Give Charles a chance

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Critics say King Charles III doesn’t possess the character required to replicate the incredible success of his mother’s reign. I beg to differ.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on September 26, 2022.

OTTAWA—The Queen is dead. Long live the King.

With the ultimate interment of the Queen beside her beloved partner Prince Philip, all eyes are now on King Charles.

Will he be able to pass muster or will the incredible reign of Canada’s longest-serving monarch mark the end of the Royals?

Many have written that the Queen’s death should serve as a moment to sever ties with the monarchy in Canada.

They point to the foibles that faced Prince Charles in his private life and also claim he doesn’t possess the character required to replicate the incredible success of his mother’s reign.

I beg to differ.

It is pretty simple to mock a monarch-in-waiting when he has reached his seventh decade without taking over the top job.

During his lifetime, Prince Charles was not satisfied to simply wait. Instead, he became a powerful advocate for causes which he continues to hold near and dear.

In many ways, he was always far ahead of public thinking on issues like global warming, Indigenous reconciliation, and organic living.

Prince Charles has been ridiculed, and even excoriated for daring to propose that maybe it doesn’t make sense to simply tear down heritage architecture in favour of modern construction.

The notion of smart cities had not yet been coined. But long ago the prince intrinsically understood that simply demolishing swathes of centuries-old construction may not be the best development strategy. Modern urbanists agree.

Prince Charles founded his own trust, seeking to create learning and employment opportunities for young people in disadvantaged communities. The Prince’s Trust was founded in 1976 and he has spent decades growing it.

Last year, more than 46,000 young people took a course via the trust.

More than 1,100 employees support the work.

A Canadian version of the trust was established by the prince in partnership with Loblaw owners Galen and Hilary Weston. The mandate of the Canadian trust is to create a sustainable future for our country.

The prince was a great believer in sustainable development long before it became a global buzzword.

His own passion for the land translated itself into a belief that we need to adopt sustainable practices in both rural and urban settings.

The prince was also roundly attacked when he dared to suggest that farming practices needed to change. His comments came in the wake of a British agricultural crisis that saw thousands of sheep diseased and butchered because of foot and mouth disease back in 2001.

Instead of focusing on Prince Charles’ expression of sympathy for farmers who lost more than six million cows and sheep, the media attacked him for suggesting that certain longstanding practices needed to change.

His concern about the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry was widely ridiculed in the British media.

It took years before the rest of us started to recognize that some traditional livestock practices were contributing to the spread of disease.

Prince Charles’ seven decades have been spent immersed in multiple projects that he believed in.

When I had an opportunity to spend time with him back in the last century, he was already talking about how to accomplish Indigenous reconciliation.

In insightful visits to the north and to Indigenous communities, he witnessed firsthand the poverty and challenges they were facing, and offered his own advice on how to turn things around.

Those issues of deep concern were not what garnered the headlines. Instead, his marital problems and the ultimate death of the Princess of Wales were the subjects that fascinated the media and public.

The geeky princely policy wonk was no match for the charisma of his photogenic wife. When she went to work, she managed to mobilize the globe in an effort to embrace AIDS victims or ban anti-personal landmines.

The love story gone sour was Prince Charles’ scarlet letter. Nothing he could have done would be able to replace the ugliness of divorce and royal humiliation.

What Britons and the world now know is that the Royal Family is human.

But if you review the legacy of the King’s first seven decades, it portends very well for his capacity to govern wisely.

As King, he will no longer be involved in the kind of public policy pronouncements that characterized his work as a prince.

But his foresight, vision, and capacity to care for those least able to care for themselves is a good sign of the kind of reign he might have.

Let’s hope the comedic caricatures fade. King Charles is coming into his own.

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