Thursday, July 07, 2011

Canada, monarchy & national unity

My computer is back with a new motherboard and greatly increased ram. This means that I again have access to my blog roll, but also proper procession speed. I have been struggling with computer memory problems for several months.  I also have live writer back.

I have been following the visit of William and Kate to Canada via the Globe and Mail. I enjoy a good spectacle, and that's certainly been provided. I am not sure who dreamed up the idea of the Prince doing some search and rescue helicopter training in public, but it provided spectacular visuals. However, I am also interested in the Canadian response.

Canada has its own republican movement. Historian Christopher Moore wrote on his blog:

Canada's Canada Day got hi-jacked by some charming and photogenic foreigners this year (but some of us got to ignore most of it at someone else's place by the lake).

While Canada does have a republican movement, Canadian responses to the monarchy are far more complex and indeed nationally important than their Australian equivalents. Canadian history is far longer and more complex than that of Australia, there is no Australian equivalent to Quebec, nor to the looming presence in Canada of the United States. Next year marks the two hundredth anniversary of the start of the War of 1812 when US troops attempted to seize the British North American colonies.

While William was warmly welcomed in Australia and New Zealand to the sometimes despair of republicans, the trip was relatively straightforward. Not so this visit in Canada because of its complexity. If we just take Quebec, the French Canadian reaction to the Royal Family over time has varied from highly negative (symbol of an oppressive power) to very positive (bulwark against oppression by the English speaking majority) to highly negative with the rise of the Quebec separatist movement. At the risk of gross simplification, in French speaking Canada those supporting independence are strongly republican, those supporting the maintenance of the Federation far more likely to be supporters of a constitutional monarchy.

Australians are pretty myopic. In all the discussions around the question of an Australian republic, there is little recognition of just what a strange and unique institution the British monarchy is.

The Queen is constitutional head of sixteen sovereign states plus the Commonwealth. She is also a the former sovereign, or the descendant of former sovereigns, of something like 120 countries including the United States. She has to manage not just her relationship with the British Government and the constituent nations of the United Kingdom, but all the other relationships. The potential for conflict is enormous.

The business of the Firm is, in a sense, national and international ceremony carried out by people born to the role and then trained from birth. If you look at the succession problems that arise in family businesses, you get a feel for both the complexity and success of the Royals.

This is not an argument for or against monarchy, rather a reflection on process and history.

In planning the trip to Canada, the Palace had to consider its own objectives, the monarchy's role, the views of the British and especially Canadian Governments and local conditions.

I have no idea what discussions took place among the family. I imagine that the core issue from a Palace perspective beyond the safety of William and Kate centred on the Queen's role as Queen of Canada, taking advice from the Canadian Government into account. This was a very carefully crafted tour designed not just to support the role of the monarchy but, and more importantly, the maintenance of Canadian unity.

William's reference to the Queen as Queen of Canada, a reference that drew cheers, Kate's wearing Canadian symbols and Canadian designer cloths, were not just designed to reinforce the position of the monarchy but the very concept of Canada itself.

You can see why some Quebec nationalists don't like the monarchy because the visit of itself reinforced the concept of Canada as Canada. In choosing to set up the monarchy as a symbol of traditional oppression, they have also set up the monarchy as a symbol of unity. They would have been better off either ignoring the monarchy or even opting for a constitutional monarchy themselves. Had they done so, they could have taken the monarchy out of the equation as a national unifying symbol working against their interests.

All very interesting, at least to me!      


Anonymous said...

"While William and Kate were warmly welcomed in Australia and New Zealand to the sometimes despair of republicans"

Shows how out of touch I am. I honestly don't remember this at all?

I'm off to see the old timers doctor immediately.


Ha! word verification is "rexcips"
They're coming to take me away..

Jim Belshaw said...

Actually, KVD, I should see that doctor myself. It was just William. I must amend the post to disguise my blushes.

Can we still sing that song?

Jim Belshaw said...


Anonymous said...

Having just left Canada after 3 long, very dull years, and much disappointment, I can say that...erm....Canada sucks. And one reason may be Canada's, and evidently your--clinging to the Royals of the UK. Pathetic and embarrassing, really. Like the Royal family itself, Canada wreaks of smugness, complacency, and a denial of the mediocrity of the country in general: over-priced and overly taxed everything (little wonder all the major cities are next to USA's borders--so Canadians can buy affordable goods), waves of immigrants lured into the country--only to find jobs as toilet cleaners and taxi drivers. No real democracy to speak of here, as Canada has been, and always will be a possession of the Royal family UK. Canada: a mediocre, complacent, dumpy little country with crappy weather. Yep that about sums it up LOL :-D. Go curtsey before the queen you shmucks LOL :-D

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi anon. I might curtsy if I was a women, although protocol no longer requires it! Sorry you didn't like Canada. Perhaps you might stay in the US next time?

Anonymous said...

I'll take you up on that, e.g. staying in USA "next time". I'll also leave you with a grocery list of Canada's failings before signing off--
• Canadians act like they are "environmentally responsible blah blah blah--but then there's the Alberta "tar sands": one butt ugly ass crack spewing massive amounts of pollution and run-off into the world's atmosphere, rivers, and groundwater;

• Proof Immigrants think Canada sucks: from Statistics Canada no less, we find this astonishing quote: "Among male immigrants 25 to 45 years of age who landed in 1981, about one-third are inferred from their tax filing behaviour to have left the country within the first 20 years after arrival...About 6 out of 10 of those who leave do so within the first year of arrival. This suggests that a large fraction of immigrants who leave choose to do so within a relatively short period of time after arrival." Facts are facts: they didn't want to clean toilets, and drive taxi cabs with their PhDs and Masters degrees in Engineering, Law, Medicine, etc. Can't blame them really. Of course the native Canadians make sure to take care of their own ;-)

• Hypocrisy, like passive-aggressive behavior, is a classic Canadian characteristic. Take for example USA/Canada immigration: there is a huge amount of Canadians (especially senior citizens) who move permanently to USA for retirement--understandable as the weather anywhere in Canada is shit for 9 or 10 months of the year. Can't blame them there. Are they hassled by Americans if they move to USA? No. They are welcomed and treated as any other immigrants. Is the same true for Americans who move to Canada? NO! Not only me, but many other American immigrants to Canada have told me many ugly stories of the passive-aggressive shit they had to put up with from native Canadians. No welcome, no acceptance: to the contrary "why are you moving here?" is a common (passive-aggressive) refrain from nasty Canadians who definitely, definitely DO NOT want Americans moving to Canada! But of course its perfectly fine for these same hypocrites to come down to USA and a home in Arizona or southern California. Or go to Vegas and party down (since Canada doesn't have anything comparable). Soooo hypocritical! I cannot keep track of the countless times I listened to Canadians smugly bitching about how they hate USA and Americans...and then glibly remark a moment later "oh yeah I'm going to Wenatchee next week for a little get-away, can't wait for some sun!" since the weather has been shite here in Vancouver blah blah blah. Or off to the Olympics for a week in July (since the parks on Vancouver Island are fully booked as usual, etc). But "America sucks and they're a bunch of assholes...oh how I hate dumbshit Americans blah blah blah." How arrogant, just outrageous this kind of crap I listened to time and time again over my 3 year visit.

....just giving you a little reality check. Yes: I will definitely, DEFINITELY not visit your shit country again (nevermind you and your ilk will be swinging down to my neck of the woods very soon for the usual shopping laptop...etc.). God HOW ANNOYING you people are! Hypocrites!

You are...and will remain...."America's Hat".

Jim Belshaw said...

Actually, anon, your comments are interesting and deserve a fuller response. Still, one small immediate correction.

I am Australian, not Canadian!