Skip to content

Why Canada Cannot Sever Its Ties To The Monarchy

It is challenging for Canada to sever its ties to the monarchy due to its constitution.

A legal theorist and law professor at York University, Allan Hutchinson, says the likelihood of obtaining unanimous support from the federal government and all the provinces for any modification of the Crown’s arrangements is low.

Difficulty in getting unanimous consent  

Being a constitutional monarchy, Canada’s ceremonial head of state is the British sovereign, which the Governor-General represents. After the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Charles III became king of Canada. 

According to Hutchinson, King Charles has no authority in Canada, so it’s really all about formalities.

For Canada to sever its longstanding ties to the monarchy and become a republic, it would require agreement between the House of Commons, the Senate, and all 10 provinces. Known as “amendment by unanimous consent,” the rule is outlined in Section 41 of the 1982 Constitution Act, which then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s government enacted. Input from the territories or a referendum is also required.

Hutchinson, who has written extensively about the constitution, explains that to get it repatriated in 1982, they needed the consent of the British. Further, he explained, it could have been a problem at the time if they had made the monarchy an optional feature.

Expert in constitutional law, David Schneiderman, says it would be “nearly impossible to reach unanimous consent on the matter today.

Most other constitutional amendments require the consent of two-thirds of the provinces, provided that they account for at least 50% of the nation’s population. The Meech Lake Accord in 1987 and the Charlottetown Accord in 1992 were unsuccessful attempts to change the constitution.

Hutchinson stated that changing the constitution is “a bit of a fool’s errand” given our history. “Once you start opening it up, people will say, ‘Well, if we’re going to change the constitution, what about this? What about that?'”

The Commonwealth 

King Charles III is the head of state of the United Kingdom, and former British colonies, including Australia, Belize, Canada, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea, are also part of the 5 Commonwealth nations. Wherein many are reevaluating their ties, particularly people in the Caribbean. 

Barbados removed the Queen as head of state in November 2021, making it the first nation to do so in nearly 30 years. Its constitution merely required that parliament make a decision.

Jamaica is looking at the prospect of doing the same, but experts predict it will take years and call for a vote. However, a referendum on the monarchy will be held within the next three years, according to the government of Antigua and Barbuda. The prime minister of the Bahamas has also indicated his openness toward the referendum. 

In Australia, a similar referendum in 1999 failed to end the monarchy. However, Australia’s prime minister, known for his republican leanings, said that holding a referendum is not a priority for his government’s first term.

Reduced support 

Despite the outpouring of admiration for Queen Elizabeth following her death, recent scandals in the House of Windsor, such as Prince Andrew’s association with disgraced financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and Meghan Markle’s allegations of racism, have damaged the institution’s reputation.

The legacy of the monarchy can also be complicated and hurtful for many Indigenous people in Canada and those who endured oppressive colonial rule in nations like Kenya and Cyprus.

According to an Angus Reid Institute poll conducted in April 2022, 51% of Canadian respondents supported ending the monarchy in the coming generation, as opposed to 26% supporting preserving it and 24% undecided. 

The poll also indicated that 65% of respondents rejected recognizing Charles as Canada’s King and head of state, with about half of respondents believing the Royal Family reflects old-fashioned values and is “no longer relevant at all.”

Similar surveys conducted in 2021 and 2020 reveal Canadians are beginning to question Canada’s allegiance to the British throne. For example, the Monarchist League of Canada reported that in the 2019–20 fiscal year, these ties cost Canada $58.7 million.

Schneiderman thinks that, despite the constitutional difficulties, Canadians may “imagine an alternative.”

In Schneiderman’s opinion, we should have debated the monarchy’s role in society long before Queen Elizabeth passed away. In a modern, democratic, and multicultural society, we might want a head of state which is somewhat more representative of the people that the head of state serves. It’s a moment to reflect on who we have had as a head of state, and whether we want to continue with a head of state that is hereditary, from a particular family that breeds leaders to serve in this role, explained Schneiderman. 

Peter McNally, a former professor of information studies at McGill University, is a self-proclaimed “palace observer.”

 According to McNally, changing the constitution would be very challenging, but he doesn’t want Canada to attempt it when it comes to the monarchy.

Further, he says Canada’s historical existence resulted from 18th-century adherence to the monarchy. Today, the monarchy is a bulwark against American cultural imperialism and the living manifestation of Canada’s parliamentary tradition.

Presented by CTC News