Time for Some Serious Decisions

The “Harper government” — yes, I’m choosing the term very deliberately — is ordering Canadian embassies around the world to display an image of the Queen. So, which will it be?

The Good Queen   The Evil Queen

Look, I’m neither for nor against the monarchy. The lefty in me doesn’t agree with priviledge bestowed onto someone simply by birth, but in the modern Canadian context, the Queen’s role is so symbolic as to be meaningless — benign, but meaningless. However, I suspect that if Elizabeth weren’t still around and Charles were King, there would be a more unanimous outcry against the Harper government’s degree.

First came John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs, asking to replace modern paintings by a Quebec artist at his department’s headquarters with a portrait Good Old Benign Liz. Then came the reinsertion of the word “Royal” to the Canadian Air Forces and Canadian Navy. And now a portrait of Liz must appear in our embassies.

Quite correctly, I believe, University of Guelph Associate Professor Matt Hayday, quoted in this article of the National Post, sees this attempt at rebranding Canadian identity as a step backward.

“It’s a very deliberate and calculated effort to re-shape Canadian symbolism, Canadian nationalism and Canadian values back to a certain conception of conservative Canada that has very strong roots in Diefenbaker-era Canada where ties to the monarchy, to tradition, to the British world are very important,” said Matthew Hayday……

Canada’s conservatives have long loved the Crown because it plays to the ideas of tradition and respect for authority — namely, the authority of the British empire, he said.

“There’s a certain amount of nostalgia as well for a period where Canada was part of a broader British empire,” said Prof. Hayday, and the mandate plays to a “specific subset” of the Conservatives’ Canadian voter base who have watched as multiculturalism and bilingualism, in their view, overshadowed any nods to Canada’s British heritage.

However, as I commented on Matt’s blog, it occurred to me that maybe all these moves by the Conservatives, but especially this latest one, are a provocation on their part. Sure, on the surface, they’re playing to their base. But in the nearly 20 years since the failed Charlottetown Accord, there’s been agitation on the right for true Senate reform, mention on the left (especially by the late Jack Layton during the last election) of finding the “winning conditions” for Canada and Québec, and for all sides for electoral reform. In other words, could it be that, in public, they’re saying that they don’t want another round of constitutional talks, but in fact they’re itching for one through provocation via successive legislative plans and degrees that most Canadians find distasteful?

I can already hear the cries of protest against constitutional talks when there’s so much uncertainty economically worldwide. And I have grave concerns about having such talks while the current brand of Conservatives is in power. But in my view, the economic argument against such talks is the weakest, for the most significant constitutional changes of the 20th century occurred at times when the economy was precarious. In fact, if the economy were good, there could be arguments along the lines that “the economy is good, so let’s not disrupt it by reopening the constitution.”

Maybe my little “conspiracy theory” is giving the Conservatives too much credit. Maybe this isn’t a bait at all, but it could certainly be turned into one. Maybe the Conservatives really are intent on changing the country through whatever back-handed means their majority affords them. Or maybe the opposition — both in Parliament and the public at large — isn’t alert enough to recognize the bait it’s being handed…

I mean, why not consider having a Governor General as end-of-the-line head of state? Let’s look perhaps at keeping the title of “governor general” out of respect to tradition and heritage instead of seeking a republican president. And why not consider whether or not we want a Senate? And if we do, let’s discuss how it should be constituted and whether its member should be elected or appointed. And while recognizing that, for a vocal minority, the only solution for Québec is full sovereignty, why not try to find among the soft nationalist and federalist majority in Québec what they would deem acceptable for being a solid and equal partner within Canada?