The Crown and Equality

It’s Victoria Day, the oldest public holiday in Canada (it dates back to 1838, when we celebrated Queen Victoria’s first birthday since she had ascended to the throne), and the day on which we Canadians officially mark our Queen’s birthday, as well as (in almost all the country) the transition from winter to summer.

For many Canadians today, the Crown seems like an anachronism. You hear people talk about “the foreign Queen”.

For me, the Crown is treasured. More than anything else, it is the Crown that makes Canadian society a society of free equals.

Think about it for a moment: in Canada, no one is above you. There is no “first citizen”, no “Chief Executive” of the nation. The Queen reigns, but she does not rule, and all of us, from the Governor-General and Prime Minister on down to the nobodies of this world like you or I, are her subjects. Our officials serve at her pleasure.

Those in charge can be replaced. It requires no lengthy articles of impeachment, no trials — a simple “I’m afraid you’ve lost the confidence of the House, and since you’re not recommending a writ of election, I shall invite your opponent to take over” is all it takes. Ask the Australians: they experienced this in 1975. Ask our longest-serving Prime Minister, W. L. Mackenzie King, who experienced it in 1926.

It is not done capriciously — the Royal Prerogative is a power best kept gloved and not used — but it exists, with a millennium of tradition to back it up.

Rare, too, today, is the use of the ancient prerogative of any subject of the Crown to appeal to the Crown, directly, for redress. To “Cry Harold”, as it is known, and ask for a decision, when one is oppressed by the actions of the Ministers and the Ministries. But it exists, too: the fealty of the subject comes with the direct protection of the Crown for you as an individual.

When we look back in history — and remember that both the French Royal Houses of Valois and Bourbon provided Kings of Canada just as much as the British Royal Houses of Tudor, Stuart, Hanover, Saxe-Coburg & Gotha, and Windsor have — the origins of both the French Capetians and the post-Norman British royals were as protectors. Fealty was sworn in exchange for protection. That today much of this is found in the private discussions of Prime Minister and viceregal representative of the Monarch, or in discussions between the Premier and the Queen herself, does not change the royal responsibility to protect, preserve, defend each subject, not merely those in charge.

Our Queen, of course, is Queen of Canada in her own right. She is shared with fifteen other countries, but if all of them converted to republics tomorrow we would still be a Monarchy. She remains and serves us as our Head of State (the Governor-General is her representative, but not the “Canadian Head of State”, no matter how much the two previous Governors-General would have had it otherwise). She is shared, too, with each of the provinces, of which she is Queen separately from being Queen of the Dominion, and in each the Lieutenant-Governor represents her.

It is easy to forget, in a world that celebrates the CEOs of companies, that loves the big for its own sake, and that gives primacy of place to the politician, that all of them in this country rest under the Crown. But I never do: under the Crown, I am their equal. My voice, my thoughts, my freedoms are as valuable as theirs.

History tends to prefer sharp breaks, fresh starts, new beginnings over the slow evolution inherent in the long haul of life. For myself, I look to the continuity, a world where decrees from the time when monarchs ruled are still fresh and valid — a steady building out of common sense of a common practice proven over time.

It is this that I celebrate today. It is why I am a Monarchist.

As more and more of our lives moves to local communities, in the face of the troubled times that lie ahead, it will be the Crown that reminds me that my little corner of the world is also part of a great sweep of time and space, long after the other players and institutions of today have faded from daily view.

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