Australian constitutional scholar Peter Boyce in The Queen’s Other Realms: The Crown in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand argued that all three of these Commonwealth realms have faced since the 1960s a gradual de-monarchization, or republicanism by stealth. These measures focused mostly on removing the Crown and its symbols from the public sphere, such as by removing Her Majesty’s portrait from government buildings, or omitting references to the Head of State as the Queen of Australia, Canada, or New Zealand in favour of those countries’ Governors-General. In Canada’s case, this republicanism by stealth ostensibly worked for “national unity” (i.e., making Quebec happy). The Parliament of Canada at some point changed the official name of this country from The Dominion of Canada to just Canada, and in 1980, the Speaker allowed a small group of MPs to dispose of the historically significant “Dominion Day” and replace it with the pedestrian “Canada Day”, as if Canadians need their government to remind them of their country’s name.
The Commonwealth of Australia has fostered the most open republican movement, and sadly, the constitutional monarchist-republican divide has fallen largely about a right-left cleavage; the Leader of the Australian Labor Party and current Prime Minister Julia Gillard openly supports the abolition of the Crown of Australia after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, but the Liberal leader and Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition Tony Abbot is a stanch monarchist and even led a monarchist organization in the 1990s. Australia even held a referendum on republicanism in 1999, which failed. Interesting, Peter Hogg mentioned at the Canadian Study of Parliament Group’s Annual Spring Conference in 2010 that because the six Australian states, unlike the ten Canadian provinces, enjoy a direct legal relationship with the sovereign, the Australian referendum would only have succeeded in eliminating the federal Crown but left the six state Crowns intact. When I point out the federal-provincial implications of abolishing the Crown (i.e, “What will become of the provincial Lieutenant Governors?”), most Canadian republicans dismiss such questions as minor details, even though most have in turn never even stopped to consider them!
I fully support the Harper government’s latest policies on bringing the Crown of Canada back into the public sphere, such as by restoring the Royal designations of the Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal Canadian Navy, or by reminding all embassies, high commissions, and consulates to display portraits of The Queen of Canada, our Head of State. These policies are part of the government’s crown prerogative and thus taken as Orders-in-Council rather than through Acts of Parliament; the republicanism by stealth and the Royal restorations both followed these kinds of procedures.
Many columnists, like Bob Hepburn, have criticized these recent decisions and characterized them as anachronistic and divisive. Stephen Maher called constitutional monarchy PM Harper’s “secret love”, in a slightly patronizing lament.
Dan Gardner lambasted “creeping republicanism” earlier this year in the column “Creeping Republicanism in Full Retreat” (which he wrote even before the Royal restorations of the Air Force and Navy) and concluded with this message:
“Important changes should never be driven by a manipulative few relying on the ignorance and apathy of the many. It is simply a fact that this nation is a constitutional monarchy whose head of state is Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada. Those who wish to change that should not deny it, distort it, paper it over, or cover it up. They should make their case. And those of us who think the monarchy is a great Canadian institution will make ours.”
Australian republicans have at least stated their intentions openly and honestly. It is time that Canadian republicans follow suit, instead of taking advantage of the apathy of their fellow Canadians. The Crown of Canada has served us well, and the onus rests with republicans to explain why we need to undertake revolutionary constitutional reform in order to abolish it.