If you're ever forced to describe Canadian politics to a foreigner, here's a fun fact to keep in mind: Canada is probably the only country in the world whose socialist party abandoned socialism before monarchism.
This past April, the New Democratic Party of Canada formally voted to purge all lingering references to central planning and collective ownership from its constitution, a move Thomas Mulcair claimed would help "modernize" his party for the 21st century. Not included in said modernization? Any NDP condemnation of the 900-year-old hereditary birthright system presently used to select Canada's head of state.
"I think the idea of having a constitutional monarchy rather than a republic has worked pretty well for Canada," Jack Layton told me in 2006, and so stands his party today. A few fringe voices notwithstanding, when it comes to the appropriate role for royalty in Canada, there's barely a sliver of space separating reactionary Tory from zealous social democrat. Both are cool with the status quo.
But increasingly few Canadians are. According to an Angus Reid poll taken last April, 40% want to ditch our constitutional links to the British Crown, while only 28% want to maintain them (31% don't know or don't care). Ours is a profoundly royally indifferent nation, which makes the near-universal monarchism of virtually all levels of Canadian officialdom all the more striking in its tone-deaf spectacularity.
Consider the reaction of Canada's major newspapers to the Monday birth of cuddly lil' Prince George.
"As supporters of the monarchy, we welcome and celebrate the happy and safe arrival of the infant son of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge," cheered the Globe and Mail editorial board on Tuesday.
"As unabashed monarchists, we're delighted with this latest addition to the Royal Family," one-upped the editorialists at the Sun syndicate.
"Adamantine republicans will take pride in their refusal to display interest in this birth, insisting that the new prince is just a baby like any other," scoffed the National Post. "But they are wrong."
Even the Toronto Star -- cranky, lefty Toronto Star -- was willing to offer a mostly heartfelt "welcome to the new prince" slash-heir "to the throne of Great Britain and Canada" tossing its less monarchically-inclined readers only the thin bone "that finding a workable alternative we can all agree on would be close to impossible." So suck it up and buy the commemorative tea towel!
Long live King Baby neener-neener-neener was a sentiment similarly echoed by no shortage of high profile voices in the Canuck punditocracy this week, including Andrew Coyne, Jon Ibbitson, Chris Selley, and Colby Cosh, while you could probably fit all of the aforementioned "adamantine republicans" with a column into a single cell in the Tower of London.
At the partisan level, the joyous chorus was no less unavoidable, with the heads of the Conservative, Liberal, NDP, and Green parties all scrambling to churn out tweets and press releases emphasizing support for, in the Prime Minister's words, the "warm relationship that we share with our Royal Family." Feeling a bit hot-headed myself.
Now obviously the birth of a newborn is alway "a special time" (to quote Thomas Mulcair) and obviously no one, republican or not, wishes a baby any particular ill. Yet there's something more than a little depressing -- if not outright unsettling -- that few Canadian establishment figures in either press or politics seem the slightest bit humble, nuanced, or even self-aware that they're taking such an aggressively "pro" stance on an issue which all available data suggests is every bit as polarizing as abortion or capital punishment.
Forty per cent of the population is hardly a demographic to sneeze at, yet no Canadian news site was as considerate as the British (!) Guardian with its turn-off-the-royal-news-button, nor was any Canuck political leader brave enough to admit the divisiveness of their princely fawning.
In his Buckingham-boosting piece in the Globe, the National Review's John O'Sullivan describes watching with some amusement as the Australian Green leader "conceded in an embarrassed way that her party was, ahem, opposed to the young prince ever becoming King of Australia" while still acknowledging that his family "was wonderful all the same." Oh, that our politicians could be so gutsy!
Elite Canada's preoccupation with royalty is weird, and somewhat inexplicable, since it doesn't seem to neatly conform with any other consistent variable. There are left-wing monarchists like Elizabeth May and right-wing ones like Ezra Levant, and the justifications are all over the place. Some back the Crown because it "keeps us different" (read: better) than the devil-Americans. Others because Canada's constitutional relationship with it is complicated and weird, and elite-types often enjoy weirdness and complexity for its own sake (shows their sophisticated minds, you see). And yes, some folks even genuinely believe random baby birth lottery is the superior method of selecting rulers.
None of these are terribly persuasive arguments. At the very least they don't seem to be converting the stubborn 40% who'd rather show the Windsors the door -- a figure that's remained pretty consistent over time.
In a country where monarchism is hardly a unanimous creed, it should be at least be theoretically possible to purchase a newspaper without a slavishly pro-monarchy editorial slant, or vote for a political party that's at least nominally in favor of a republican transition. But alas, not in Canada.
It's bad enough the monarchy isn't fair or democratic -- it'd be nice if at least the debate was.