Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Canada’s wet Head of State

Paint dries in Canada like everywhere else. And, when it peels off, Canadians do something. Pride and the elements demand it. However, when their political institutions wear out, they play dumb or insist that their polity is still young. Canada persists as a constitutional monarchy in the midst of this change-loving continent, in large part because Canadians treat the institution like a first coat of paint.

Canada has been an appendage of the oldest constitutional monarchy in the democratic world. Canada’s British head of state has stayed in place—as a given—since Canada became a federal Dominion in 1867; it has survived—as a given—through every iteration of Canada’s constitution ever since.

The Crown has survived not because Conservatives have dominated the country’s politics or are still wedded to the Crown for urgent philosophical reasons. Their anti-republicanism today is merely an expression of Anglo nostalgia and condescension toward the United States. They wouldn’t fight hard to keep the Crown. They lost one parliamentary debate against a made-in-Canada flag in the '60s and now they keep their precious Red Ensign in their studies.

Strangely, the monarchy is safe in Canada today primarily because Liberals won’t declare themselves decisively against it.

Like Bill Clinton’s virginal relationship with marijuana, Canadian Liberals believe they can be hip and serve the Crown at the same time. They tug at the edges of our monarchial traditions. However, they’d far, far rather be Her Majesty’s council of ministers than be recognized as republicans.

Just every now and then, they remind Canadians that Conservatives are slightly too enthusiastic about the Monarchy and hint that they’re still thinking about little changes to make the country a little less so.

This week, the Globe and Mail reported that almost 20 years ago, Jean Chretien nearly agreed to champion legislation to remove the requirement that a would-be Canadian must promise to be “faithful and bear true allegiance to Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada.” In the end, he didn’t bother: why should new Canadians not be expected to repeat a white lie that he’d repeatedly uttered for the privilege of being her faithful first minister?

Constitutionally, the Harper government has been to the left and the right of the Liberals. They’ve endorsed the “Quebecois nation” and championed an elected Senate. And, conversely, they’ve put the Crown and the Queen’s picture back on display on government property. This latter gesture has generated a brand-new word for Canadians watching Canada dry: "royalization."

The term serves Liberals and the status quo perfectly.

It marginalizes Conservatives by suggesting that they genuinely support an undemocratic, ethnically exclusive Head of State. Again, it puts Liberals nicely in the sensible center of a phony debate.

Unfortunately, the monarchy in Canada isn’t like a hemline that raises and falls according to the aesthetic tastes of the government of the day. It’s the cornerstone of a polity that is still reluctant to trust in the will of the electorate and the constitutional protections fashioned by their representatives. 

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