Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Kate Middleton's baby: federal or provincial responsibility?

My friend James Bowden loves parliamentary arcana and the monarchy almost equally. Right now, they seem to be pulling him in opposite directions. 

  At a recent commonwealth conference, the handful of countries (16) that still recognize the Queen as their head of state agreed that succession to her throne should not favour males (or Protestants), but should simply pass from eldest child to eldest child. Each of the nations concerned, however, needs to make that change itself, the queen being sixteen different monarchs in one.

James’s monarchist side approves of making the monarchy more palatable by removing some of its old tribal shibboleths.

But his parliamentary side observes: not so fast. It is not within Ottawa’s power, he and Philippe Lagassé argue, to abolish male privilege in the Canadian royal succession. That would be changing the nature of the crown – and that means a constitutional amendment requiring the consent of Parliament and all the provinces.  

I expect he is right about all that. So, given the difficulty of amending the constitution, are Canadians to be stuck with a monarchy that not only exists but remains sexist to boot?

No to the sexist part, says Bowden, because this constitutional amendment will be easy and uncontroversial.  No province, he and Lagassé say confidently, would use consent on the royal succession as a bargaining chip for, say, its own constitutional wish list.  Carefully limited objective, unanimous consent, no problem.  

But when those who look forward to the abolition of the monarchy consider a constitutional amendment directed to that specific end, James likes to say it is impossible to make such a limitation: constitutional change is simply too difficult. We have “underestimated the difficulty of ‘opening the constitution’ over such a fundamental issue,” he wrote a while ago. “Inevitably, other interests, such as reforming the Senate into an elective chamber, would follow….”  

So there are provinces that would withhold consent on abolishing the monarchy unless they got senate reform – but none that would want the same trade on the line of succession?  Hmmmm. 

Broadly, though, I’m sympathetic to James’s wish for a formal constitutional amendment process changing the line of succession.  Discussion of the monarchy is always good; the more the functioning of the monarchy is under discussion (as anything more than celebrity gossip), the more Canadians move toward a consensus that it really doesn’t work for Canada and has no long term future here. 

And demonstrating that constitutional changes concerning the status of the Canadian crown are perfectly feasible once a consensus has been built, well, that will be useful too.
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