Canada admired its queen, but not so much the monarchy

·3-min read

Canadians were attached to Queen Elizabeth II right to the end, but their relationship with the monarchy has been increasingly strained and experts believe her death on Thursday will reignite debate over its future.

"Canada is a monarchist exception in the middle of a rather republican continent," said Marc Chevrier, a politics professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal.

In a few weeks, after the period of mourning, "the debates will resurface, Pandora's box will open," he added.

The British monarch is Canada's head of state, but the role is largely ceremonial, even more so than in Britain. Here the royals are represented by a governor general, who is selected by the prime minister.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hailed Elizabeth's reign, noting that she had been "queen for almost half of Canada's existence," and announced a 10-day period of mourning.

All flags have been lowered across the country and a national commemorative ceremony is planned in the capital Ottawa on the same day as her funeral in London.

But when it comes to pomp, the country has become increasingly ambivalent toward the monarchy.

"Even in English-speaking Canada, support for the monarchy has diminished over the years," said Philippe Lagasse, a professor at Carleton University in Ottawa and expert on the role of the monarchy in Canada.

According to a poll last April, a small majority of Canadians -- rising to 71 percent in French-speaking Quebec province -- would even like to dispense with the monarchy, whose role today is largely ceremonial.

Sixty-seven percent said they opposed Charles succeeding his mother as king of the country. His visit to the country last May went almost unnoticed.

- Monarchy entrenched -

To follow the lead of Barbados, which in 2021 chose to secede from the British Crown and become a republic, Canada would need to bring in major reforms of its institutions and constitutional laws.

A founding principle at the birth of Canada in 1867, "the monarchy is the keystone of all constitutional law," explains Chevrier. For example, he noted that "the office of prime minister does not even appear in the Canadian constitution, which only mentions the monarch."

Amending the constitution and abolishing the monarchy would require a titanic effort and potentially years of political negotiations since it requires the unanimous approval of Parliament as well as the governments of all 10 Canadian provinces.

Such a debate would likely be heated in an increasingly politically divided Canada.

And then all royal symbolism could be targeted with an eye to further erase ties with the British monarchy, believes Lagasse.

Queen Elizabeth's face appears on Canadian coins and $20 bills, for example.

Certain protocols would have to also change, in particular the oath of citizenship. New Canadian citizens are required to pledge their "allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, to her heirs and successors."

The oath was unsuccessfully challenged in court in 2014 by a trio of immigrants who argued it violated their religious and conscientious beliefs.

For an increasingly diverse and multicultural Canadian population, which is in the midst of reckoning with its colonial history, the link to the monarchy seems less and less relevant.