Opinion | Canadians’ interest in the monarchy is mostly among the elite

At a Vancouver, BC, supermarket the other day, I casually mentioned Queen Elizabeth II’s death to the middle-aged woman working the register.

“I thought she’d be around forever,” she replied, chirpily. “But I guess if Betty White can go, anyone can!”

Having been an active consumer of Canadian news over the previous few days, where round-the-clock coverage of the death of the queen was single-minded even by British standards (I noticed the BBC led with Ukraine stories the day after she died) , I was a little jolted by this outburst of irreverence. Had she not read that editorial in the National Post about the “greatest queen of all time”?

But my cashier was a reminder of the divide over the monarchy that exists between ordinary Canadians and those of more privileged standing. For the former, news of the queen’s passing was a somewhat sad, but mostly trivial piece of celebrity news. A poll from Leger found 74 percent of Canadians felt her death had “minor” or “no impact” on them. For those in more elite positions, however, who tend to embrace more esoteric theories of Canadian culture and institutions, this was a moment of deep, almost transcendent importance, the passing of a woman who “sits at the very centre of Canadian and British democracy” as the CBC’s Aaron Wherry put it.

Such disproportionate royalism on the part of the thought-leader class has helped stifle a larger debate about the future of monarchy that Canada should really be having by now.

Justin Trudeau, probably Canada’s most sincerely monarchist prime minister since John Diefenbaker, wasted little time proclaiming the day of the queen’s funeral a national holiday for government workers, and most provincial premiers followed suit. While civil servants no doubt enjoyed this paid “opportunity for Canadians from coast to coast to coast to commemorate Her Majesty,” the prime minister’s sentimentality sent some Canadian parents scrambling for babysitters as public schools were closed with only a few days’ notice.

The funeral itself featured a large Canadian delegation, fulfilling the Canadian ambassador’s promise of a “prominent” presence befitting Canada’s apparent status as “one of the most senior countries in the Commonwealth.” The final list of attendees included Trudeau and four former prime ministers, three governors general, three Indigenous leaders and a smattering of celebrities, including, to the bewilderment of some, actress Sandra Oh.

Even bigshots not formally invited, including Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, flew themselves to London (“entirely at personal expense”) to wait in that epic lineup and get a glimpse of the monarch Kenney called “a bedrock of stability and continuity, a ceaselessly gracious and dignified presence in our lives.”

As a teenager, the first political issue I can recall having a strong opinion on was Canada’s constitutional link to the British monarchy: I was against it. The title “Queen of Canada,” which Ottawa awarded her in 1953 as part of the British empire’s transition into a Commonwealth, struck me as a patently dishonest colonial anachronism, to say nothing of the absurdity of enshrining hereditary birthright in our political system.

Unlike the current British prime minister, this was not an opinion I aged out of. Yet looking back, I underestimated not only the full scope of the Canadian public indifference and ignorance about our monarchical ties, but also the magnitude of the elite’s obsession with it .

Despite the fact that Canada lacks a republican movement of any power, with no explicitly anti-monarchy political parties (beyond those promoting Quebec nationalism) and basically no national figures known for outspokenness on the matter, newspapers still routinely thunder with rage about imagined plots to undermine “Canada’s Crown,” or insist, with great preemptive anxiety, that Canada’s link to the monarchy will never ever ever be cut. “Put such notions out of your mind. Do not go there. Forget about it,” the Globe and Mail editorial board scolded last week, as they often do.

Public opinion polls have shown for years a majority of Canadians support cutting ties to Buckingham Palace, but this is rarely conceded. At an Ottawa church ceremony for the queen featuring yet more former governor generals and prime ministers, former prime minister Brian Mulroney asserted that “ in my judgment,” the “overwhelming majority of Canadians” support the royalist status quo. When basically the entirety of Canada’s political, media and academic establishment thinks this way, the rate of public literacy required for an intelligent debate on the crown — let alone interest in provoking it — cannot help but be low.

When Trudeau was asked whether he has any curiosity about joining the many other Commonwealth “realms” who have been making republican noises in recent days, he sniffed imperiously that “for me, it’s not a priority. It’s not even something that I consider discussing. “

But, of course, for people like him, Canada’s monarchy debate is very much a priority — so long as only one side is ever heard.

The death of Queen Elizabeth II

The final resting place: Queen Elizabeth II has been buried in her final resting place next to Prince Philip, her husband of more than 70 years, capping an elaborate state funeral, which was invested with all the pomp, circumstance and showmanship that the monarchy, military and state could put on display for a global broadcast audience of millions.

The state funeral: The funeral was full of pageantry and pathos, including a new national anthem, funeral ensembles with affectionate touches in honor of the queen, a personal note from King Charles III, appearances by the young heirs, Prince George and Princess Charlotte and the royal corgis. Here are some of the most memorable moments in photos and videos.

A new monarch: Queen Elizabeth II’s son, Charles, became King Charles III the moment his mother died. He may bring a markedly different personal vision of religion and spirituality to the role. Here’s what to know about him.

We’re following changes in the British monarchy post-Elizabeth. Get the Post Elizabeth newsletter for the latest updates.

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