The Sovereign Burden

In this day and age, so many people still seem challenged by the contradiction of supporting monarchism and democracy, by the contradiction of supporting a classless society and supporting monarchy.

The CBC examined support for the monarchy in an interview with John Fraser, master of Massey College at the University of Toronto.1 Fraser wrote a book, The Secret of the Crown: Canada’s Affair with Royalty. The first question was about the book’s title: “Why Crown and not monarchy?”

A better question is why the assertion of “Canada’s affair with royalty”? There are plenty of polls done in recent years that indicate Canadians are apathetic or opposed to British royalty.2

Fraser replied, “I don’t think monarchy works here. No one talks about the Canadian monarchy and you never hear it, you don’t see it. But the Crown’s all over the place, on all sorts of things, so that seemed to me appropriate.”

The thing is that most Canadians do not see it as a Canadian monarchy but a British monarchy; this better suits monarchists since if Canadians knew the monarch of the UK was also Canada’s head-of-state (and a 2002 poll indicated that only 5 percent of Canadians knew the British monarch was Canada’s head-of-state), likeliest there would be increased pressure to, at least, Canadianize, the institution. A crown, however, merely represents a costly headpiece in the eyes of most people.

Fraser continues, “Also, we don’t really have a monarchy here. If we do I’d call it ‘monarchy lite.’ We’re not weighed down with the burden of court officers and that sort of thing.”

However, Canada is “weighed down” with the burden of paying for lieutenant governors, a governor general, and that sort of thing. Also, every time a monarch visits Canada, the cost is not cheap.3,4

Fraser says, “We have a constitutional system that seems to work quite well. It doesn’t weigh heavily on our shoulders.”

Whose shoulders? Try telling that to the Original Peoples who had no input into the British North America Act being forced upon them, who had too little immunity and military power to resist their lands being taken from them, and to resist the further encroachments into their lands today.5 The Crown represents an institution complicit in the dispossession of the Original Peoples of Turtle Island. Today, the “reserves” that Original Peoples live on are Crown lands, that is, lands belonging the Crown/state, not the First Nations.6

No need to fret over the present queen says Fraser: “She’s just the old lady of the House of Windsor, very faithful and loyal to the mandate and the burden she’s been given.”

Indeed, Elizabeth has the burden of being one of world’s wealthiest women,7 the burden of never having to do menial chores such as cleaning toilet bowls, sweeping castle floors, homecooking, etc. However, what kind of argument is that — being “just the old lady” — for having a privileged, foreign, unelected person being a head-of-state outside her own country?

Fraser: “One of the bits of fun about doing the book was looking at what I call the secret history because Canadian historians don’t like acknowledging the sovereigns.”

Why refer to them as “sovereigns” from a Canadian standpoint? Is Canada not a sovereign state?8 What kind of purportedly sovereign state allows another sovereign state to supply its sovereign? Is this not a contradiction? Furthermore, why should Canadians, whether historians or non-historians, “like acknowledging the sovereigns”? As for acknowledgement, there are plenty of geographical designations dedicated to the sovereigns, often eliding the designations used by the Original Peoples. For instance, I grew up in the Lekwungen settlement of Camosack that was renamed Fort Victoria (the Fort having since been dropped) after a monarch who never set foot on the soil, a monarch who was caught up in maintaining her empire.9 The monarchy is entwined in the history of Turtle Island; the genocide was carried out under the banner of monarchism and imperialism.

Fraser worries “… the monarchy will die if the government doesn’t support it. That’s what was happening, it was dying slowly through unbenign neglect. So the fact that the Harper government respects the monarchy and the Crown and has made sure that it had the right sort of outlets, I think is great.”

What is the reason that the Canadian government should support the monarchy? Is the monarchy deserving of respect? Does Canada support democracy or does it support monarchy? The two ideals are clearly antithetical. The Harper government, though, has abused the monarchy through the queen’s representative in Canada, to undermine democracy. In late 2008, when the three opposition parties planned to form a coalition to bring down the minority Conservative government (which governed as if it were a majority), Harper asked governor general Michaëlle Jean to prorogue parliament, and she assented.10

Fraser opines that deceased princess Diane’s “biggest bequest is those two boys, who are recognizable, contemporary human beings.”

They are two contemporary human beings born with the proverbial silver spoon in mouth. There are plenty of mothers bequeathing offspring to the world (and these mothers through their generous bequeathing — abetted in equal measure by fathers — are burdening the earth’s carrying capacity, but that is another topic). Why should William and Harry be accorded greater respect or privilege from society than the offspring of non-monarchial mothers? Either a society considers itself committed to genuine democracy and egalitarianism or it can drop the pretence and openly declare itself for class-based, non-democratic institutions.11

The Massey College master holds that because no Canadian can aspire to be the country’s head of state: “It solves a lot of problems for a country like Canada. It removes it from being an issue.”

What wonderful logic. It is a logic that applies equally well to dictatorships, especially familial dictatorships. One would assume that Massey admires how the determination of the head-of-state in North Korea, Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia among others is unburdened by the issue.

Fraser says, “It’s very useful to a fractious country to have succession of the formal head of state, which is under a notion of the Crown, solved for us. We don’t have to elect it or whatever.”

Who needs the problem of democracy when monarchy can solve it for us? Fraser seems ignorant or oblivious to the fact that the British (and Canadian) sovereign is a source of friction in Canada because the monarchy represents — to the chagrin or Schadenfreude — for many Canadians the British conquest of the French on Turtle Island.

Fraser asserts, “And the will of the people, in the end, is expressed by the sovereign, because if the vast majority of Canadians chose not to have the Crown, it wouldn’t exist.

That is just blatant assertion. There are just so many instances of “the will of the people” (and one assumes the will of the majority is meant) being disregarded by governments. If what Fraser claims is true, then why not back the bluster with a call to hold a referendum asking Canadians if they prefer the British head-of-state to continue as Canada’s head-of-state?

  1. Daniel Schwartz, “Canada and the Crown: John Fraser on Canada’s affair with Royalty,” CBC News, 20 April 2012. []
  2. The Canadian Press, “Canadians apathetic about monarchy: poll,” CBC News, 28 June 2010. []
  3. “…C$1.5m (£950,000), excluding security – although that is much less than the $2.5m cost of the Queen’s visit.” Adam Gabbatt and Stephen Bates, “William and Kate visit Canada for canoes, campfires and cookouts,” Guardian, 30 June 2011. []
  4. The queen and prince’s visit carried a higher estimated cost. Whatever the final cost was, it was not cheap. See Citizens for a Canadian Republic, “Royal visit could cost taxpayers $1M or more per day,” Press release, 1 July 2010. []
  5. See many articles at “Original Peoples,” The Dominion. []
  6. Specific Claim Settlements Involving Land,” Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, Modified 15 September 2010. “A reserve is land that has been set apart for the use and benefit of an Indian [sic] band. … The federal Crown holds the title to reserve lands.” … “Less than 0.2 % of Canada’s land mass, 2.6 million hectares, has reserve status.” This is despite Original peoples being 3.8 % of Canada’s population. “Canada’s aboriginal population tops million mark: StatsCan,” CBC News, 15 January 2008. The Canadian state is attempting to municipalize the reserves and entrench fee-simple land ownership, dangerous to First Nation community interests. See Harley Chingee, “Individual property ownership on reserves,” Turtle Island Native Network, 20 July 2010. []
  7. Luisa Kroll, “Just How Rich Are Queen Elizabeth And Her Family?,” Forbes, 22 April 2011. “Queen Elizabeth, 85, has an estimated personal net worth of $500 million.” … “The Queen also receives an annual government stipend of $12.9 million.” []
  8. I refer solely to whether international institutions recognize Canada as sovereign. I do not delve into whether Canada is a legitimate state. Readers can decide for themselves whether conquest can legitimate the dispossession of an Indigenous people. []
  9. Queen Victoria,” History.com. []
  10. GG agrees to suspend Parliament until January,” CBC News, 4 December 2008. []
  11. See Kim Petersen, “Elitist, Racist, Religionist, Sexist, Inegalitarian: Canada’s Head-of-State,” Dissident Voice, 4 November 2003. []

Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at: kim@dissidentvoice.org. Read other articles by Kim.