The Globe and Mail is considering an issue I raised some time ago: whether the royal transition from Elizabeth II to Charles might be a good opportunity for Canada to abandon the monarchy entirely. Personally, I think it would be an ideal time to get rid of a dated institution that insults the concept of democracy and the rule of law. It is absurd that the highest office in Canada is occupied by a foreigner by virtue of the family they were born into. It is contrary to the values which our society is built upon and it is fundamentally anachronistic.
The absurd present arrangement might be eliminated in several different ways, two of which I will briefly consider. I dub them ‘republic light’ and ‘substantial republic.’
In the first case, we nix the royals and replace the Governor General with an appointed ceremonial president, with few substantial powers. They could retain things like the formal right to dissolve Parliament, but would be given much clearer rules on when and how to do so. The new presidency would be much like the current Governor Generalship, insofar as it would put someone who seems to embody Canadian values in a position to hobnob with foreign diplomats who would otherwise be a drain on the prime minister’s time.
In the second case, abandoning the monarchy could be a catalyst for a much deeper democratic reform. We could replace the Governor General with a directly elected president, formally splitting the executive and legislative branches of government. The prime minister would still make laws, but they could be subjected to a kind of limited veto system akin to what exists in the United States. The president would also be the head of the armed forces and the front-person for global diplomacy. While it’s hard to imagine a prime minister endorsing such a harsh curtailing of their own responsibilities, I think it would be very valuable for Canadian voters to have the chance to express their leadership preferences directly. The way in which the leaders of Canadian political parties are chosen leaves a great deal to be desired.
Both as a person and as a symbol, Prince Charles is far from impressive. I maintain that Elizabeth II is an eminently suitable final monarch, and suggest that Canada should be contemplating how the royal institution could end with her. The constitutional difficulties involved in making the change are considerable – enormously more so for ‘substantial republic’ than for the light version – but it is certainly a thing worth contemplating.