The Monarchy in Canada

Feature by Jay Makarenko || Jun 1, 2007

Canada has a long monarchical tradition, beginning with the chief leadership of Aboriginal groups, the rule of French monarchs in New France, and British monarchs in Canada. This article presents Canada's monarchal traditions and institutions: it discusses the concept of monarchy, its history in Canada, its relationship with other governmental institutions, the profile of the current monarchy, as well as the debates and issues facing the monarchy in Canada.

Introduction to Monarchical Government

What is a monarchy? What are different types of monarchies?

The Monarchy in Canadian History

Historical overview of monarchies in Canada

Monarchy & Canadian Government

How the monarchy works in Canadian government.

Queen Elizabeth II Backgrounder

Introduction to Elizabeth II, the Queen of Canada

Current Debates on the Canadian Monarchy

The debate on whether to keep the monarchy in Canada.

Links to More Information

List of links for more on this topic


Introduction to Monarchical Government

What is a monarchy? What are different types of monarchies?

Monarchy as a Form of Government

A monarchy is one of the oldest forms of government in history. In general, a monarchy is a government in which a single person rules. The term monarchy is derived from the Greek words monos (or “one”) and archein (or “to rule”). We can distinguish monarchies from other forms of government, such as oligarchies (rule by the few) and democracies (rule by the many).

A “monarch” refers to the head of state or ruler of a monarchy. While there are no absolute rules, there are several characteristics of monarchies:

  • Most monarchs hold office for life. Once a monarch enters into office, s/he cannot be removed from rule (except under very rare circumstances or revolt). A monarch, however, may voluntarily choose to renounce his/her position voluntarily in a process called “abdication.”
  • Most monarchs are succeeded, upon death or abdication, by members of their own family (often the eldest child). Stable monarchies have a long legacy of rule by a single-family lineage or bloodline.
  • Most monarchs hold traditional titles such as "King," "Queen," "Emperor,” or "Empress."

Absolute versus Constitutional Monarchies

Historically, the monarchy as a system of government has evolved from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy. In an absolute monarchy the monarch has complete power over his/her dominions, with no laws or opposition groups to limit the monarch’s decisions or actions. This form of monarchical government was most evident throughout the world up until the 18th century. Some absolute monarchies are still present today, such as those of Saudi Arabia, Brunei, Oman, Swaziland, and the Vatican City. The monarchs of Jordan and Morocco continue to hold considerable power (albeit not absolute power).

Beginning in the 16th century, the idea of popular sovereignty (or rule by the people) began to challenge absolute monarchies, especially in Europe. This tension came to a head during two important revolutions, the American Revolution (1775) and the French Revolution (1789), which were democratic movements against the power of the British and French monarchs, respectively. During this period many European monarchical governments evolved into constitutional monarchies. Under this form of government the monarch is still recognized as the head of state, however, there are substantial constitutional restraints on his/her power. Most modern constitutional monarchies have strong representative democracies in which power lies with an elected legislative body (i.e., Parliament) and elected leader (i.e., Prime Minister). The monarch is often just a symbolic figure with no real power to influence political decision-making. Today, constitutional monarchies exist in the United Kingdom, Canada, Belgium, Japan, Malaysia, Spain, and Sweden, among others.

List of Countries with Monarchies (By Region) *(Current as of July 2007)

African Monarchs

Country

Type of Monarchy

Lesotho

Constitutional

Morocco

Constitutional

Swaziland

Absolute

Asian Monarchs

Country

Type of Monarchy

Bahrain

Constitutional

Bhutan

Constitutional

Brunei

Constitutional

Cambodia

Constitutional

Japan

Constitutional

Jordan

Constitutional

Kuwait

Constitutional

Malaysia

Constitutional

Nepal

Constitutional

Oman

Absolute

Qatar

Absolute

Saudi Arabia

Absolute

Thailand

Constitutional

European Monarchs

Country

Type of Monarchy

Andorra

Constitutional

Belgium

Constitutional

Denmark

Constitutional

Liechtenstein

Constitutional

Luxembourg

Constitutional

Monaco

Constitutional

Netherlands

Constitutional

Norway

Constitutional

Spain

Constitutional

Sweden

Constitutional

United Kingdom & Commonwealth Realms*

Constitutional

Vatican City

Absolute

*Includes Canada

Oceanic Monarchs

Country

Type of Monarchy

Samoa

Constitutional

Tonga

Constitutional


The Monarchy in Canadian History

Historical overview of monarchies in Canada

Canada has extensive historical ties to monarchy. Both the British and French monarchs have ruled over parts of what is known as Canada today. Even prior to European colonization of the region, Aboriginal groups formed quasi-monarchical forms of government. The following provides an overview of the history of monarchy in Canada.

Early Monarchies in Canada

While monarchy in Canada is commonly associated with the British, there have been other monarchical rulers in Canadian history. To begin with, there were many different Aboriginal groups in Canada prior to the arrival of European settlers, each with their own culture and decision-making processes. Aboriginal societies were largely governed by unwritten customs and codes of conduct. Many Aboriginal groups practiced consensus decision-making in which the community (or large components of it) would deliberate issues together.

While no Aboriginal group in Canada had a formalized monarchy in the modern sense of the term, many did have some form of aboriginal chiefdom. A Chief's powers varied from one society to the next. In some instances the Chief would exercise considerable authority and influence on the decisions of the group, while in others the Chief was more of a symbolic or ceremonial figure. Aboriginal Chiefdoms tended not to be hereditary positions. Instead, the community often chose Chiefs on the basis of their reputation for generosity, wisdom, spirituality, courage, or diplomacy. In some groups, a person would only hold the position of Chief temporarily, in order to deal with a specific issue or circumstance faced by the community.

Another early monarchy in Canada was the French monarchy, which ruled New France (or “Nouvelle-France”) from 1534 to 1763. At its peak in 1712, the territory of New France extended from Newfoundland (in the east) to Lake Superior (in the west), and from Hudson Bay (in the north) to the Gulf of Mexico (in the south). Monarchical rule in the French colony reflected the politics of France; during this period the French monarchy had absolute rule over its dominions, and exercised this rule in New France through a Colonial Governor (or representative of the Monarch). The governor was responsible only to the French monarchy, not to the colony’s citizens.

French rule in North America came to an end following the Seven Years’ War between France and Britain. The war was part of a worldwide conflict involving Great Britain and Prussia on one side, and France, Austria, Sweden, Russia, and Spain on the other. The British eventually defeated the French, taking control over French colonies (in what is known today as North America) through the 1763 Treaty of Paris. The British renamed New France the Province of Quebec.

Monarchs of New France

Monarch

Date

François I

1515-47

Henri II

1547-59

François II

1559-60

Charles IX

1560-74

Henri III

1574-89

Henri IV 1589-1610
Louis XIII 1610-43
Louis XIV 1643-1715
Louis XV 1715-74

British Monarchy in Canada

The British Empire in North America began in the late 15th century when John Cabot discovered the island of Newfoundland for England. Initially, the British controlled the eastern colonies of North America, which include the eastern seaboard (of what is now Canada and the United States), as well as several Caribbean islands. Following the defeat of the French in the Seven Years’ War, the British acquired the French colony of New France (what is presently Quebec, as well as parts of Ontario). Colonies were also developed along the western coast of North America (what is presently Vancouver Island, in British Columbia). The British, however, lost the American colonies during the American Revolution (1775).

Early monarchical rule in the British colonies of North America was absolutist. British monarchs appointed colonial governors to rule over the colonies and represent their interests; these colonial governors were the beginnings of Canada’s present day offices of Governor General and Lieutenant Governors. Over time, however, monarchical rule in the Canadian colonies began to weaken (see below).

Monarchical Rule and Democratic Reform

During the 1700 and 1800s, monarchical rule in Canada began to evolve with the appearance of two democratic reforms: representative government and responsible government. Representative government first appeared in 1756, in the Canadian colony of Nova Scotia (which included what is known today as Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island). Representative government is a system of government in which the law-making body (i.e. the cabinet and legislatures) is at least partially elected by the people, as opposed to simply being appointed by the Monarch. Representative government followed in the other colonies of Canada, including present day Quebec and Ontario (1791), Newfoundland (1832), and British Columbia (in the 1860s).

For more information on representative government in Canada:

While the Canadian colonies could elect representatives, these elected officials often had very little power and were generally dominated by the colonial governor (who in turn was responsible to the Monarch and Parliament in Britain). This began to change in the mid-19th century with the arrival of responsible government to Canada. Under this system of government, political decision-makers (such as cabinets) became indirectly responsible to regular citizens in the Canadian colonies. In order to stay power, cabinet were required to hold the support of the majority of elective representatives in their respective legislatures, as opposed to simply holding the support of the colonial governor.

For more information on responsible government in Canada:

The result of these democratic reforms was a constraining of the power of the colonial governors in the Canadian colonies. The British Monarch and Parliament could no longer rule absolutely through their colonial governors. Instead, political decision making fell to colonial cabinets and legislatures, who were, in turn, elected by and responsible to regular colonial citizens.

Confederation and Constitutional Monarchy

In 1867, the British Parliament passed the British North America Act (or “BNA Act”). The BNA Act united the colonies of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Canada into the Dominion of Canada. Although it was a British statute, the BNA Act was drafted entirely by Canadians at the Quebec Conference of 1864; it was passed by the British without amendment.

For more information on Confederation negotiations:

The BNA Act, 1867 granted Canada semi-independence from the British Empire. The new nation had jurisdiction over its own domestic policy and issues. However, the British government retained control over foreign policy and any amendments to the Canadian constitution. Full constitutional independence was not achieved until 1982, with the patriation of the Constitution and the passing of the Canada Act, 1982.

For more information on Canadian constitutional independence:

The BNA Act, 1867 also officially established Canada as a constitutional monarchy, and the British monarch as the Canadian Head of State. The British monarchy remained the executive authority over the nation and was represented in Canada by the Governor General (federally) and Lieutenant Governors (provincially/territorially). In practice, however, executive and legislative power was exercised by the country’s elected legislatures (the federal House of Commons and the provincial/territorial legislatures) and their respective cabinets.

Sovereigns Since Canadian Confederation (1876 – 2005)

Sovereign

Accession

Death/abdication

Her Majesty Queen Victoria

June 20, 1837

January 22, 1901 (death)

His Majesty King Edward VII

January 22, 1901

May 6, 1910 (death)

His Majesty King George V

May 6, 1910

January 20, 1936 (death)

His Majesty King Edward VIII

January 20, 1936

December 10, 1936 (abdication)

His Majesty King George VI

December 10, 1936

February 6, 1952 (death)

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

February 6, 1952

 

"Canadianizing" the Monarchy

The British North America Act of 1867 established Canada as both an independent nation and a constitutional monarchy. However, the monarchy itself remained a strictly British institution. Since that time, however, reforms have been instituted which have "Canadianized" the monarchy in Canada.

The first of these reforms was the passing of the Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act by the British Parliament. This Act replaced the concept of a single monarchy throughout the British Empire with multiple monarchies, held by the same person. Previously, the British King or Queen was the monarch of colonies such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, simply by virtue of being the monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. With the passage of the Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act, however, the King or Queen was designated as the monarch of these countries, as separate monarchies and kingdoms. Canada thus continued to recognize a British King or Queen as its monarch. However, the country had gained its own royal office and title; the monarchy in Canada was no longer known as the King or Queen of the United Kingdom, but simply as the King or Queen of Canada.

A second key reform came in 1931, when the British Parliament passed the Statute of Westminster, 1931. The Statute officially recognized the autonomy of all Commonwealth Nations, as well as gave all Commonwealth Realms, including Canada, legal powers over the monarchy in their own jurisdiction. (A Commonwealth Realm is any nation that recognizes the monarch in Britain as its Head of State.) As such, any changes to the rules of succession (the procedures by which a new monarch in Britain can be chosen) or royal styles and titles (the manner by which a monarch describes him/herself, or is described by others) require the consent of all Parliaments of the Commonwealth Realms. For example, if the Act of Settlement — which provides that only Protestants may become the monarch — were to be changed to allow Catholics to accede to the Throne, this would require Parliamentary approval by Canada and all other Commonwealth Realms.

The convention regarding the altering of royal styles and titles was again amended in 1953 to allow each Commonwealth Realm to adopt its own practices, as suited to its particular monarchy.

For more information on Canadian Royal Styles and Titles:


Canadian Government & the Monarchy

How the monarchy works in Canadian government.

Canada is a constitutional monarchy. In other words, the monarchy in Canada is recognized as the Head of State and centre of state authority. This role, however, is essentially symbolic; today, most real political power in Canada lies with elected politicians. The following provides an overview of the monarchy in contemporary Canadian government.

The Monarchy & the Canadian Parliament

The Canadian Parliament is one of the fundamental institutions in Canadian government, and is responsible for the development and enactment of federal laws. The Canadian Parliament is composed of three parts: the House of Commons, the Senate, and the Monarchy. In theory, for a law to come into effect, it must be approved by all three parts of Parliament.

The House of Commons is the elected legislative body of Parliament. Members of the House of Commons (called Members of Parliament or MPs) are elected by Canadians to serve five-year terms, although these terms often end up being shorter. These elected representatives deliberate and pass government legislation. It is also important to note that the government of the day is represented by the political party with the greatest number of elected representatives in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister is the leader of the political party with the most elected representatives.

For more information on the House of Commons:

The Senate is the non-elected legislative body of Parliament. Members of the Senate (called Senators) are not elected directly by Canadians, but appointed by the federal government. The Senate was designed to act as a counter-balance to the democratically elected House of Commons (as a body of “sober second thought”) and as an avenue of regional representation in Parliament. Each region of Canada is represented by a given number of Senators in the Red Chamber. In theory, no law can pass without approval by the Senate; however, in practice, the Senate very rarely exercises this power and generally approves all laws passed by the House of Commons.

For more information on the Senate:

The third component of Parliament is the monarchy. Again, in theory, no law can be passed without approval by the monarchy (before a bill officially becomes law in Canada, it must be given Royal Assent). The monarchy also has the power to appoint the Prime Minister, and to summon and dissolve Parliament. In practice, however, the monarchy rarely exercises these powers independently. The monarch (or its representative in Canada, in the form of the Governor General) automatically gives Royal Assent to all legislation passed by the House of Commons. The actual decision to summon and dissolve Parliament is made by the Prime Minister. Its execution by the monarchy is almost always a formality.

Monarchy as the Head of State

The primary function of the monarchy in Canada is to act as a symbol of the Canadian state and nation. This function is rooted in the tradition of the monarch’s position as Canada’s Head of State. The Head of State is the chief public representative of the nation, whose role generally includes personifying the continuity and legitimacy of the State and its institutions, and exercising their political powers, functions, and duties granted under the nation’s constitution. As a concept, the Head of State can be distinguished from the Head of Government. The latter refers to the leader of the main government decision-making body. The Head of Government represents the government of the day, while the head of state represents the nation as whole (its institutions, peoples, traditions, etc.).

Some forms of government blur the lines between the Head of State and Head of Government. For example, in absolute monarchies such as that of Saudi Arabia, the Head of State and Head of Government are the same person. Presidential systems, such as that found in the United States of America, also bring the two together under the Office of the President. However, in Parliamentary systems such as that found in Canada, the two exist as separate and distinct offices. The Head of Government in Canada is the Prime Minister at the federal level, and the Premiers at the provincial/territorial level. These elected politicians are the leaders of their respective governments of the day. The Head of State, in contrast, is the monarch of Canada. The King or Queen, through the Governor General of Canada, represents the nation as a whole, its institutions, peoples, traditions, etc.

Symbolism of the Monarchy

As the monarchy holds no real power in Parliament (see above) it cannot “represent the nation” in the political or legal sense of the phrase. The nation’s legislatures, courts, and heads of government perform this political and legal representation. Instead, the monarch’s representation of the nation is social or cultural. It is supposed to embody or personify the “spirit” of the nation — both to the nation itself and to the world. As a result, the monarchy acts as a force of unity and continuity for the Canadian nation.

This symbolic function of the monarchy can be seen in many aspects of Canadian life. For example:

  • The face of the monarch appears on the Canadian currency. This symbolizes the legality of publicly used coins and bills.
  • Publicly owned lands and corporations in Canada are referred to as “Crown lands” or “Crown corporations.” This symbolizes their ownership and use by the Canadian state and peoples.
  • Other important public institutions in Canada also bear the symbolism of the monarchy, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (which protect the public), Royal Commissions (which investigate matters in depth in the public’s interest), and Crown prosecutors (which prosecute crimes for the public good).
  • The Official Opposition in the House of Commons is referred to as “Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition” (or “His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition” in the case of a male monarch). Criticism of the government is thus legitimized in the name of the monarchy.
  • Canadian military units and equipment often bear the symbolism of the monarchy. For example, all Canada naval ships have the prefix “HMCS” which is short for “Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship.” This symbolizes both the position of the monarch as the Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Armed Forces, as well as the role of the military in protecting national interests domestically and abroad.

Representatives of the Monarch

While Canada has its own monarchy, the monarch has never actually resided in Canada. Moreover, as the monarch of Canada is also the monarch of all other Commonwealth Realms (including the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand), s/he does not have the ability to attend to all the royal duties s/he would have to perform in Canada. To compensate for this, the monarch has representatives in Canada that perform the day-to-day activities of the office.

There are two sorts of representatives, which reflect the two distinct levels of government in Canada. At the federal or national level, the Governor General represents the monarch. The Governor General performs all royal duties relating to the federal Parliament, foreign relations, and national honours and ceremonies.

For more information on the Governor General:

At the provincial level, the monarch’s representatives are called Lieutenant Governors. There is one Lieutenant Governor for each province in Canada; each is responsible for performing all royal duties relating to provincial legislatures and provincial honours and ceremonies.

While Canada’s northern territories (that is, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut) do not have Lieutenant Governors per se, in recent years the Office of Territorial Commissioner has evolved into one that is analogous to that of the Lieutenant Governor. Canada’s written constitution does not grant these Commissioners the role of representing the monarchy. However, the office has, through convention, become the de facto territorial representative of the Crown.

At the national level, the Prime Minister appoints the Governor General. In theory, the provincial Lieutenant Governors are to be appointed by the Governor General. However, in practice, the Prime Minister, in consultation with the provincial or territorial premier, also appoints both the provincial Lieutenant Governors and Territorial Commissioners.

For more information on provincial Lieutenant Governors:

For more information on territorial Commissioners:


Queen Elizabeth II Backgrounder

Introduction to Elizabeth II, the Queen of Canada.

Queen Elizabeth II is Canada's current monarch. The following provides background information on her family, personal biography, and ties with Canada.

The Queen’s Personal Background

Queen Elizabeth II was born Elizabeth Alexandra Mary on April 21, 1926. Her parents were Prince Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI) and Elizabeth, Duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth; also commonly referred to as the “Queen Mum”). At her birth, Elizabeth was born third in line to the Throne, after her uncle (later King Edward VIII) and her father.

Elizabeth was educated at home with her younger sister Princess Margaret. She studied constitutional history and law, art, and music. During World War II it was suggested that Elizabeth and Margaret be evacuated to Canada. However, the Royal Family decided to remain together in the United Kingdom. In 1945, Elizabeth joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service, a British defence reserve service during World War II, and was trained as a driver. The Queen was the first and only female member of the Royal Family to actually serve in the military.

In 1947, Elizabeth married Prince Philipos of Greece and Denmark. At the time of the marriage, Prince Philip renounced his claim to the Greek monarchy (he later took the title Duke of Edinburgh). Together they had four children: Prince Charles (1948), Princess Anne (1950), Prince Andrew (1960), and Prince Edward (1964). As the eldest child, Prince Charles is next in line to the Throne.

The Queen's Rise to the Throne

Elizabeth’s rise to the Throne was the result of a controversial period in British royal history. Following the death of her grandfather, King George IV in 1936, her uncle, King Edward VIII, assumed the monarchy. However, King Edward VIII abdicated the Throne less than a year later, in order to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcée. Members of the British government had deemed it impossible for Edward to marry a divorcée on the grounds the King was the head of the Church of England.

Following the abdication of King Edward VIII, Elizabeth’s father, King George V, assumed the monarchy. King George V’s health began to drastically decline in 1950, causing Elizabeth to stand in for her farther at public events. In 1952, while in Kenya en route to Australia and New Zealand, Elizabeth’s father died; she immediately became the new monarch. Elizabeth’s coronation took place in June 1953. She was crowned Queen Elizabeth II.

The Queen's Activities in Canada

Queen Elizabeth II has made numerous royal visits to Canada during her reign, marking important events in both her own history and the history of Canada. Her first trip to Canada was in 1951, as Princess Elizabeth. In 1959, the Queen, accompanied by her husband the Duke of Edinburgh, spent 45 days in Canada, touring all provinces and both territories (Nunavut, Canada's third territory was established years later). During that visit the Queen also attended the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Other important royal visits include the Queen’s attendance at the 1967 Olympic Games in Montreal, the 1977 Silver Jubilee tour, and her participation in the official ceremonies marking the patriation of the Canadian Constitution in 1982. In 2002, the Queen visited Canada in honour of her Golden Jubilee (the fiftieth anniversary of her accession to the Throne).

In addition to her periodic visits to Canada, Queen Elizabeth II also honours significant achievements and exemplary service of Canadians through national awards including the Order of Canada, the Order of Military Merit, the Order of Merit of the Police Forces, and The Royal Victorian Order.

The Queen is also the patron of many Canadian organizations and charities, including the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Red Cross Society, and Save the Children Canada.

For more information on royal awards and charities in Canada:


Current Debates on the Monarchy

The debate on whether to keep the monarchy in Canada.

A continuing debate in Canada centres on whether the nation should continue to have a monarchy. The following section provides an introduction to this debate by outlining different positions and their arguments, as well as summaries of public opinion polls in Canada on the monarchy.

Constitutional Monarchy versus Republic

Two positions important to the debate on the monarchy in Canada are the “constitutional monarchy position,” which favours continuing with the monarchy, and the “republic position,” which favours doing away with the monarchy and making Canada a republic.

It is important to note that this debate has more to do with the symbolism of Canadian government rather than its actual workings. While the monarchy is theoretically the source of authority in Canada, in practice it does not hold any real power. Its position is mainly symbolic. Hence, the issue being debated is whether or not to maintain a monarchy as the symbol of national authority and identity.

Canada as a Constitutional Monarchy

This position holds that Canada should have a constitutional monarchy as its form of government, with a King or Queen as its symbolic head of state. Several arguments are offered in support of this position:

  • Division of political responsibilities: One of the advantages of having a Head of Government separate from the Head of State is that it makes the best use of the Prime Minister’s time. As only the Head of Government, the Prime Minister can focus on the serious day-to-day responsibilities affiliated with managing the federal government. The monarch and his/her representatives can attend to the more ceremonial responsibilities, also of importance to the nation’s business.
  • Impartiality of the monarchy: The monarchy is better suited to act as the symbolic representative of the nation than the Head of Government. The Prime Minister, for example, is directly tied to the partisan politics of the day. In contrast, the monarch can be considered impartial or “above politics” and, hence, better able to act as a symbol of the nation as a whole.
  • Canadian identity: By continuing to maintain ties to the monarchy, Canadians’ ties to their national history and identity are invariably strengthened. The monarchy not only reminds Canadians of their unique historical development, but also of their significant cultural differences from other nations in the region, in particular, the United States.

However, even if one supports the idea of Canada as a constitutional monarchy, there can be continued disagreement over the precise nature of the monarchy. There is the question as to whether to continue links to British monarchs, or to make the monarchy a purely Canadian institution (for example, by having a Canadian citizen and resident as the monarch of Canada).

Arguments in favour of maintaining the British link tend to focus on the international celebrity status and media power of the British Royal Family. In addition, there may be some advantage to sharing a monarch, including greater cultural and social ties with other Commonwealth countries around the world.

Arguments in support of making the monarchy a purely Canadian institution focus on the problems of a British-linked monarchy in representing the modern identity of Canada. The current monarchy reflects Canada’s conquest, and its colonization by the peoples and culture of the United Kingdom. This may be an inappropriate symbol for a modern, independent nation that has an important French and aboriginal component, and is becoming increasingly multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and multi-religious.

Canada as a Republic

This position holds that Canada should do away with the monarchy and become a republic. A republic is a form of government in which political authority and identity is invested in “the people” (that is, the citizens at large). This is in opposition to a constitutional monarchy where political authority and identity is invested (at least symbolically) in a hereditary royal lineage.

Pro-republic arguments often overlap with those in favour of making the monarchy a purely Canadian institution (see above). As a modern, independent, and multicultural nation, this view holds that Canada should not have a Head of State that is linked to British conquest and colonization. By becoming a republic, Canada would shed this colonial heritage.

However, at the heart of the republican argument is the rejection of the idea of a monarchy itself. A monarchy represents a form of government in which a single person (because of his/her birth) holds great political authority and prestige over all other citizens. Even the symbolism of such a form of government is inappropriate for a nation that attaches high value to democracy, social equality, and individual liberty.

One of the political challenges facing republicanism is the issue of what to replace the monarchy with. The office of Head of State could be given to the Head of Government. As such, the Prime Minister (federally) and Premiers (provincially) would become the Heads of State and ceremonial figures in their respective jurisdictions. Another possibility would be to create an alternative elected office that would act as Head of State. Many Parliamentary systems around the world have a Prime Minister as their head of government and an elected President (or some other title) as their Head of State. One reason why the monarchy has staying power is the difficulty in finding an alternative option that Canada’s as a whole would support.

Public Opinion Polls

In 2002 several polls were taken during the Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee (the 50th anniversary of the Queen’s accession to the Throne). In general, the polls indicate that Canadians are divided evenly on whether or not to abolish the monarchy.

The Ekos poll commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Radio-Canada, the Toronto Star, and La Presse found the following:

  • 43 percent of those polled agreed that it was time to abolish the monarchy, while 41 percent disagreed.
  • Support for abolishing the monarchy was the highest in Quebec (54 percent), British Columbia, and Atlantic Canada (both 42 percent). It was lowest in the Prairies (25 percent) and Alberta (30 percent).
  • Males tended to support abolishing the monarchy more (47 percent) than females (33 percent).
  • Support for abolishing the monarchy was highest amongst those between the ages of 45-64 (46 percent), and lowest amongst those 25 or younger, and 65 or older (both 33 percent).
    Full Text of the 2002 Ekos Poll on the Monarchy in Canada (PDF)

The Ipsos-Reid poll commissioned by The Globe and Mail and the Canadian Television Network (CTV) found the following:

  • 79 percent of those polled supported the constitutional monarchy as Canada’s form of government.
  • 62 percent believed the constitutional monarchy defines Canada’s identity and should continue.
  • 48 percent of those polled would have preferred a republic style of government with an elected Head of State.
  • 65 percent believed the Royal Family should not have any formal role in government, being “simply celebrities.”
    Full Text of the 2002 Ipsos-Reid Poll on the Monarchy in Canada (PDF)

The Léger Marketing poll found the following:

Several national public opinion polls on the monarchy were taken in 2005. These polls again indicated that Canadians were evenly divided in their support of the monarchy. Highlights of the polls are as follows:

  • In a March 2005 poll prepared by Pollara Inc., 46 percent of those polled supported Canada replacing the British Monarch with a Canadian Head of State.
  • In a March 2005 poll undertaken by Decima Research, 71 percent of those polled suggested they had a favourable impression of the Royal Family.
  • In an April 2005 poll conducted by Ipsos-Reid, 55 percent of those polled believed Canada should disassociate from the British Monarchy when Queen Elizabeth II’s reign ends.

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