Debate on the monarchy in Canada
Debate between monarchists and republicans in Canada has been taking place since before the country's confederation in 1867, though it has rarely been of significance since the rebellions of 1837. Open support for republicanism only came from the Patriotes in the early 19th century, the Red River Métis in 1869, and minor actions by the Fenians throughout the 19th century. However, paralleling the changes in constitutional law that saw the creation of a distinct Canadian monarchy, the emergence in the 1960s of Quebec nationalism, and the evolution of Canadian nationalism, the cultural role and relevance of the monarchy altered and was sometimes questioned in certain circles, while continuing to receive support in others.
In 2005 it was estimated that only 0.6% of the population was actively engaged in any debate about a republic. The Monarchist League of Canada's chief executive officer, Robert Finch, stated the greatest threat to the monarchy is not republicanism, "it is indifference."
In the early 19th century, reform-minded groups began to emerge in the British colonies in Canada. From them rose William Lyon Mackenzie, who, along with Louis-Joseph Papineau, was the first prominent proponent of a republican Canada. Their causes were countered by the lieutenant governors and members of the executive councils at the time, as well as a majority of the colonists, who did not espouse a break with the Crown, and the rebellions ultimately failed. Still, in the lead-up to Confederation in 1867, there did take place debate over whether the new polity should adopt a republican or monarchical form of government.
Alistair Horne observed in the late 1950s that, while Canada's cultural mix grew, the monarchy remained held in high regard: "At its lowest common denominator, to the average Canadian—whether of British, French or Ukrainian extraction—the Crown is the one thing that he has that the rich and mighty Americans have not got. It makes him feel a little superior." However, at the same time, he noted that the institution was coming more into question in Quebec and that it was sometimes perceived as having a "colonial taint", but theorized that this was because Canadians had an inferiority complex in relation to the British. At the same time, controversy arose in the run-up to the Queen's 1959 tour, when Canadian Broadcasting Corporation personality Joyce Davidson, while being interviewed by Dave Garroway on NBC's Today Show, said that, as an "average Canadian", she was "pretty indifferent" to the Queen's arrival. Davidson was lambasted in the Canadian press and by many indignant Canadians for her comment.
Debates over the monarchy and its place in Canada took place through the 1960s and 1970s, following the rise of Quebec nationalism. Republican options were discussed following the sovereigntist Parti Québécois' (PQ) election to power in Quebec, but only specifically in relation to the province. However, the non-Quebecer attendees at the 1968 constitutional conference agreed that the monarchy had worked well and was not a matter for discussion.
The Cabinet, in June 1978, put forward the constitutional amendment Bill C-60 that, among other changes, potentially affected the sovereign's role as head of state by vesting executive authority in the governor general and renaming the position as First Canadian. Some academics, such as Ted McWhinney, supported these proposals, though they were opposed by others, like Senator Eugene Forsey, who said that the government had managed to "[stir] up a hornet's nest with a short stick." From that year's First Ministers' conference in Regina, Saskatchewan, the provincial premiers (including that of Quebec) issued a statement against what they saw as a unilateral attempt by the federal government to push through alterations to the monarchy and expressed their opposition to "constitutional changes that substitute for the Queen as ultimate authority a Governor General whose appointment and dismissal would be solely the pleasure of the federal cabinet"—a message that was reiterated at the conclusion of the 1979 meeting and echoed in newspaper editorials. Decades later, David Smith stated that the federal government at the time had "misperceived the complexity of the Crown [and] failed... to recognize its federalist dimension."
After Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's press secretary, Peter Donolo, in 1998 unaccountably announced through a media story that the prime minister's office was considering the abolition of the monarchy as a millennium project, Chrétien stated that he was open to a public debate, but never pursued the matter and expressed concerns about resulting divisions, saying that he "already had enough trouble on [his] hands with the separatists of Quebec, and didn't want to take on the monarchists in the rest of Canada, too."
Other media at the time noted that, though there was "no longer any strong idea behind the Canadian monarchy and its representative", in the absence of which "there can be no pulse in common between the people and their constitution", there simply was no debate about any republic among the general populace, with discussion limited to a political and journalistic few. An inadequate number of willing participants was pointed to as a reason for this phenomenon—which was seen as a manifestation of what Carolyn Tuohy had called Canada's "institutionalized ambivalence"—as well as a lack of alternate model to be discussed, with no method put forward by which the powers of the Crown could be soundly transferred to a president, no definitive solution to where Canadian sovereignty would be placed should the sovereign be removed from Canada, nor any means by which the constitutionally required consent of all 11 parliaments (one federal and 10 provincial) could be achieved. It was also theorized that Canadians had a growing sense of distrust for politicians (which a president would be), more pressing issues to deal with, and no appetite for nationally divisive constitutional change. Political scholar David Smith expressed his thoughts on how the Canadian monarchy had benefited from this dearth of discussion.
Debate on the monarchy was seen through the first decade of the 21st century in other Canadian media, generally at times of national significance, such as Canada Day and Victoria Day, or during a royal tour.
In 2007, the Quebec Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs, Benoît Pelletier, expressed his opinion that it was "not impossible that we might have to reconsider the role of the monarch, the lieutenant governor, and the governor general... I'm not saying that the monarchy must be abolished, but it will take some thought, especially on its usefulness and relevance. Two years later, Andrew Coyne called for importing "not just a King of Canada, but a Canadian King" that would reside permanently in Canada.
Polls on the Canadian monarchy have been regularly conducted, since the 1990s, typically coinciding with a royal tour or other major royal event. In 2008, Peter Boyce wrote that successive polls since the 1990s showed an increasing disaffection with the monarchy, but also noted internal contradictions in specific poll results. Polls on the institution have been accused of using "inconsistent and sometimes ambiguous wording." Monarchists assert the use of the inaccurate word "British" in a poll question on the Canadian monarchy skews the results, while republicans say the same about the use of "sever" or "abolish". It has also been noted, and confirmed by polls, that Canadians are not well educated about the monarchy and its role. In 2002, the majority polled thought the prime minister was head of state, only 5% knowing it was the Queen. Both republicans and monarchists in Canada have noted this fact in relation to polls on the monarchy.
When constitutional amendments were being considered in the 1960s, the role of the monarchy was not strenuously questioned, as it was deemed to be "no great priority in the present round of constitutional changes." This statement was reflected in the four opinion polls conducted in 1970, which showed that the monarchy was favoured by two-thirds of those questioned. The Canadian Institute of Public Opinion asked nationally: "Do you think Canada should continue to pay allegiance to The Queen, or do you think we should become a republic with an elected president?" To this, 50% opted for retention of the status quo, 33% favoured a republic, and the remainder declined to answer. Further, the answers differed by region: in Quebec, 46% wished for a republic as against 23% for monarchy, while in Ontario the monarchy was favoured well above the national average, and support was even higher in the western provinces. Older persons (over 50 years) were the strongest advocates for the monarchy than any other age group, although those in their 20s also gave their preference for the Crown. Similarly, another poll that year revealed that in Canada, exclusive of Quebec, the monarchy was of no issue to 37% of the populace, and a further 41% rated themselves as loyalists, although many of the older responders "recognised that youth had different ideas which might have an effect in the future."
A 1993 poll by Angus Reid Group asked "thinking about the monarchy's role here in Canada, all things considered, do you think....", to which 45.5% of respondents favoured the answer "preserve connection" and 54.5% favoured "abolish connection".
According to Ipsos-Reid, "Canadians [were] supportive toward the concept of the constitutional monarchy as Canada's form of government" and 62% of respondents believed the monarchy helped to define Canada's identity. However, at the same time, 48% agreed "constitutional monarchy is outmoded and would prefer a republican system of government with an elected head of state, like in the United States," and 65% believed that the royals were simply celebrities who should not have any formal role in Canada. The same poll found that 58% of respondents felt "the issue of the monarchy and the form of Canada's government isn't important to them and if the system is working OK why go through all the fuss to change it?" A poll by Léger Marketing found that 50% of those polled believed the monarchy should be preserved, while 43% disagreed.
An October 2009 poll by Léger Marketing found that 45% of Canadians consider the monarchy to be useless to Canada and feel that the country should sever all formal ties with the Queen, while 44% considered the monarchy to be a tradition that should be maintained. Opposition to the institution was strongest in Quebec where 78% believe the monarchy is useless to Canada and should be ended, and 11% wanted to maintain it.
In an October 2009 poll by Angus Reid, a minority 27% of Canadians preferred Canada to remain a monarchy. The plurality 35% of Canadians prefer Canada to have an elected head of state. When asked whom they would prefer as a monarch after Queen Elizabeth II, the plurality 37% of Canadians responded by saying there should be no monarch after her.
An Ipsos Reid poll conducted in late October 2009 found that the majority 53% of Canadians wanted Canada to end its constitutional ties to the monarchy after the Queen dies. 49% of Canadians wanted to abolish the constitutional monarchy structure then and become a republic, with an elected head of state. The majority 60% of Canadians said the Queen and the Royal Family should have no formal role in Canadian society, and that they are "simply celebrities and nothing more."
In November 2009, a poll by Angus Reid found that the majority two-thirds of Canadians would like to see a Canadian serving as Canada's head of state, while 18% disagreed. Only a minority 27% preferred Canada to remain a monarchy, while the plurality 43% preferred Canada to have an elected head of state.
In May 2010, a poll by Angus Reid found that more than two-thirds of Canadians, a 69% majority, would like to see a Canadian serving as Canada's head of state, and a 52% majority of Canadians support reopening the constitutional debate to discuss replacing the monarchy with an elected head of state, while only 32% oppose doing so. Despite 69% of Canadians having a "mostly favourable" opinion of Queen Elizabeth II as a person, only one third, 33%, of Canadians preferred Canada to remain a monarchy - the plurality 36% of Canadians said they would prefer to have an elected head of state, another 21% were indifferent, and 11% were unsure. When asked who they would prefer as a monarch after Queen Elizabeth II, three-in-ten Canadians responded by saying there should be no monarch after her. 31% of Canadians also want members of the Royal Family to stop visiting Canada.
In June 2010, a national poll by the Association for Canadian Studies found decidedly lukewarm feelings about the concept of monarchy. The survey found that 49% of Canadians had a negative reaction to the word "monarchy", compared to just 41% with a positive reaction. In the Maritimes, where the Queen would begin her Canadian visit, the majority 60% registered a negative opinion of monarchy, compared to only 37% positive. (The poll did not refer to the Canadian monarchy or to the Queen specifically, but to the concept of monarchy.)
A poll by Ipsos-Reid, also in June 2010, found that the majority two-in-three Canadians agree the royal family should not have any formal role in Canadian society, and reported growing sentiment that Elizabeth II should be Canada's last monarch. The majority 58% of Canadians want Canada to end ties to monarchy when Queen Elizabeth II's reign ends, and the majority 62% of Canadians believe that Canada's head of state should be the Governor General, not the Queen.
A fifth poll, conducted by Harris-Decima for The Canadian Press a few days ahead of the Queen's nine-day visit to Canada in June, found that nearly half of Canadians, 48%, consider the monarchy to be "a relic of our colonial past that has no place in Canada today." The poll also found that 44% of Canadians want a national referendum to decide whether Canada should keep the monarchy.
In June 2011, a poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion found a decline in support for republicanism, with just 33% in favour of abolishing the monarchy and 58% supporting the country remaining a monarchy. When asked what words they would use to describe an upcoming Royal visit, 44% said "indifference", 34% said "pride", 34% said "enthusiasm" and 32% said "joy", with the pollster noting that indifference was "largely driven by attitudes in Quebec". Elizabeth II, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge are the most popular members of the Royal Family and were Prince William to become King, 23% would view the monarchy more favourably and 2% would view it more unfavourably.
A poll by Harris-Decima taken in 2012 found that the respondents, as a whole, were "relatively evenly split" over whether the monarchy should remain or be abolished, but, those from English Canada demonstrated a "growing consensus" in favour of the Crown. Overall, the number of those who found the monarchy to be an "important part of Canadian history and political culture that ought to be maintained" rose by six percent.
A Forum poll from July 2013, taken immediately after the birth of Prince George of Cambridge, found that 48% of respondents were opposed to abolishing the monarchy, with 37% in favour, and 15% undecided.
A May 2015 Forum poll, taken immediately after the birth of Princess Charlotte of Cambridge, found that 39% of respondents favoured "abolishing the monarchy upon the death of the Queen," while 45% were opposed; 54% of respondents opposed Prince Charles succeeding his mother on the throne. According to Forum, 73% of Canadians "agree the Head of State of Canada should be Canadian-born and live in Canada," an increase from 63% who had the same view in 2013.
In a poll conducted in February 2020 by Research Co., 32% of Canadians (down one point since 2019) would prefer for Canada to have an elected head of state, while 27% (down four points) would rather keep the monarchy. The proportion of Canadians who say they do not care either way increased by eight points to 28%.
Polls on "British" monarchy
Some Canadian polls have referred in their questions to British monarchy or called the British monarch Canada's head of state. This terminology is at odds with the contemporary situation in Canada, wherein the monarchy is a Canadian institution separate from that of the United Kingdom, being called the Canadian Crown and Canadian monarchy by the government and constitutional scholars, and the monarch is uniquely titled as Queen of Canada. The government of Saskatchewan has stated it is incorrect to denote the Canadian Royal Family as the British Royal Family. Additionally, the Queen of Canada is considered Canadian.
EKOS Research Associates concluded in 2002, the year of Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee, there were "highly poliarized views" on the monarchy, with "little consensus for moving forward with institutional renewal." The respondents were said to be split on the relevance of the Royal Family, members being seen both as "interesting" and "tired", while their "historical-institutional significance" was "much more important" than their perception as celebrities (though, this question conflated the Royal Family with the monarchy and referred to the latter as "British"). Support for abolition of the monarchy was noted as declining.
A 2005 poll by The Strategic Counsel reported Canadians to be uncertain "about the legitimacy and role of the British monarchy remaining as Canada's head of state". The poll found an equal number—47% supporting and 47% opposed—to retention of the "British monarchy". Two years later, Angus Reid Strategies reported that 53% of respondents to its survey felt "Canada should end its formal ties to the British monarchy", while 35% thought the contrary and 12% were unsure. Angus Reid stated in March 2008 the majority of those it polled believe "it is time to end the country's official relationship with either the British monarchy or the monarchy."
Also in May 2010, an online poll by Leger Marketing for QMI Agency found that a majority (59%) of Canadians said that they had little or no interest in the Queen's visit to Canada, while 39% did. The poll found that 32% of 18- to 34-year-olds had an attachment to the crown. In the 65-and-over group, 46% reported an attachment. One fifth of Canadians said the Queen should stay home, and that furthermore, "Canada should sever its ties with the British Crown".
- History of monarchy in Canada
- National symbols of Canada
- Annexation movements of Canada
- Republicanism in Australia
- Republicanism in the United Kingdom
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