The coverage of this royal visit is massively lopsided toward Canada’s English speaking media. There is conspicuously little French coverage, with the exception of the protests against the visit, based on a long-standing disdain for the British monarchy stemming from past colonial domination. But in reality it is far more likely the English media follow the story so closely because it is the language of the British media itself, where royal sensationalism is still centered. Although they aren’t impossible to find, the very real questions about monarchy and modernity that are being asked in French Canada, and in countries such as Australia, are relatively absent from the English Canadian discourse, despite being very relevant to our political status. Should they be?
It’s entirely appropriate to ask, even in the midst of what is ostensibly proving to be a wildly successful royal tour: should Canada have a monarchy at all? We are a modern democracy, one of the most politically and economically free nations on Earth, yet we not only celebrate and exalt the descendents of a family that has no real significance anymore, we also pay for them to visit us. It doesn’t exactly seem fair to have to pay their way when they visit, particularly in times of budget cutbacks and austerity that will have very real impacts on everyday Canadians.
The arguments for retaining monarchical ties in Canada are fair, if starting to ring a little hollow as time goes on. There is the notion that the monarchy is an engrained part of our history, plays a central role in our government (through the concept of the Crown as a corporation), and serves as a symbolic rallying point for the population. Yet there are many republics in the world that manage to do quite fine in this regard with an elected head of state.
Perhaps most interesting is the level of attachment of Canada’s young population to what is increasingly seen as an outdated institution that doesn’t particularly matter in the face of the world’s bigger problems. For previous generations, particularly those alive during the Second World War, the monarchy was always a strong propagandist symbol and did serve as that supposed rallying point. But that view has steadily declined since the middle of the 20th century. For a modern, young Canadian, the concerns of a job, a strong democracy, an affordable education, and the chorus of a world full of problems can create an easy disillusion with people who are, essentially, born into vast wealth and privilege without any qualifications or merit. The prevailing attitude seems to have become “If I have to get a job, why don’t they?”
It bodes well for an interesting future political discourse if this trend continues. As more young people mature and begin to take on roles in political and government affairs, this sense of detachment will continue to grow. Currently, French Canadians seem to be at the headwaters of this detachment, as the protests that greeted the royal entourage in Montreal this weekend attest. The CBC reports that fully 64 percent of Quebec citizens would like to eliminate the monarchy entirely. With tuition and cost of living spiraling out of control, and a country that has been rocked by a series of recent strikes and lockouts at major institutions, doesn’t it seem a little inappropriate for the future king of England and his wife to be flying around the country on the Canadian taxpayers’ dime? Then again, when will it ever be an appropriate time?
There will always be another Canada Post strike, another tuition hike or tax increase; there will always be an ever more assertive generation that believes strongly in equality and democratic principles. Unfortunately for monarchists, the current of history does not flow in their favour: despite the resilience of the British crown, most of the world’s great monarchies have already toppled or are on very shaky legs. It is reasonable to suggest that the monarchy can’t survive in the long term in Canada − we’re just too far ahead of it and gone already. As in so many other now-republics, we have sown the seeds of a young, dynamic population that resents the classist embodiment of power the monarchy represents, power that is not earned. And among youth, the discord will only grow, from the current ambivalence into a hotly debated national issue.