The Maple Crown and the Commonwealth Realms

On September 21, 2011, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an excellent new thinktank on public policy, hosted a presentation on a recently published book 1911: The Decisive Election that Shaped the Country precisely 100 years to the day when the results of that election. I enjoyed the presentations by one of the co-authors, Patrice Dutil; Derek Burney, former diplomat and adviser to PM Mulroney; and Jack Granastein, a Canadian political and military historian. As a Whig, I would definitely have been a Clear Grit or Reformer in 19th century, and I would have wholehearted supported Laurier in every election that he contested as Leader of the Liberal Party — including the free-trade election of 1911. I treasure the institutions, tradition, and values that we inherited from the United Kingdom, but I refuse to accept the notion that upholding them requires Canada to be reflexively anti-American. Indeed, as I have written earlier, we share those fundamental historical origins and philosophic underpinnings with our Americans friends. After all, the crown colonies of British North America enjoyed free trade with the United States between 1854 and 1866, when the United States Congress unilaterally abrogated the Reciprocity Treaty. The colonies never lost their British identity then, so I reject the argument that the Laurier government’s agreement would have allowed the US to annex Canada, economically or politically.

Unfortunately, after someone in the audience asked Patrice Dutil to clarify the Conservatives’ accusations that support of the free-trade agreement with the Americans amounted to treason against the Crown (a claim that I would have steadfastly refuted) and annexation into the United States, the panellists and subsequent questioners turned to what I have earlier identified as trite republican arguments. Author and journalist William Johnson commented that as a Canadian of Irish and French-Canadian heritage, he opposes constitutional monarchy and would prefer a Republic of Canada, the implication being that all Canadians of either Irish or French-Canadian heritage should also inherently and automatically oppose the crown. Jack Granastein, another republican, agreed and took the opportunity to criticize the Harper government for having restored the Royal designations of the Air Force and Navy. He found the decision bizarre and argued that the royal restoration appealed to no one born after 1960; I couldn’t resist telling him after the panel that I supported the change despite having been born in 1988. Neither Johnson nor Granastien acknowledged in their criticism of the “British crown” the existence of the constitutionally and legally separate Maple Crown.

Derek Burney responded to the republican commentaries of William Johnson and Jack Granastein through a anecdote from the 1980s about a conversation with a British diplomat on the subject of the Queen’s foreign travels. Burney asked the British diplomat why, if the Queen is also Canada’s Head of State, Her Majesty doesn’t also represent Canada when she travels abroad. The British diplomat replied, “Well, we haven’t really thought about that!” Thankfully, I have thought about it.

Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of State of 16 countries — the Commonwealth realms — in a personal union, which means that each of the 16 crowns is legally and constitutionally separate. The Crowns of Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Soloman Islands, Tuvalu, and the United Kingdom exist as constitutionally and legally separately entities. In effect, the Queen is crowned 16 times (the six Australian states and Scotland are not sovereign jurisdictions in war and diplomacy). Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom are often called the “core Commonwealth.”

The sovereign today does not travel abroad as a representative of any of those realms except on and with the advice and consent of the her Ministers of the Crown in that realm. When the British cabinet asks the Queen to travel abroad, she does so only in her capacity as Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Queen does not automatically represent all 16 Commonwealth realms when travelling abroad, because as a constitutional monarch, the Queen acts only upon the advice of her ministers, not unilaterally. In responsible government, Her Majesty’s Ministers (of whatever realm) are responsible for the actions of the Crown and responsible to their respective lower houses. Ironically, if the logical extension of Derek Burkey’s remarks were implemented, the Queen would be put in a position of subverting constitutional and responsible government.

Sometimes Her Majesty does travel abroad as the Queen of Canada and not as the Queen of the UK. For instance, when Her Majesty rededicated the Vimy Memorial on April 9, 2007, she did not attend as Queen of the United Kingdom. Her Majesty attended the ceremony as Queen of Canada and acted in her capacity of Canada’s Head of State, by and with the advice and consent of the Government of Canada.

In light of this impromptu discussion of the role of the Maple Crown, I very much look forward to the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s upcoming History Wars, Debate 3 “Monarchy Is a Dangerous Anachronism”, to be held on March 14, 2012.

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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.
This entry was posted in Conferences and Speeches, Monarchism v Republicanism, The Personal Union. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to The Maple Crown and the Commonwealth Realms

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  2. Mr. Terry Mester says:

    I very much like Jack Granatstein — although I’m disappointed by his republican support. He is however only a moderate republican. As far as that William Johnson character stating his republicanism based upon his Irish & French ancestry, he is clearly more loyal to his ethnicity than to Canada. He should immigrate to Ireland or France. I am of maternal French-Canadian descent with some Irish and Scottish mixed in, but like all loyal French-Canadians I do not subscribe to Anglophobia. If you’re anglophobic, then you’re not loyal to Canada. The simple truth is that Anglo-Saxon Society is the World’s best society. English Society is responsible for establishing pluralism, freedom, liberty, the rule of law and democracy; and then spreading it throughout the World — including to Quebec and France! Just think of how much more backward and obtuse Quebec would be if it had not been annexed to the British Empire.


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  19. CP says:

    Mister Bowden,
    Thanks for your blog. It’s very interesting. And as a citizen of an European Republic, I must say your blog is very exotic.
    Anyway, I have perfectly understood the fact that Elizabeth II, Queen of England, is also Queen of Jamaica, Queen of Canada, Queen of NZ… And that she acts with the advice and consent of these countries’s governements.
    But what if two or several Realms’ governements give opposite advice ? For instance, let’s imagine a ceremony to pay a tribute to someone. The Governement of Canada asks the Queen of Canada to attend it. The Governement of UK asks the Queen of UK not to attend it… Has this sort of event already happened ? If yes, how was the “conflict” solved ?


    • CP,

      This kind of situation would probably require communication of the two governments involved. For instance, if a conflict arose between the offices of Queen of the UK and Queen of Canada, the Canadian and British Prime Ministers should talk about the problem and try to resolve it themselves.

      The Queen herself has some discretion. This article from the Daily Mail mentions an incident from 1964 where the Queen of Canada came into conflict with the Queen of the UK. The Pearson government here in Canada asked Her Majesty to visit Canada, including Quebec, but the British government advised her to stay. Unlike the Mail, I wouldn’t characterize this incident as “interfering with her personally”; in fact, the British government interfered with her role as Queen of Canada. In any event, her visit in 1964 didn’t cause any problems.

      “In fact, the Queen isn’t scared to take on politicians when she believes they’re interfering with her personally. When the British government urged her not to visit Canada in 1964 because of separatist unrest, she ignored her ministers and went.”



  20. Sarah says:

    I would like to attend some of these events in the future.


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