Canada, from constitutional monarchy to constitutional democracy
This is a rare opportunity for Canadians to decide the future of their political hierarchy. Do they want to continue be “ruled” from England or do they want their head of state to be a Canadian? I opt for a Canadian.
First, this is about institutions, not personalities. ... not about Charles. It is about figureheads of Canadian democracy.
A British king as head of state no longer reflects Canadian democracy, our independent state or our ethnic diversity. How can new citizens comprehend Canada when they must swear allegiance to someone from England? Using the British monarch as our head of state inhibits the development of Canadian identity. As the Canadian Bar Association reported (1979), “... if we want to promote confidence, pride and a sense of belonging, the head of state should be a Canadian.”
We need Canadian figureheads who will represent the country’s bilingual and multicultural attributes, be models for our youth, and project Canadian values on the international scene.
The British monarch should remain titular head of the Commonwealth — of which Canada would remain a leading member. The royal family could continue to be invited to visit Canada.
The Governor General should become our head of state. This fine, descriptive title has been part of Canada’s tradition. All the Crown’s rights in Canada, both in the written Constitution and by convention, would be transferred to the Governor General, avoiding a debilitating debate over their definition.
It is politically useful to maintain a separate institution of “head of state,” one distinct from the position of prime minister as the “head of government.” The head of state also fulfils other functions such as: naming a new prime minister in times of political ambiguity; relieving the prime minister of many ceremonial duties; acting as both a “humbling presence” and a sounding board for the prime minister; and reminding citizens there is a state that persists even if they do not like the party in power. It would be beneficial to have a relatively long term of office, say five years, renewable once. Experience, recognition and wisdom will be important.
New Governors General should not be elected, to avoid duplication and conflict between the offices of governor general and prime minister.
As one newspaper has suggested, the Officers of the Order of Canada might operate as a nominating committee for a short list of candidates. A nomination coming from the Order would add prestige, legitimacy and merit to the position. The Order of Canada’s list of candidates should be submitted to an “electoral college” — a joint, federal-provincial, electoral group formed of MPs and members of provincial legislatures. The eventual governor general would require ratification by two-thirds of this group for some degree of all-party approval.
This new regime, a “constitutional democracy” rather than a “republic”, would emphasize our tradition of balancing constitutional protection of “peace, order and good government” with popular democracy “by the people.”
This change of regime will require care with the details -- a national learning process. Canadian leaders should discuss these possibilities among themselves. Neither their policies nor their ideologies are endangered. As I am doing here, no “politicking.”
Amending our Constitution would be too long, complex -- and cantankerous. But it need not be so. Our political leaders could request a neutral body – say the Royal Society – to provide names for a commission of experts to address this, then agree to implement its recommendations. I repeat: there is no need to politicize this.
In the end, we would well and truly be a government for and by Canadians.
(abridged on request from the Ottawa Citizen)
John E Trent, ret