Canada would not be the first Commonwealth country to consider a break with the motherland

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And if Canada decided to go the route of monarchical abolition, we would face the same question. If not the monarchy, how would we structure a republic?

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on March 15, 2021.

OTTAWA—Every few years, the idea of abolishing the monarchy dominates Canadian discourse.

The stars are aligning for another such discussion not likely to end any time soon.

The Queen is nearing the end of her reign. Her spouse is almost 100, and she will be 95 next month. Her Royal Highness is slowing down although still very active for a nonagenarian.

Prince Charles is next in line for the crown.

Unlike his children, the prince has not captured the imagination of the public. He has an awkward demeanour and doesn’t appear to have the modern touch that is so evident in both of his sons.

For a moment, the solution seemed simple. Jump a generation and pass the monarchy to Prince William and his perfect partner Kate Middleton.

Prince Harry was the wild child but when he settled down to marry Meghan Markle, it seemed as though the perfect Royal Family portrait was complete.

Not only did ‘The Firm’ enjoy deep British roots, but the family tree also finally reached across the pond to an American and broke a racial barrier with a non-white partner.

That was before the globally covered family feud started to fray this perfect picture at the seams.

Every family has problems, and if they say they don’t they are not telling the truth.

But rarely does insider’s dirt make such a public splash as that heard around the world when mega host Oprah Winfrey interviewed the Duke and Duchess of Sussex about the state of their wedded non-bliss.

The interview laid bare internal quarrels inside the family, which is known widely as the firm, including a claim that unnamed royals worried about the colour of son Archie’s skin.

The immediate reaction of the larger public is to revisit the status of Canada as a constitutional monarchy.

The timing couldn’t be better, some argue, as the abolition could be triggered by the death of the current monarch.

And Canada would not be the first Commonwealth country to consider a break with the motherland.

Australia underwent a bitter internal debate during a referendum on the monarchy back in 1999. The official position of the Labour Party and some Liberals and Greens is still the establishment of a republic. But multiple prime ministers of all persuasions have dodged the bullet of another referendum.

Part of the problem is that monarchical abolition needs a replacement. In Australia’s referendum, there were initially three different paths to republicanism.

And if Canada decided to go in that direction, we would face the same question.

If not the monarchy, how would we structure a republic?

The first challenge would be to determine whether the replacement would even be elected.

Historically, Canada has focused its referendum energy on figuring out the rules on how to break up our country.

There has been a period of historic calm in the push for Quebec separation. Most supporters of the Parti Québécois and the Bloc Québécois use their energy to focus on economic issues and how to exit the COVID crisis with the least loss of life and jobs.

But a constitutional referendum would undoubtedly let that genie out of the bottle.

The vast majority of Quebecers would likely support dissolution while the numbers in other parts of the country would be quite different.

It would be just another exacerbated example of the solitudes that have defined our Canadian identity. Separatists would use the disagreement to drive a bigger wedge between Quebec and the rest of us.

Meanwhile, the rationale behind abolishing the constitutional monarchy appears to be all tied up in family dynamics.

It must have been quite a sacrifice for Prince Harry and his bride to opt out of royal duties, but the bottom line is that they wanted out.

Initially, they said they were planning to come to Canada, and that could have stuck our country with the bill for their ongoing security.

The Canadian government pays nothing for the Royal Family’s ongoing living expenses in the United Kingdom. However, when they come for a visit, our government is responsible for their internal travel costs and the security attached to a royal visit.

All in all, it is a pretty small price to pay for a connection to the Commonwealth that has wrought many wonderful things.

Canada would never have hosted the Vancouver-Whistler Winter Olympics, if not for the support of most of the Commonwealth.

Historical ties that bind are worth breaking if they hurt.

So if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.