For over 70 years Queen Elizabeth II had committed her life to the service of all peoples of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and her realm which includes Canada. She was, and now King Charles III is, our Head of State and Head of our Armed Forces.
Although primarily symbolic, the Crown is exceptionally valuable. It gives continuity, unity and cohesion in the best of times and in the worst of times. As head of state, our monarch doesn’t have to play politics—and with the current state of pettiness and divisiveness amongst elected politicians—it’s a relief to have a head of state whose job is to serve all the people and protect our constitutional democracy.
What a contrast to republics where the head of state, head of the armed forces and head of government are one and the same. Power is so much more easily abused.
The evils of colonialism—slavery and the exploitation of indigenous peoples and resources in countries throughout the Americas, Africa and Asia—is a stain on the monarchy. If white, our forefathers are equally guilty.
The monarchy, nor those of us who have benefited from colonialism, can take away the generational harms put upon our indigenous peoples, but the late Queen was an ally to all indigenous peoples in her realm. She and King Charles prioritized visiting and listening to our indigenous, Métis and Inuit peoples. King Charles also shares a common belief about the importance of respecting and guarding our natural environment.
The late Queen was always respectful and supportive of French culture in Quebec and Canadian bilingualism. She furthered that commitment to bilingualism in the United Kingdom by insisting those who hold the title of Prince of Wales speak fluent Welsh as does King Charles.
The Queen stepped across the street into the Catholic side of Belfast, and one handshake with former IRA commander Martin McGuinness on June 27, 2012 helped jump start the peace process between the protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland.
Her few words were powerful, “one’s tradition does not diminish by reaching out to show respect to another.” Something elected politicians are unable to do as they govern for their base, not their country.
The Northern Ireland situation is far from resolved, and unfortunately it has taken a severe blow because of the political decisions surrounding Brexit, as has the rise in the Scottish independence movement.
The Queen supported India, Pakistan, Nigeria and many other former colonies as they moved to become republics. She did not take it personally knowing that it was the will of the people who mattered. Instead, she opened her hand of welcome for those who wanted to voluntarily remain in an alliance of Commonwealth countries—most of whom accepted that invitation.
Her power came from a servant’s heart, humility, small gestures, grace, steadfastness, sincerity and decorum. Her wisdom came from listening, reading, learning, thinking, pondering and meeting with everyone from the world’s worst despots to religious leaders of all faiths, from a multiplicity of cultures to those of varying social and economic status, from the young to the old.
As the Queen said in an address, “not all of us can do great things, but we can all do small things with great love”. Another favourite quote from one of her Christmas messages, “whatever life throws at us our individual responses will be all the stronger if we’re working together and sharing that load.”
The grandeur and mysticism of our royal family also plays an important role. As humans we all crave ‘bigger than life’ personalities to look up to or gossip about. For many its athletes, movie actors, entertainers, on-line influencers or presidents and first ladies. For us, it’s the royal family who do mystic and grandeur like no one else.
The significant point, however, is that the pageantry of the royal family is separated from the governing branch of government. This separation and continuity are strengths of our constitutional monarchy versus a republic. The head of state takes on the role of grandeur while the elected officials do the work of government. We all remember how offended Canadians were when the Justin Trudeau family tried to play the grandeur card while on a state visit to India in his first term of office, or Mila Mulroney trying to play ‘first lady’ of Canada.
A wise monarch provides the stability of government and protects our constitution and values—they are the fail safe for our democracy. We need look no further than what has happened in India, Brazil, Russia, Hungary, Nigeria and the United States to see how easily values and constitutions can be ‘adjusted’ when one leader is head of government, head of state and head of the armed forces.
There are those in Canada and our national media who are already throwing around the idea that we should become a republic now that our beloved Queen has died. But let’s not be rash.
According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, the largest analyst team in Europe, six out of the top 10 strongest democracies in the world have a parliamentary system of governance with a constitutional hereditary monarch—Norway, Sweden, New Zealand, Denmark, Canada and Australia.
Three of the top 10—Iceland, Ireland and Finland—have parliamentary democracies where the head of state is an elected president functioning primarily as a ceremonial head as does our King and Governor General. The final country, Switzerland, the only republic in the top 10, is unique in its own right, offering a form of direct democracy seen nowhere else in the world, but it is also the world’s premiere protector of dirty money and dirty assets.
Queen Elizabeth II was a great sovereign committing 70 years of service to her people and to the protection of constitutional democracies. King Charles III seems as thoughtful and aware of his role as sovereign and, too, will be a steady hand in this season of turmoil within democracies.
No system of government is perfect, but the Canadian constitutional monarchy and eight other parliamentary democracies are the best of the best. So why would we ever consider becoming a lesser democracy by changing to a republic?
Long live the King.