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Canadian republicanism is a movement among Canadians for the replacement of the Canadian system of federal constitutional monarchy with a republican form of government. These beliefs are expressed either individually—usually in academic circles—or through the country's one republican lobby group. Republicans have no preferred model of republic, as individuals are driven by various factors, such as a perceived practicality of popular power being placed in the hands of an elected prime Minister or a different manifestation of the modern nation. As with its political counterpart, strong republicanism is not a prevalent element of contemporary Canadian society. The movement's roots precede Canadian Confederation and it has emerged from time to time in Canadian politics, but has not been a dominant force since the Rebellions of 1837, of which Canadian republicans consider their efforts to be a continuation.
Monarchy and inherited rights in government, symbolic or otherwise, is a concept incompatible with Canadian values of egalitarianism.
Republicans in Canada assert that their country's monarchy, due either to its popular associations with the United Kingdom, its shared nature, or both, cannot be representative of the Canadian nation. Their position is that because of its hereditary aspects and the sovereign's role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England (though he or she is such in England only; the monarch has no religious role in Canada), the monarchy is inherently contrary to egalitarianism and multiculturalism. Further, though it diverges from both the official position of the Canadian government and the opinions of some judges, legal scholars, and members of the Royal Family themselves, republicans deem the King or Queen of Canada to be either a solely British or English individual representing a British institution foreign to Canada. Founded on this perception is the republican assertion that national pride is diminished by the monarchy, its presence negating the country's full independence achieved in 1982, and makes Canada appear colonial and subservient to the United Kingdom, under which they feel Canadians suffered "military, economic, and cultural subjugation." Instead, equating anti-monarchism with patriotism, they desire a Canadian citizen to act as head of state and promote the national flag and/or the "country" as a more fitting locus of allegiance.
This questioning of the monarchy's role in Canadian identity arose as a part of wider cultural changes that followed the evolution of the British Empire into the Commonwealth of Nations, the rise of anti-establishmentism, the creation of multiculturalism as an official policy in Canada, and the blossoming of Quebec separatism; the latter becoming the major impetus of political controversy around the Crown. Quebec nationalists agitated for an independent Quebec republic—such as the Marxist form desired by the Front de libération du Québec—and the monarchy was targeted as a symbol of anti-Anglophone demonstration, notably when assassination threats were in 1964 made against Queen Elizabeth II and Quebecers turned their backs on her procession when she toured Quebec City that year. In a 1970 speech to the Empire Club of Canada, former Governor General Roland Michener summed up the contemporary arguments against the Crown: From its opponents, he said, came the claims that monarchies are unfashionable, republics—other than those with oppressive regimes—offer more freedom, people are given greater dignity from choosing their head of state, the monarchy is foreign and incompatible with Canada's multicultural society, and that there should be change for the sake of change alone.
However, though it was later thought the Quiet Revolution and the period beyond should have inspired more republicanism amongst Canadians, they did not.[n 1] Reg Whitaker blamed this on a combination of Quebec nationalists having no interest in the monarchy (as full sovereignty and their own form of government was their ultimate goal) with the remainder of the population simultaneously struggling with "bilingualism, dualism, special status, distinct society, asymmetrical federalism, sovereignty-association, partnership, and so on." Even the rise in multi-ethnic immigration to Canada in the 1970s did not inspire any desires to alter or remove the role of the Crown in Canada, the ethno-cultural groups not wanting to push constitutional change over a matter they had little concern for.
Instead, until the appointment of Stephen Harper as prime minister, successive governments made subtle efforts to diminish the stature of the Canadian monarchy—as David Smith said: "the historic Crown with its anthem, emblems, and symbolism made accessible a past the government of the day rejected"—though never, since the reaction to some of Pierre Trudeau's proposals for alterations to the monarchy and its role in Canada, publicly revealing their stances on the Crown.
Canadian republicans view their country's monarchy as "outdated and irrelevant" and an undemocratic institution because the incumbent sovereign is neither elected and nor a citizen once on the throne; republicans will phrase this argument as "no Canadian citizen can become head of state." Without the democratic legitimacy they personally desire, some anti-monarchists refuse to recognize the authority of the Crown, expressing this through, for example, vandalism of royal symbols or ignoring the enforcement of traffic law by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
In contrast to monarchist arguments, those against the Crown assert that it is possible to have an elected head of state be an apolitical individual and there would be no possibility of a clash with the prime minister over differences in political persuasion, though some republicans do desire an empowered chief executive who could hold the Cabinet in check for political reasons. Others feel an appointed Canadian president would be more democratic than the Crown. The range of often contradictory proposals highlights the fact that Canadian republicans are not fully united on what sort of republican form of government they believe the nation should adopt. The Westminster-style parliamentary republican model, which is advocated by other Commonwealth republican movements, has been embraced by Citizens for a Canadian Republic as the preferred model for Canada.
Towards that end, Citizens for a Canadian Republic proposed in March 2004 that the federal viceroy be made an elected position as a first step towards some form of republic. As the normal channels of appointment would follow after the election, no constitutional reform would be necessary. However, as monarchists point out, the scheme does not take into consideration any provincial input, especially concerning the relationship between the provincial and federal crowns and thus the lieutenant governors; an issue that would weigh heavily in any constitutional debate on the Crown, regardless of the selection process of the governor general.
Reformists began to emerge in the Canadian colonies during the early 19th century and by two decades into that century had begun to cohere into organized groups, such as the Upper Canada Central Political Union. The idea of political party was viewed by a number of British North Americans as an innovation of the United States, being "anti-British and of a republican tendency." Colonists were warned about "a few individuals, who unfortunately, are led by those, whose hostility to the British constitution is such, that they would sacrifice any and every thing to pull it down, in order that they might build up a Republic on its ruins." It was believed that the persons agitating for republican change and their supporters were of American origin and had been taught to admire republican government as the best in the world and ridicule monarchism.
The first open uprisings in Canada against the monarchical system came in 1837, with the Lower Canada Rebellion—led by Louis Joseph Papineau and his Parti Patriote—and the Upper Canada Rebellion—led by William Lyon Mackenzie. Though their main motives were for more representative government in their respective colonies, Mackenzie was inspired by the American model and wished to establish the same in Canada. Papineau originally expressed loyalty to the Crown in his Ninety-Two Resolutions, but turned when the British parliament instead adopted the Earl Russell's Ten Resolutions, which ignored all 92 of the requests from the Parti Patriote. Most colonists, however, did not espouse a break with the Crown and the rebellions ultimately failed. Mackenzie fled Toronto with 200 supporters and established, with the help of American sympathizers, the short-lived and never recognized Republic of Canada on Navy Island, while Papineau and other insurgents fled to the United States and proclaimed the Republic of Lower Canada.
After living in the US in order to avoid arrest in Canada, Mackenzie eventually became dissatisfied with the American republican system and gave up plans for revolution in the British North American provinces, though he theorized, near the end of his life, on Canadian annexation into the United States, should enough people in the former country become disillusioned with responsible government. Similarly, by 1849, Papineau was advocating the absorption of the Province of Canada (formed in 1840) into the American republic to the south. He echoed a significant minority of conservatives in Upper Canada who critiqued Canada's imitation of the British parliamentary constitutional monarchy as both too democratic and too tyrannical, theorizing that it simultaneously destroyed the independence of the appointed governor and legislative council and further concentrated power in the Cabinet. Instead, these "republican conservatives" preferred the American federal-state system and the US constitution, seeing the American model of checks and balances as offering Canada a more fair and conservative form of democracy. They debated constitutional changes that included an elected governor, an elected legislative council, and a possible union with the US, within this republican framework.
Some decades later, in 1869, a rebellion in the Red River area of Rupert's Land erupted under the leadership of Louis Riel, who established in the Red River settlement a provisional government under John Bruce as president, with the intent of negotiating a provincial relationship with the federal government of Canada. As negotiations proceeded, Riel was eventually elected as president by the provisional government's council. His delegation to Ottawa was eventually successful in having the federal Crown-in-Council in 1870 found the province of Manitoba with the same parliamentary constitutional monarchy as existed in the other provinces.
The Parti Québécois rose to power in Quebec on the support of nationalists, with views towards the monarchy that ranged from hostility to indifference. In February 1968, during a constitutional conference in Ottawa, delegates from the Union Nationale-governed Quebec indicated that a provincial president might suit the province better than the appointed viceroy. Two years later, Parti Québécois (PQ) members of the National Assembly refused to recite the constitutionally mandated Oath of Allegiance to the sovereign before taking their seats in the legislature. Sovereignists protested the Queen's role in officially opening the 1976 Montreal Olympics, with René Lévesque asking Elizabeth to refuse the advice from prime minister Pierre Trudeau and not open the games. Republican options were discussed following the election of the sovereigntist Parti Québécois to government in Quebec, but only specifically in relation to the province.
Continuing talks of constitutional reform led to the role of the monarchy in Canada coming under scrutiny in the lead up to the patriation of the Canadian constitution in 1982. However, proposals for change were thwarted by the provinces, including Quebec.
The notion of a republic was raised publicly in the early 1990s, when Peter C. Newman wrote in Maclean's that the monarchy should be abolished in favour of a head of state "who would reflect our own, instead of imported, values." Then, in 1997, Deputy Prime Minister John Manley echoed Newman when he expressed at the end of a television interview his opinion that Canada should abolish its monarchy, citing Australia's contemporary discussions around the Australian Crown. Then, in December of the following year, the Prime Minister's press secretary, Peter Donolo, who also complained that the monarch made Canada appear as a "colonial outpost", unaccountably announced through a media story that the Prime Minister's Office was considering the abolition of the monarchy as a millennium project, though no definitive plans had been made. Donolo later supported Manley when,[n 2] on Victoria Day 2001, Manley said on CBC Radio that he believed that hereditary succession was outdated, and that the country's head of state should be elected. Then, just prior to the Queen's pan-country tour to celebrate her Golden Jubilee the following year, Manley (at that point the designated minister in attendance for the sovereign's arrival in Ottawa) again stated his preference for a "wholly Canadian" institution to replace the present monarchy after the reign of Queen Elizabeth II; he was rebuked by other Cabinet members, a former prime minister, and the Leader of the Opposition, as well as a number of prominent journalists.[n 3]
In 2002, the group Citizens for a Canadian Republic was established to promote the abolition of the Canadian monarchy in favour of a republic, at approximately the same time The Globe and Mail newspaper began a campaign against the monarchy, with three republican journalists on staff – Margaret Wente, Jeffrey Simpson, and Lawrence Martin – though the editorial board argued Canada could dispose of its monarchy without becoming a republic. Tom Freda, chairman and co-founder of Citizens for a Canadian Republic, called for simply replacing the monarchy with the Governor General, saying that he's not in favour of destroying Canada's identity or cultural institutions: "All we're advocating is that the link to the monarchy, in our Constitution, be severed. Our governor general for the past 60 years has performed all the duties of a head of state, and there's no reason we shouldn't make our governor general our official head of state."
At approximately the same time, the editors of The Globe and Mail began calling for the Governor General to be made head of state under the guise of "patriating the monarchy", and arguing that Canada could rid itself of its Crown without becoming a republic, and backing their journalist Jeffrey Simpson's preference for the Companions of the Order of Canada to choose the head of state in a Canadian republic.
Lawrence Martin called for Canada to become a republic in order to re-brand the nation and better its standings in the international market, he cited Sweden – a constitutional monarchy – as an example to be followed.
In 2007, Quebec sovereignty again collided with the monarchy, when Quebec separatists threatened to mount demonstrations should the Queen be in attendance at the ceremonies for the 400th anniversary of Quebec City; Mario Beaulieu, then Vice-President of the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society announced that the Queen's presence would be a catalyst for action, saying: "You can be sure that people will demonstrate in protest... We are celebrating the foundation of New France, not its conquest. The monarchy remains a symbol of imperialism and colonialism. Her presence will not be welcomed", and Gérald Larose, president of the Quebec Sovereignty Council, stated that the monarchy was "the most despicable, appalling, anti-democratic, imperial, colonial symbol against which all social and individuals rights were obtained through the course of history."
At the Liberal Party of Canada convention in January 2012, its members debated on a motion to include severing ties with the monarchy as a party platform. The proposed motion was rejected by 67 per cent.
As abolition of the monarchy would require a constitutional amendment made only after the achievement of unanimous consent amongst the federal parliament and all ten provincial legislatures, republicans face difficulty in achieving their goal. Further, though republicans have pointed to Ireland and India as models that could be adapted to Canada, no specific form of republic or selection method for a president has been decided on, and the Canadian populace remains largely indifferent to the issue.
To date, most republican action has taken the form of protests on Victoria Day – the Canadian sovereign's official birthday – in Toronto, lobbying of the federal and provincial governments to eliminate Canadian royal symbols, and legal action against the Crown, specifically in relation to the Oath of Citizenship and the Act of Settlement 1701.
Ted McWhinney has argued that Canada can become a republic upon the demise of the current Queen by not proclaiming a successor; according to McWhinney, this would be a way for the constitution to evolve "more subtly and by indirection, through creating new glosses on the Law of the Constitution as written, without formally amending it." However, Ian Holloway, Dean of Law at the University of Western Ontario, criticised this proposal for its ignorance of provincial input, and opined that its implementation "would be contrary to the plain purpose of those who framed our system of government."