Flawed Republican Arguments Sadden One Canadian

Bob Hepburn of the Toronto Star expressed his dismay over the Harper government’s decision to restore the Royal designations to the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Canadian Navy in his column Royal Return Saddens One Canadian. For the record, I wholeheartedly support the restoration of the Royal designations and agree with Defence Minister MacKay that it corrects the last vestige of Defence Minister Hellyer’s historic mistake from 1968 of collapsing the three separate branches of the Canadian Armed Forces into one entity. Paul Hellyer himself also wrote a column criticizing the decision, but unlike Hepburn, he made logical arguments and gave reasonable explanations on his opposition to the policy decision. Like many republicans, Hepburn based his arguments on incorrect, emotive statements that obscure the true nature of constitutional monarchy and the Commonwealth realms.

Hepburn made several arguments based on incorrect interpretations of constitutional monarchy and the constitutional arrangements of the Commonwealth Realms (i.e., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the other 12 former colonies that share the British sovereign as head of state). I know that he’s a republican, but he should do his readers the courtesy of basing his arguments against constitutional monarchy on accurate information. In that sense, his column saddens me.

Elizabeth I is the only Elizabeth to take the title of “Queen of England.” Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, however, is the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Canada and the other Commonwealth realms in fact gained their independence in 1931 with the Statute of Westminster. Canada did not exercise the full extent of its independence with immediate effect, but constitutionally, Canada could have taken on all the trappings of independence in 1931: patriation of the constitution, appointment of Canadians as our governors general, the creation of a separate Canadian citizenship, the use of the Supreme Court of Canada as our final court of appeal, etc. The Statute of Westminster established the principle that henceforth, the former colonies, now independent, would now only be linked by the Crown. Queen Elizabeth II is therefore the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and separately, the Queen of Canada, the Queen of Australia, the Queen of New Zealand, etc. The Royal designation of the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force refer to the Queen Elizabeth II in her constitutionally distinct role as Queen of Canada.

Hepburn made two other incorrect arguments in particular, some of the typical refuges of republicanism.

“With this move, the Harper government is taking us back to a time that has long since ended, a time when Canada was part of the “British Empire” and when all parts of the country except Quebec was dominated by Anglo society.”

The Pearson government, under Minister of Defence Paul Hellyer, erased the distinction between the three branches of the Canadian Armed Forces and collapsed the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Canadian Army, and the Royal Canadian Navy into one entity – the Canadian Forces. Hellyer even forced the three former branches to adopt the same uniform. This policy entered into force in 1968 – long after Canada ceased to be a part of the British Empire that he so derides. The British Empire had disintegrated by 1968, and the Commonwealth of Nations came into being in 1949. The Harper government now in 2011 has corrected the Pearson government’s mistake by restoring the Royal designations to the Air Force and Navy.

“Maybe [Prime Minister Harper] just doesn’t care if he is insensitive to the millions of Canadians from Asia, Africa and elsewhere who have no historic ties to England.”

I find this republican argument particularly bizarre. (“England” should probably read “The United Kingdom” in that sentence as well). But more significantly, Hepburn is essentially trying to argue the following: “One must be white, and in particular, Anglo-Saxon, in order to support the monarchy. Therefore anyone who is not Anglo-Saxon should oppose it on principle because the Crown inherently excludes them.” The Crown of Canada knows no racial or ethnic distinctions and represents all Canadians, who can support the Crown proudly. Conversely and ironically, as someone with a thoroughly English name like Bob Hepburn demonstrates, even Canadians of British heritage can be republicans and oppose the Crown!

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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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11 Responses to Flawed Republican Arguments Sadden One Canadian

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  7. Alex S says:

    Minor error – the last Queen of England was Anne, who was Queen at the time of the Act of Union 1707 that created the United Kingdom.


    • Not exactly. The Stuarts ruled with a personal union until the Act of Union. The first Stuart king, for instance was officially known as “James VII and I.”


      • Alex S says:

        VI and I, but yes. However, that was a personal union of the crowns of England and Scotland, in exactly the same sense as the modern personal union of the United Kingdom and Canada(and 14 others). If Elizabeth II is Queen of Canada separately from her role as Queen of the United Kingdom, then Anne was Queen of England separately from her role as Queen of Scotland. Likewise Mary II.


        • Alex S says:

          Though of course, you would be correct in saying that Elizabeth I was the last English monarch to hold no other crowns, as all subsequent rulers were either King/Queen of Scotland or King/Queen of the United Kingdom.

          Also, I just realized something. At the time the United Kingdom was formed, and for 7 years thereafter, the United *King*dom had never actually had a King. Hooray for 18th century gender roles?


        • I hadn’t thought of that analogy, that the Commonwealth realms are essentially a personal union as well, rather like the Stuarts’ personal union of the English and Scottish crowns. In that case, I did word that incorrectly. Queen Elizabeth I was the last monarch to only carry the title of Queen of England, but you’re probably right about this constitutional distinction. I should say, “The last Elizabeth of England was Queen Elizabeth I.”


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