Monday, November 16, 2009

The maple-glazed crown

Somehow the perception that nobody cared about the visit of the prince and his duchess suddenly led "everyone" to start pondering the state of the monarchy.

Andrew Coyne had some, for him, extraordinarily ill-informed opinions on CBC News's opinion panel late last week (Ireland appoints its president? No.), but it was funny how much he horrified the usually phegmatic Chantal Hébert. Michael Valpy's long piece in the Globe was mostly sentimental mooning, but he added the argument that it's just too hard -- Canada's simply not capable of addressing the head-of-state issue. "Cross-Country Checkup" on CBC-One did two hours on the subject (not much on the website yet), but added more heat than light. This morning John Fraser in the Globe's letters column really plumbed the depths: it's those who think this country ought to be responsible for its own affairs under its own head of state, apparently, who are the self-hating Canadians! ("They essentially hate their country.")

The Globe's editorialists, however, did rather better. They acknowledge that the Governor General is the real practical, head of state ("the Governor-General, the face of a new Canada, a symbol of our present and future and, in all but name, our head of state"). More important, they address the vital governance issue. Since the governor-general is de facto head of the Canadian state, they declare, we need to choose occupants of that office by process better than simple patronage. The Globe used to think the GG should be chosen by the Order of Canada, now they want to create a special panel to do the job. They still cannot imagine election.

I'm on record as favouring the confirmation of the Governor-General as head of state and of choosing future governors general by election. That modification ought to involve broad consultation within Canada and with other countries with the same aspiration, but as a matter of constitutional plumbing the Coynes, Valpys, Murphys and others seem to me quite mistaken in claiming the adjustment would be hellishly difficult.

Somewhat to my surprise, the calmest, most modest, most practical commentary I heard on the whole subject came from the semi-official abolitionist spokesperson on Checkup. He may have come from this organization, though I'll correct or confirm that when I can. (Update: it was indeed Tom Freda of Citizens for a Canadian Republic.) It's time, it's popular, it's actually a modest change, it would not be very difficult to do, it would reinforce rather than undermine Canadian traditions... it seemed to me he had nearly every point right. I'd love to hear, say, Michael Ignatieff muse along these lines. He used to be a thoughtful, intellectual sort of guy; I hope his new job doesn't preclude that.

Update, November 17: Historical smackdown! In a letter to the editor, Michael Bliss rips into John Fraser's monarchist meanderings. Readers of the tribute volume published in Bliss's honour last year will know there's some backstory here. Fraser wrote an introduction to the festschrift, Bliss is a fellow at Massey College, where Fraser is master, and their families go way back. To their credit, it doesn't inhibit their frank expression of conflicting views.

Update Update, November 18: Michiel Horn weighs in
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