02/09/2012 08:35 EST | Updated 04/10/2012 05:12 EDT

Celebrating 60 Years of Royal Yawns


If you want to find fault with the monarchy in 21st century Canada, there are basically two ways to go about it. The first is to focus on the "big issues" -- you know, epic questions of democracy, equality, sovereignty and self-government, and the degree to which hereditary kingship is incompatible with all four.

The other is to just state the obvious: The Queen doesn't really do much.

As Minister Moore is insisting we spend this week reveling in memories of Elizabeth II's six decades on the throne, it's worthwhile to recall just how just magnificently little of note or substance this woman has actually done with the office she's held for so very long.

Motivated primarily to ensure the survival of the mummified monarchical institution itself -- "The Firm," to use the Windsors' preferred nickname -- amid an ever-more democratic citizenry, the Queen has mostly spent the past 60 years perfecting the art of being an uncontroversial irrelevance, "without one gaffe, one embarrassing photograph, one injudicious utterance or slip on a banana peel," in the words of Conrad Black.

To this list of lacking output we can just as easily add a single memorable speech, principled opinion, brave deed, or inspiring act. Only by the meaningless standard of sheer longevity can this reign be considered a success, even when measured against the admittedly low standards constitutional monarchy sets for itself.

Far from being any great force of "stability," the present queen has presided over more anti-monarchy revolutions, referenda, and constitutional amendments within her realms than any sovereign since George III. There was a time not too long ago when several dozen countries were set up like Canada -- independent and self-governing, but with the Queen as head of state -- yet under Elizabeth II that number has shrunk to a pathetic rump of 15. Gone are Pakistan, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa (among others), but hey, at least Tuvalu and Belize remain.

In a rarely cited embarrassment, the modern Commonwealth now counts more republics than monarchies amongst its members, and with the election of an anti-monarchy prime minister in Jamaica last month, it seems poised to soon gain another.

Of course, Her Majesty has never made the advantages of remaining under her watchful eye particularly obvious. Despite much blather from Canadian monarchists regarding the Queen's usefulness as a "guardian of freedom," Elizabeth II has rarely seemed bothered when a coup strikes one of her more remote realms, and has instead repeatedly offered tacit consent to all manner of brazenly unconstitutional actions which she, as head of state, would have been legally justified in quashing.

The infamous 1983 communist coup in Grenada that deposed an already illegal Marxist government and assassinated half its cabinet was corrected not by any deed or action of the country's nominal ruler, but rather by the blunt force of U.S. invasion. Less fortunate were the democratically-elected governments of Sierra Leone and Fiji, both of which were deposed permanently by military governments in 1967 and 1987, amid a decided lack of graciousness from a queen they had so often asked God to save. "An internal matter," was the indifferent line of Buckingham Palace.

Mrs. Windsor's performance on the symbolic side of the job has rarely demonstrated much more effort.

Despite sitting eyewitness to an awe-inspiring sweep of human history, Elizabeth has somehow never uttered any words as moving as Reagan's tribute to the deceased heroes of the Challenger, as poignant as Justin Trudeau's eulogy to his famous father, or as inspiring as Churchill's... well, anything. To the extent we remember anything she's said at all, in fact, her most famous quotes are entirely self-centered: an "annus horribilis" of family squabbles, a monotone tribute to a daughter-in-law she never liked, and, of course, the bland catch-phrase "My husband and I..." that has long served as a warning sign of even greater vapidity to come.

It's true, as the websitesbrochuresstamps, tea towels, commemorative spoons, and iPhone apps never fail to remind that the Queen has "been with us" on many of this country's important days, such as the 1967 Centennial or the signing of Trudeau's repatriated constitution in '82. But never has she offered any real contribution to these occasions beyond a stiff, perfunctory presence, which, in any case, was always requested, arranged, and scripted by someone else.

It's said that it's sometimes better to be respected than loved, but in her 60 years of service, this queen has rarely done much to evoke either emotion. At best, the history books will likely regard her as a monarch people "liked," in some lazy, comfortable way, but never one that inspired, moved, or challenged them, and whose biggest concern was always her own cowardly self-preservation.

Time will tell if this is the stuff of which great royal legacies are made.