Republican Ignorance of Parliamentarism and Constitutional Monarchy

While I emphasize parliamentarism, like most of my Whiggish predecessors, I support our current constitutional monarchy and Crown-in-Parliament as a system of government and oppose the argument that Canada ought to become a federal republic. Steve LaFleur wrote an excellent piece on constitutional monarch in Canada and addressed reasonably some of the common republican arguments for the abolition of Canada’s current system of government. Then an expatriate New Zealander named Fergus Hodgson wrote a largely incoherent rebuttal of Steve’s piece that barely even addressed the issue of constitutional monarchy, but described the constitutional monarchy of the 16 Commonwealth realms inaccurately by implying that they remained under the yoke of absolute monarchy, constant political interference from the Crown, and sheer despotism. Frankly, I would have expected a New Zealander to understand Westminster parliamentarism and constitutional monarchy well enough to critique it based on facts rather than misinformation and an interpretation of the Crown that hasn’t applied since at least the mid-18th century.

 I emailed an unhappy Fergus and accused him of misconstruing the Commonwealth realms as absolute monarchies because of the following factually incorrect, hyperbolic statements in his incoherent, flawed column:

  • “During the same week Canadians celebrated Victoria Day, their historic ruler’s birthday […] [emphasis added].”
  • “The monarchy’s opponents must all want a chance to become king or president, and Canadians mustn’t be mature enough to rule themselves, as their betters in the motherland evidently are [emphasis added].”
  • “LaFleur’s limp defence, typical of royal apologists, does not answer why ancestry alone should determine one’s position to rule [emphasis added].”

 Like many republicans who don’t understand constitutional monarchy and how Westminster parliamentarism works in fact, Fergus has erected the strawman of absolute monarchy in place of our real constitutional monarchy, then claims to have demolished the justification for the latter. I italicized all instances of a monarch “ruling” because, as page 3 of the New Zealand Cabinet Manual says: “The Queen reigns but the government rules so long as it has the support of the House of Representatives [emphasis added].” English constitutional scholar Vernon Bogdanor describes constitutional monarchy as one in which “The Queen reigns but Parliament rules.” In any case, the concepts of “reigning” and “ruling” are distinct – and that distinction is all-important in understanding parliamentarism and the Crown-in-Parliament. The monarch merely “reigns” because constitutional conventions have constrained her political power to the reserve powers, which she may invoke only in the most exceptional circumstances. In all other circumstances, she only exercises those royal powers on the advice of the prime minister or cabinet.

I also explained to Fergus in our correspondence that Canadians have “been mature enough to rule themselves” since 1848 when our crown colonies achieved responsible government – which means that the government can only exercise authority in the name of the Crown when it commands the confidence of the House of Commons (or Representatives) – and that Canada has reaped its rewards uninterrupted since. For his benefit, I also informed him that Australia and New Zealand have ruled themselves under the regime of responsible government since around 1854. (Canada did achieve it first, as part of Lord Durham’s experiment). Fergus didn’t seem to understand the definition of “responsible government” or have any idea of its significance, and replied with a statement just as incoherent as was his column in response to Steve’s article: “You may believe that ever-expanding and entangling socialism is ‘responsible government since 1848.’ I suggest that is not the case.”

 Well, Fergus, I suggest that you not confuse an institution and system of government with an immoral left-wing ideology, that you read the New Zealand Cabinet Manual, do your research on constitutional monarchy, and educate yourself on Westminster parliamentarism instead of continuing to ensnare yourself in the republicans’ symbolic, hyperbolic fallacy against our Westminster system of government.

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About J.W.J. Bowden

My area of academic expertise lies in Canadian political institutions, especially the Crown, political executive, and conventions of Responsible Government; since 2011, I have made a valuable contribution to the scholarship by having been published and cited extensively. I’m also a contributing editor to the Dorchester Review and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Parliamentary and Political Law.
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4 Responses to Republican Ignorance of Parliamentarism and Constitutional Monarchy

  1. Pingback: Reversal of “Republicanism by Stealth” | Parliamentum

  2. Pingback: The “Republic of Canada, Est. 1837”: Distortion of History and of Responsible Government | Parliamentum

  3. Pingback: Flawed Republican Arguments Sadden One Canadian | Parliamentum

  4. Pingback: Republican Ignorance of the Commonwealth Realms Saddens One Canadian | Parliamentum

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