Monday, June 02, 2014

Queen Elizabeth should be able to retire

On my way into work this morning I heard on the news that King Juan Carlos is going to step down from the throne of Spain in favour of his son. I think this is a brilliant policy for a modern monarchy. I’m under the impression it’s also being done in the Netherlands and some of the Scandinavian monarchies. I think it’s time this became a feature of ours.

I’m kind of ambivalent about our monarchy. On the one hand, I like it. My ancestry is largely from the British Isles and so it resonates with me as a longstanding part of my history. I like seeing the crown on Ontario’s highway signs and having a “Royal” Canadian Navy, Air Force, Mounted Police, and so on. I think there’s something charming about those ties with the distant past in a modern 21st century democracy. I like that it makes us one of a family of nations who share those traditions.

On the other hand, I have to admit it strikes me a little odd that no Canadian can aspire to actually be Canada’s head of state (yes, I know the Queen is technically “Canadian”, but you know what I mean).  And then there’s the fact that the majority of Canadians are not ethnically British, and haven’t been for a long time. People of other backgrounds don’t have the same ties to the monarchy as people like me. At best, they might look kindly on it as a feature of their native or adoptive country and its traditions. But it’s not really in the bone. And, of course, for the quarter or so of Canadians who are ethnically French, no matter how much they may like the Queen as a person, the monarchy must be, at least in part, the symbol of an ancient military defeat, and of being handed over from one empire to another like a card in a game of Risk. These facts incline me to think that, sometime soon, we should probably quietly transition into a republic on the Irish model… essentially, just making the Governor-General into a figurehead president, disconnected from the role of representing the monarch, and avoiding creating a powerful executive role that would compete with that of the Prime Minister and cabinet.

But anyway, that’s a debate for the future. For the moment, Canada remains one of the sixteen Commonwealth Realms. Recently we’ve all gotten together to update the rules of succession for our shared institution.  Once all the implementing legislation is in place in all the countries, succession will follow absolute birth order, rather than favouring males. Also, marrying a Catholic will no longer make someone illegible to succeed (although the person of the monarch must still be Anglican, since that person is the head of the Church of England, a constitutional position in the UK). With these changes made, I’d like to see the establishment of a new convention, if not actually a hard and fast rule, that the monarch can, and should, resign around the time that anyone else would… say, around 65 to 70 years of age. I personally feel that Queen Elizabeth should have stepped aside for Prince Charles about 15 years ago, and that about now, King Charles should be preparing to make way for Prince William. Waiting your whole life for a job you were born to have, and for your parent to die in order to get it, just strikes me as crushingly depressing.

How much more uplifting to have younger people on the throne; men and women just starting families. William is in his thirties now; in a few years he’ll be closing in on 40 and about the appropriate age to be king, with a pretty wife and a family around him. And why not? After all, that’s about the age Jack Kennedy was when he was elected President of the United States. “Camelot” holds a charm even for people who weren’t even born at the time. How much better a “Camelot” with a real king?

I respect the seriousness with which Queen Elizabeth takes her coronation oath… “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.” But I don’t see anything in that oath that obliges her to serve exclusively in the role of Queen. Her mother certainly served the Commonwealth without being the monarch; so have her children. I’m sure Queen Elizabeth could still find a way to serve her peoples without actually having to bear the weight of the crown. And she deserves a chance to relax, and let someone else take on the day-to-day burdens of dealing with heads of government. Other monarchs are giving themselves the gift of watching their children and grandchildren grow into the role. Why not ours?

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