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Monarchy vs. Commonwealth

March 14, 2023

A recent poll shows Canadians are unenthusiastic about the monarchy and really aren’t interested in the Coronation of King Charles III, which will happen May 6. There’s nothing new there. We all knew there would be a falling of interest when Queen Elizabeth died.

What is a mystery to me is the absolute lack of understanding many commentators have about the Commonwealth and about the monarchy. They seem to conflate the two, which is unfortunate and shows a shocking lack of understanding of just what the two institutions represent.

The monarchy is an instrument of state. Like it or not, it’s an intrinsic part of our government as the monarch is our head of state. The Prime Minister is the head of government. It’s a system that’s served this country well since its founding and provides a level of government that’s above the partisanship of politics. As an institution, it is also above petty identity politics that you often see in republics. We see it more and more in that great republic to the south of us. Do we really want to hand over all power to one person? That’s the strength of a constitutional monarchy. As a person, the monarch has no power. As one part of a government, it provides balance and continuity. Governments come and governments go. And in the UK, they’ve seen three prime ministers in the past 12 months. But the monarchy is the enduring symbol that the state is still intact and powerful. One commentary on the monarchy – and I don’t remember who said it and I don’t remember the exact quote – is that the monarchy is not important for the power it takes on for itself. It’s important for the power it denies those who would usurp the power of state. Again, at a time when people dispute the outcomes of democratic elections, that is a very key point.

While I can understand why people confuse the Commonwealth with the monarchy, they are really two very separate entities. The Commonwealth was mostly the creation of Queen Elizabeth II and she let it be known that it was her most precious legacy. It is made up of 54 independent countries, Any country can apply to be a member of the Commonwealth and many of the members are republics. The king is only head of state of about 15 countries – called the Commonwealth realm.

So Canada could remain in the Commonwealth even if Charles were no longer head of state. And it would probably be a good idea if we did. Apart from the UN and NATO, what other global organizations are we aligned with? What other organization do we belong to as a nation that has at its mission the peaceful promotion of global understanding? We could use more of that these days. The Commonwealth has used its soft power in the past to fight apartheid in South Africa. It is still a powerful force and encompasses 2.6 billion people. The larger and wealthier countries uphold and support the smaller ones. The Commonwealth Games and countless other events help showcase young people from Commonwealth countries.

So please, folk. Read up on what you’re talking about if you’re going to comment on the monarchy and the Commonwealth. Get your history straight and your facts right.

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