Planning for next month’s coronation of King Charles III, the first for a British monarch in 70 years, is being met with subdued enthusiasm in Canada, the Commonwealth’s largest country by area. While some Canadians are eagerly awaiting the pageantry-filled spectacle steeped in centuries of history, most of their compatriots say they have little interest in the event and don’t want Charles as their king. But Canada is unlikely to cast off the monarchy and become a republic any time soon.
“The monarchy is hard-wired into the Canadian constitution and just because most Canadians have little interest in it does not mean that the monarchy is on its death-bed,” said Cape Breton University professor David Johnson, an expert on Canadian politics and constitutional matters, in an email exchange with VOA. Many Canadians, like their American neighbors, are fascinated by not only the pageantry but also the tabloid-worthy drama that surrounds the royal family. But unlike the United States, which threw off royal rule in 1776, Canada still recognizes the king or queen of England as its head of state.
While the inhabitants of Windsor Castle have no role in day-to-day governance in Canada, the monarchy is embedded in its institutions, with the face of the ruling monarch adorning its currency. The monarch’s representative, known as the governor general, presides over the annual opening of Parliament, and lieutenant governors perform similar ceremonial duties in each of the 10 provinces. But Canadians are increasingly seeing that legacy of colonial rule as an outdated relic, a change in attitude that has been brought to the fore by the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the imminent coronation of Charles.
“It’s not surprising that recent polling on this shows the vast majority of Canadians to be uninterested in the coronation, the king, and the institution of the monarchy in Canada,” Johnson said. He cited a Research Co. poll conducted in early March that showed only 19% of survey respondents wanted to see Charles remain as Canada’s head of state. Several other polls have produced similar findings.
“Some 44% of respondents wish to see an elected head of state in this country,” Johnson wrote. “I am in no way surprised by any of these numbers,” said Johnson. “Only some one-third of Canadians generally express views supportive of the monarchy in Canada (and I am one of them) while the majority show little interest in it, and are perplexed as to why the head of the Windsor family in the U.K. is our head of state.”
Among those with little interest in the monarchy are the residents of predominantly French-speaking Quebec, who feel more affinity with France than with Britain, and the more than 8 million Canadian residents — accounting for almost a quarter of the total population — who came to Canada as immigrants. One of the most outspoken proponents for cutting ties with the monarchy is Tom Freda, director of the advocacy group Citizens for a Canadian Republic, who sees the coronation as an opportunity to advance his cause.
“Anything that gets Canadians thinking about the monarchy is a good thing,” Freda said in an email exchange. “Because when they do, the majority always see it as an anachronistic colonial relic that needs to be sent to the history books. “This is the conundrum monarchists face with an absentee monarch,” Freda told VOA. “If they [royal family members] stay in Britain, Canadians will always think they’re British and symbols of our colonial past,” said Freda. “But if they visit (or are in the news for any other reason), the sheer ridiculousness of having a head of state who is a hereditary monarch and lives in a castle on another continent, becomes front-and-centre.”
Freda believes not much would change if Canada were to become a republic. “Where there will be a change is in the enhanced sense of Canadian identity we’ll all feel when it happens,” Freda said. “This has proven to be the case in all the news stories on Barbados’ transition to a republic. Barbadians interviewed describe a renewed sense of pride in their country for taking the last step to independence.” But any attempt to cut Canada’s ties to the monarchy would encounter constitutional hurdles and likely run into stiff opposition from the one-third of Canadians, especially older ones, who still revere the institution.
“Abolishing the monarchy would require a feat of political maneuvering that has rarely been seen throughout the years, requiring unanimous agreement among the House of Commons, the Senate and all of the provincial legislatures,” wrote Amanda Connolly in Canada’s Global News. Her September 18 article followed remarks by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ruling out any such effort in the near future. Canadian royalists, meanwhile, are heartened by an uptick in approval of Charles himself, who has managed to achieve a stature as king that long evaded him as Prince of Wales.
Historian Robert Lacey, who wrote the companion books to the blockbuster TV series “The Crown,” told VOA he could not speak to Charles’ popularity in Canada but said it is growing in the United Kingdom. “Quite a lot of people in Britain say I’ve never had much time for Prince Charles but I quite like King Charles,” Lacey told VOA via Skype. “In his speaking, he’s developed an appeal that people didn’t quite expect.”
Johnson pointed out that polling shows the next generation of royals is more popular in Canada than the new king. “54% of respondents like the Prince and Princess of Wales, and 46% like Harry, 41% like Meghan,” he said. Regardless of public opinion, the federal government is moving ahead with plans for a day of festivities to mark the coronation, though the prime minister might skip the events in London.
In a March 16 press release, Trudeau’s office announced plans for Coronation Day celebrations that would “acknowledge the special relationship” between Canada and the new king, including “artistic performances, and special unveilings” at various Ottawa locations. “All Commonwealth nations will be represented, likely by governors-general,” Johnson told VOA. “This will probably be the case for Canada, although this has not yet been stated. The prime minister has a Liberal Party convention to attend that weekend.”