarchies. The difference between the two largely rests on the availability of executive power.

In a republic, the president has the executive power but the only way to keep it from being used too much is to hedge in the office with laws and regulations. Most republics are short-lived because there is always someone eager to "reform" the Constitution for some noble reason that leaves them with more authority. So far the Americans have managed to last 226 years and one might wonder if the end is now in sight. Other republics have managed to last a few days.

Parliamentary monarchies operate around a very simple compact. The monarch holds executive power with the implicit promise that they will not exercise it. Theoretical executive power has to be deftly managed which leads to a style of government more inclined to quiet negotiation and compromise.

It is no accident that the usual indexes of individual freedoms and human rights show that the highest standards can be found in parliamentary monarchies such as Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden.

The British North America Act that created Canada contains the dedication of Canadian government to the provision of peace, order, and good government. Two and a half out of three isn't bad, and the slow deliberate changes wrought by a parliamentary monarchy give us many reasons to be grateful.

Parliamentary monarchies have some special advantages. Britain has been stable for centuries and one should also look at the stability of the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. The French are now working on their fifth Republic in 224 years (with time out for three monarchies, two empires, and three military occupations) and Italy's governments used to come to an end at dizzying speed. Spain, after centuries of Left-Right turmoil has enjoyed domestic tranquility after the return of the monarchy in 1975.

In North America the U.S. is a republic, and so too is Mexico, which has not enjoyed the relative stability of the U.S. Why would any Canadian want to replace the monarchy to become yet another republic?
The distinctiveness of Canada allows us to have a lot of fun when talking to American colleagues. One can discuss military events by tossing in the names of the Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force (now that their old glorious titles are restored); or such regiments as the Princess Patricia's, the Royal 22nde Regiment, or the Queen's York Rangers.

George Washington was George Washington, but John A. Macdonald was Sir John A. Discussing legal or criminal matters allows one to sprinkle in terms like "Queen's Bench," "Crown Attorney," and the "Royal Canadian Mounted Police" (or the "Gendarmerie Royale du Canada" if one prefers). It would be marvellous to drop "Canada Post" for a return to the "Royal Mail" too; one can only hope that the Harper government is considering this.

These are small differences, but they allow Canadians a degree of distinctiveness when conversing with Americans. Why should we want to be rid of them?

Loyalty to the Crown helped create Canada and kept it apart from the U.S. Much of the English settlement in eastern Canada was by political refugees from the American Revolution and many of our Aboriginal peoples were likewise refugees from the U.S. who trusted the Crown more than the Congress. The people of Quebec had a choice in 1775 and in 1813 of staying with the Crown or acceding to the Americans, and let their muskets speak for them. Why belittle these historic choices?

For that matter, what is with the disrespect to the Royal Family? They are living symbols, not celebrities. They might not be perfect but they are a link with a long past. Moreover, it is not difficult to notice that they take the "family business" extremely seriously and work diligently.

Canada is not an "immature" country with some sort of "colonial hangover." We are a confident nation with a strong international presence but a great deal of our character derives from our historic links with the Crown and it adds to our distinctiveness.

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