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Is it Time For a Referendum on the Monarchy?

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Is it time for a referendum on the monarchy? I ask that question as it has been interesting watching the Conservatives push stronger ties to the monarchy over the summer, although I don't recall that being part of their election platform.

Inviting Will and Kate to visit with their rock star profile did insure a temporary jump in support for the monarchy, but no one should be fooled into thinking that Canadians want to step back into time.

I suspect most Canadians don't mind the monarchy being in the background as it's not something we deal with on a daily basis, nor do we pay the royal family's bills except when they visit. However, if the Conservatives keep highlighting and trying to reinforce our ties to the monarchy the public will begin to take a closer look at the issue. The government may find that their efforts have the opposite effect to what they hope to accomplish. Sooner or later Canadians will begin to question and evaluate what remains of those ties.

Whether it is a royal visit, reattaching the "Royal" to our air force and navy or the latest government edict to order the Queen's portrait hung in every embassy and mission abroad, the Conservatives are shoving Canada's relationship with the monarchy back onto the front burner. Each of these examples brought forth a fair amount of comment for and against reinforcing our ties to the monarchy.

Canada's relationship with the monarchy does surface from time to time. Back in 1997, then Deputy Prime Minister John Manley suggested abolishing our ties to the monarchy and in 1998 there were hints that the Chretien government might look at our relationship with the monarchy as a millennium project, but it was never pursued. Generally governments have not wanted to provoke discussion on this issue as it is relatively easy for any discussion to become polarized. One only has to look at the Australian experience to see how divisive this issue can become.

Reminding Canadians of our history is a good thing. I am all for teaching Canadians about their history, and there is nothing wrong in insisting that prospective new Canadians have a good understanding of how our past has helped to shape modern day Canada. In fact, all Canadians should have a solid understanding of our historical connections to Britain, France, our Aboriginal history and events that led to the various waves of new immigrants choosing Canada as their destination of choice.

Yet, when all is said and done other than some polls with mixed results, we still don't know if the majority of Canadians want the government to reinforce our ties to the monarchy, stay with the status quo or cut our ties altogether. The reason we don't know is that no one has asked us. Rather than a couple of cabinet ministers deciding that they know best; wouldn't it be better if the government actually asked Canadians what we want?

It is relatively simple to do. A panel can be appointed, or one of the Standing Committees of the House of Commons can hold hearings or perhaps a special joint committee of the House of Commons and Senate can be struck and asked to study, consult and report back.

At least then we would know what Canadians think about our ties to the monarchy. We would know if they should be reinforced, kept low key or even cut. Rather than the government of the day deciding in a vacuum what is best, they would have solid information to base any decisions upon.

It is interesting to note that as far back as 1988 the Reform Party had as a key part of its political platform the need for government's to hold a referendum on issues of national importance. Is Canada's relationship with the monarchy an issue of national importance that deserves a referendum? We don't know the answer to that question because the government won't ask Canadians for their opinion.

Keith Beardsley's political blog can be found at www.atory01.com

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