A fairy tale with a rotten core

The Canadian media (especially its more gossipy venues) have made much of this weekend’s marriage of Peter Phillips, Queen Elizabeth’s eldest grandson and Autumn Kelly, a Canadian girl from a working-class Montreal family. On some level, of course, the wedding had all the elements of your traditional magical fairy tale romance—colonial girl of humble roots gets swept away by handsome prince and marries into royalty at Windsor Castle. On another level, however, the story has a number of awkward and unpleasant aspects that highlight just how decidedly un-magical the British Royal Family can often be.

For starters, it’s worth noting that Mr. Phillips, despite his royal blood, is not a prince, nor will his bride be a princess. According to the oddly sexist rules of royal titles, only the grandchildren of the monarch’s male offspring receive titles. So, being the son of Princess Anne, the Queen’s daughter, Peter gets nothing, even though he’s the eldest grandchild in the entire royal family. The various children of the Queen’s sons, by contrast, are all automatically entitled to become princess or princess and be called “Your Royal Highness.”

Secondly, in order to make herself fit to wed this non-prince, Ms. Kelly was forced to convert from Catholicism, the religion she was baptized and raised under, to Anglicanism, the official church of the Royal Family. This conversion was necessary for the sake of Mr. Philip’s royal career; if he married a heathen Catholic he would forgo his place in the grand order of succession to the British throne (currently number 11), according to the terms of the 1701 act of succession. As is so often the case, Ms. Kelly’s individual sovereignty was quickly compromised for the sake of the firm.

As children, we are raised with the idea of royalty as a sort of magical, wonderful thing, with pretty princess and palaces and all the rest (the Barbie people have certainly been milking this perception for decades). But monarchy has a dark side, as well, with institutional racism, sexism, religious bigotry, and absurd superstition, not to mention a hearty dose of politics and bureaucracy.

The marriage of Peter and Autumn is a jolly enough episode as a personal event in two people’s lives, but as a symbolic event with larger relevance to the Canadian nation, it’s only a sad reminder of all the weirdness that rules the institution of monarchy.

Another dumb lawsuit

Another eccentric oddball republican has stumbled into the media spotlight this week, and with him comes more bad press for Canada’s legitimate republicans.

I distinguish between the “legitimate” and “illegitimate” on the following basis. The legitimate republican is one who seeks to get rid of the Queen because he understands constitutional monarchy to be a poor and ineffective system of government, and desires something better for his nation and its people. An illegitimate republican, by contrast, pursues the goal soley to satisfy his own narrow obsessions and hang-ups. He hates the monarchy because he feels personally slighted in some way by it, and he fights a republican crusade that is entirely about himself.

Charles Roach is an idividual of the latter category. A black man from Trinidad and Tobago, Roach immigrated to Canada way back in 1955, and has lived in the country continually since then, under permanent resident status. Roach does not want to become a citizen of Canada because that entails taking an oath to Elizabeth II, something Mr. Roach, with his outspoken black-nationalist anti-imperial credentials is not willing to tolerate.

In a snarky editorialon the matter, Mark Steyn quotes Mr. Roach as declaring:

[we blacks] were colonized as a people by the British throne, and we were enslaved as a people by the British throne and, to me, taking an oath to the monarch of Great Britain, without any disrespect to the Queen herself as a person, is like asking a Holocaust survivor to take an oath to a descendant of Hitler.

So he never did take the oath, and has recently tried to lawsuit his way out of it, suing the government of Canada on the basis that their oath violates his Charter right to freedom of conscience. The case was thrown out by a Federal Court in 1994, but Mr. Roach evidently tried again many years later, and yesterday his case was heard and accepted by the Court of Appeals of Ontario (I don’t quite understand the exact legal process Mr. Roach has gone through to get to this point. Media stories have glossed over the details, and the Court of Appeals has not yet published their judgement). The government of Canada fought vigorously to have the hearing dismissed, but with yesterday’s ruling Mr. Roach’s Charter challenge will now be heard. The hope is that the court will proceed to rule the oath invalid, presumably setting the stage to allow Mr. Roach to become a citizen through some other less-offensive formality.

I guess I am somewhat sympathetic to the main thrust of Mr. Roach’s argument, namely that the monarchy is a symbolically ugly institution to a lot of people, possessing unpleasant history and baggage that transcends Canada’s fresh new world identity. And the sneering opposition that Mr. Roach has faced from monarchists continues to show just how nativist and ethnocentric the other side can be.

But the fact remains that this case is really about Roach himself, and Mr. Roach is not an ordinary guy. The National Post summarizes:

Represented by his lawyer and daughter Kikelola Roach, Mr. Roach, 74, is an unusual plaintiff, and not just because he is a lawyer himself. A prominent black activist and founder of Toronto’s Caribana festival, he has in the past sued police for false arrest and won $512 in damages. He sued a local politician and NOW Magazine, a free Toronto weekly, for libelling him as anti-Semitic. He successfully defended his friend and fellow activist Dudley Laws on a sexual-assault charge and led the campaign to label former Ontario NDP premier Bob Rae a racist for bringing the Barnes Exhibit to Toronto in 1994, because Dr. Albert Barnes’ significant collection of African art was not included in the popular show. [ed note- the Post has since printed a retraction claiming the bit about seeking to label Mr. Rae a racist was untrue.]

So he’s clearly something of a professional activist-type. And ultrasensitive to boot. The man has motivations and agendas which are clearly all his own, and his latest venture seems to be more of the same. The monarchy is bad because I don’t like it, and I am the most important person in this story.

Citizens for a Canadian Republic, an organization I hold titular office in, often frustrates me for its willingness to embrace republicans of Mr. Roach’s stripe rather unquestioningly. Every dude to emerge from the woodwork who is willing to sue the Queen one some ridiculous charge or another gets his moment in the sun, and is held up as the movement’s new poster boy de jure.

It’s entirely understandable on the one hand. Canadian republicanism is still searching for its “breakthrough” moment after all, and affixing oneself to a high-profile personality can be a great boon to the cause. But riding coattails has its downside as well. If the individual in question is a kook of whatever sort, then the entire republican movement becomes tainted by association. We cease to become a legitimate movement to establish a republic for all the right reasons, and instead transform into a mere soapbox for various loud individuals to stand upon when they need to add some official gloss to their largely one-man crusades.

Monarchist pundits, like Mr. Steyn, are then able to hold up these men as case studies and legitimately ask if the overzealous, attention-seeking antics of folks like Mr. Roach represent the sort of principles that Canadians really want to see in their constitution. It plays into the age old cliche of nutty republicans versus sensible, dignified royalists.

Republicanism is already the option favored by most Canadians, few of whom are motivated by agendas or rhetoric as extreme as Mr. Roach’s, or Captain Mac Giolla Chainnigh, whom I blogged about earlier. A republican movement will only be successful when it is able to present itself as the most moderate, common-sense alternative, not when it tries to out-crazy the crazies.

Charles Vs. The Chinese

Is Prince Charles planning to boycott the Chinese Olympics?

That’s been the big media story this week, but the precise details of the episode remain unclear. Here’s what we know.

On January 28, the Daily Telegraph, one of Britain’s leading newspapers, published a lead story with the headline “Prince Charles’ Olympic-sized snub to China.” The article began by declaring that the Prince “has snubbed the Chinese government by refusing to attend the Olympic Games in Beijing this summer.”

As background, they noted that Charles has a history of voicing support for the Dali Lama, hosting Tibetan political dissidents, and expressing disgust over the 1997 “handover” of Hong Kong. Such views made him understandably unpopular in China, but the Chinese government was determined to set things right, according to the Telegraph:

[Charles’] reputation as China’s leading critic in the British Establishment was what encouraged Fu Ying, the country’s most senior woman diplomat, to single him out for attention when she took up her appointment as ambassador to Britain last year.

According to the piece, Ms. Fu “had made it her personal mission to encourage him to go” to the 2008 games.

This lobbying effort in turn alarmed the British-based Campaign for a Free Tibet activist group. According to a statement, once they learned of Ambassador Fu’s lobbying initiative:

We wrote to Clarence House before Christmas, seeking confirmation that Prince Charles would not be attending the Olympics. We received a reply in which the Prince’s close interest in Tibet was restated and were told he would not be attending the Beijing Olympics.

The letter in question reads as follows:

As you know, His Royal Highness has long taken a close interest in Tibet and indeed has been pleased to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama on several occasions.

You asked if the Prince of Wales would be attending the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. His Royal Highness will not be attending the ceremony.

Upon receiving all this information, the Daily Telegraph put two-and-two together, and concluded that since the Prince was making a firm commitment to not attend the Olympics, his decision was a politically-motivated “snub” aimed at rejecting the advances of the Chinese government.

But as Telegraph story began to circulate across the globe and the internet, someone at the Prince’s office clearly got quite nervous. Later that same day the office of the Prince of Wales released the following statement:

It has been reported in a British newspaper that The Prince of Wales has “snubbed” China by declining an invitation to attend the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008.

Clarence House pointed out that The Prince of Wales had not been invited to attend the Games, and also explained that His Royal Highness has only ever attended the Olympics once, which was to Montreal in July 1976 to watch his sister The Princess Royal compete for Great Britain in Olympic Games equestrian events.

This strikes me as a defense based on a technicality. Whether or not Charles was formally “invited” to go to the games is somewhat irrelevant—being “invited” can mean a lot of things, and if Telegraph is to be believed there was clearly a Chinese effort afoot to persuade him to attend. The bigger issue is whether or not Charles wants to go in the first place, and what his personal opinions on the games are in general. Neither of these questions are addressed by the press release, or indeed, even his original letter to the Free Tibet people, for that matter.

So what’s the conclusion?

From what I can tell, poor Charles is once again a victim of circumstance. The Prince is a remarkably progressive-minded man who is deeply interested in a whole host of political causes, most notably environmentalism, human rights, and inter-faith relations. Yet because he is a member of the royal family, his political views have to be awkwardly suppressed, and to this day most of what we know of his politics comes from gossip and secret sources, rather than his own mouth.

It’s really quite sad that Charles will never be able to frankly and unequivocally declare his feelings on the Chinese Olympics or the Chinese Communist Party, two matters that clearly mean a great deal to him. But the British Government is in favor of the Olympics in particular and People’s Republic in general, thus making it highly taboo (if not outright unconstitutional) for the royal family to contradict official government policy through any words or actions. So Charles remains muzzled and unhappy. I’m not sure who is exactly better off from this arrangement.

Charles’s under-the-radar political activism continues to highlight just how forced and unnatural the British monarchy’s supposed “apolitical” character really is. The only real difference between Prince Charles and Gordon Brown is that Brown is allowed to tell the public his opinions, while Charles is forced to lie, and pretend that he has none.

Doing republicanism the wrong way

Good PR cannot save a bad idea, but bad PR can very easily cripple a good one. Canada’s republican movement is, as I have previously noted, a minor movement on an obscure issue. It’s thus vital that in this early stage of the game Canadian republicans are able to present themselves, and their cause, as rational, logical, practical, and productive. If they do the opposite, however, and allow the debate to be dominated by unpleasant characters, petty arguments, undemocratic tactics, and strange motivations, then the republican movement will never progress or mature, and will instead languish permanently in the status of the political fringe.

The big monarchy-related story this week is the conclusion of the case of Captain Mac Giolla Chainnigh, a weird and embarrassing story of one man trying to bring down the Crown from within, in the most awkward and poorly-conceived way possible.

To summarize briefly, Mac Giolla Chainnigh was born Harold Kenny, but somewhere along the line he became obsessed with his Irish hetidige and transformed into a born-again radical Irish nationalist, changing his name and learning Gaelic. Like all good Irish nationalists, he likewise became a hardcore republican, opposing the monarchy with great vitriol as a symbol of British oppression. All fine and well, but Mr.  Chainnigh had unfortunately chosen the Canadian army as his career of choice, and the military subculture of Canada is awash in monarchical traditions, rituals, and symbols. Canadian troops routinely salute the Queen in their mess hall, sing God Save the Queen at formal events, hang her portrait in their barracks, and more generally just loudly praise and acknowledge her a great deal.

Chainnigh found all this stuff offensive to his republican and Irish sensibilities, so he filed an official grievance to the military’s assistant deputy minister of human resources, complaining that he was being “institutionally harassed” by being forced to salute the Queen and otherwise engage in any “outward displays of loyalty to an unelected monarch of foreign origin.” Being forced to do such things, he claimed, violated his Charter right to freedom of belief, and freedom of religion too, since he was Catholic and the Queen is constitutionally required not to be.

The ADM in turn rejected his complaint, partially on the procedural grounds that the right to be protected against institutional harassment “did not exist in Canadian Forces policy” and partially because the deputy minister felt that it was perfectly rational and logical for the military to have rituals of allegiance towards the Queen (considering she is the country’s legal head of state and all). The Captain then appealed the decision to the Canadian Forces Grievance Board and the Canadian Defense Staff. Both also rejected his appeal.

According to the Federal Court of Canada’s eventual ruling, the army’s Grievance Board dismissed

Capt. Mac Giolla Chainnigh’s Charter concerns as a reflection of his fundamental lack of understanding of the governance structures of Canada.  The Board appears to have concluded that, in the context of a correct appreciation of the role of the Queen within Canada and the Canadian Forces, Capt. Mac Giolla Chainnigh’s concerns were trivial and did not warrant constitutional protection.  

The Canadian Defense staff agreed, noting “the Queen’s position as Head of State is based in law, not belief, and therefore CF members have a legal obligation to respect the Queen’s lawful authority over them.”

Chainnigh then appealed these rejections to the Federal Court of Canada, where Justice Robert Barnes rather bizarrely agreed to hear the case, even though in his ruling he admits he found Mr. Chainnigh’s precise legal argument “somewhat difficult to follow” and said his “reasons for objecting to the requirement of paying compliments to the Queen are doubtful, unproven or demonstrably wrong”. The judge was willing to patronize the Captain’s plight as a freedom of expression case study, however, and much of his ruling explores the argument as to whether or not mandatory oaths, etc, limit an individual’s right to freedom of belief and expression. After pondering the Charter, Justice Barnes concluded that he could see no effective correlation between symbolic gestures of loyalty and suppression of dissenting political opinions, noting that

Capt. Mac Giolla Chainnigh’s complaints have been treated with respect and concern within the Canadian Forces since the time of his enrollment.  His right to freely express these views is best exemplified by his own evidence that, throughout his career, he has consistently expressed disaffection for the British monarchy.  He makes no allegations that his career has been adversely affected by the views he has expressed.

Since such rituals imposed no identifiable limits on the man’s freedom of speech or belief, the Judge wrote that his “refusal to participate in these practices” would simply “constitute a display of rudeness and disrespect entirely inconsistent with traditional Canadian values and accepted international protocols.” Justice Barnes added that allowing individual soldiers to “opt out” of military traditions and rituals undermines the military’s hierarchical subculture, and could allow for a “chaotic and unworkable situation” that would “entirely undermine the maintenance of good order and discipline that is essential to the effective operation of the Canadian Forces.”

The Judge’s entire ruling can be read online here

So what does it all mean? Put simply, Captain Chainnigh was an eccentric kook who offered up a sloppy and badly-conceived legal case that should never have been treated nearly as seriously as it ultimately was.  Chainnigh seemed to believe if he threw enough random Charter allegations against the Crown, eventually one would stick, and he could possibly opt-out of a few token rituals, which although dumb, were ultimately very benign and unobtrusive.

The Crown is a terrible political institution, functionally and symbolically. However, at the same time it is not an oppressive institution, and I agree with Justice Barnes in his assesement. He also repeats the very important point that has been made in several other lawsuits by anti-monarchists, namely that the monarchy is, “like it or not,” a part of our constitution, and parts of the constitution cannot be ruled unconstitutional, no matter how activist the presiding judge. Abolishment of the monarchy, or any of its trappings, is an effort which remains best achieved through the democratic realm of legislative law-making, not heavy-handed lawsuits. 

Even if this case had gone the other way, Mr. Chainnigh had won his right to op-out, I wouldn’t have been too pleased. Strange as it may sound, I actually favor the presence of monarchical rituals in Canada as long as the country remains a legal monarchy, and think it is counter-productive for Canadian republicans to try and undermine them. After all, one of the main reasons the republican movement falters is due to public apathy, and widespread ignorance of the monarchy’s role in contemporary Canada. When a Canadian is exposed to symbols of the Crown in daily life, through portraits, oaths, speeches, and other rituals, his awareness of Canada’s present status as a monarchy is raised. And with that raised awareness inevitably comes raised dissent with the status quo, as I believe most Canadians are genuinely disturbed and unsettled by deference to foreign royalty in their independent country.

An engaging battle needs a foe that is obvious and prominent, not one that is hidden or ignored. “Republicanism by stealth,” to quote the monarchist term used to describe the tactics of people like Mr. Chainnigh, hides the monarchy’s relevance and leaves us with a monarchy that is still functionally useless and abhorrent, but also difficult for the public to see and oppose. Let the monarchy be on full display, and let republicans oppose the institution in its entirety. Cut down the tree, don’t simply prune the branches.

Was Pakistan better under the Queen?

In the aftermath of the tragic murder of Benazir Bhutto, I, like no doubt countless others, have been spending considerable time trying to learn more about Pakistan, and how exactly the country has fallen to its present desperate lows. Of course, the more you read about Pakistan the more you realize it hasn’t really “fallen” at all; it’s always pretty much been a mess.

An interesting and now largely forgotten quirk of Pakistani history—that brings us back to the subject matter of this blog—is the fact that for its first eight and-a-half years of independence Pakistan was actually a constitutional monarchy. When Pakistan became a sovereign nation in 1947, separating from the British Indian Empire, King George VI remained as head of state, as did his daughter Elizabeth II, who was styled “Queen of Pakistan” (among many other titles) upon her coronation.

In a recent blog post, The Commonwealth Monarchist makes the case that Pakistan “would be more stable under a Crown” and should have thought twice about ditching the Queen. He offers the following cynical summary of the country’s post-monarchical history:

In March 1956, the monarchy was abolished and a republic proclaimed. Two years later, a military coup overthrew the president. Military rule remained in place until 1971, but was again in force from 1978-88 and, under Gen. Musharraf, from 2001 until the present. That means that, out of 52 years as a republic, 30 – over half – have been under military rule. The longest-serving civilian president, F. I. Chaudhry of the PPP – Bhutto’s party – lasted only five years in the office before being replaced by military rule.

All of this is true, but the problem is the way the author sees correlation as causation. Pakistan’s constitutional regime did breakdown after the monarchy was abolished, but this had little to do with the form of government the country was taking at the time, and instead had everything to do with political trends that had already emerged during the monarchy period.

Indeed, as far as the republic-versus-monarchy debate goes, Pakistan is actually quite a fascinating case study because it so clearly demonstrates the complete and utter non-correlation between constitutional monarchy, democracy, and political stability.

The Kingdom of Pakistan

Pakistan became an independent country in 1947, after the British government controversially agreed to split their former Indian Empire into two sovereign nations, one Hindu (India proper) one Muslim (Pakistan). Constitutionally, both new countries became Commonwealth “dominions” in the style of Canada or Australia, that is to say parliamentary democracies with the British monarch as head of state, represented by a locally-appointed Governor General.

Pakistan’s first post-independence Governor General was Muhammed Ali Jinnah, a enormously important man who had served as the leading advocate of Muslim self-determination within British India. Revered in his own time as the “father of Pakistan,” he remains a symbolic hero figure to this day, and his 1947 appointment as governor general marked the closing cap of a long political career. A man of considerable ego, Jinnah insisted upon becoming Governor General rather than Prime Minister (as his Indian counterpart Jawaharlal Nehru had done) as only the highest office in the land would satisfy his ambition.

In many respects Pakistan simply had a bad start. Compared to India, which generally retained all of the Raj’s best and brightest, Pakistan’s ruling class talent pool was small and shallow, and the new country’s organs of government were weak and underdeveloped. Lacking a strong civil society, the elite consensus at the time believed that more than anything else, the Dominion of Pakistan would require strong executive leadership in order to survive its first shaky years of independence. Governor General Jinnah was an authoritarian character who during his career in colonial politics had greatly entrenched himself as sole leader of the Muslim peoples. Upon independence, he thus believed, and was encouraged by his followers, that he had a right to fully exploit the powers of his new position to continue his tradition of leadership.

Jinnah thus spent his time in office governing more as an executive president than a viceroy. Or perhaps more as a dictator than either, as he actively meddled in the legislative process (making himself speaker of parliament), bossed around cabinet (which he always chaired), fired premiers of state governments that passed laws which displeased him, and built up a personality cult that fostered blind deference for his decrees.

In 1948, a mere year after taking office, Ali Jinnah died and his subservient prime minister Mohammad Ayub Khan appointed Khwaja Nazimuddin, the premier of East Pakistan, as the new Governor General. Unlike Jinnah, Nazimuddin was happy to just be a figurehead, and allowed Prime Minister Khan to exercise all real power without much meddling.

There was a window of opportunity that Pakistan would now evolve into a proper parliamentary democracy, but it didn’t last long. Prime Minister Khan was shot on October 16, 1951 and Governor General Nazimuddin was in turn promoted (demoted?) by Cabinet to replace him as PM. The national finance minister, Ghulam Mohammad, was appointed as the new Governor General. This was basically a step backwards to the old status quo. Nazimuddin was a weak personality, as mentioned, but Ghulam Mohammad was an authoritarian in the model of Jinnah. Distrustful of parliamentary democracy, he thus sought to re-exert the Crown’s executive power.

In those days, the big hot-button issue in Pakistan was the creation of a new constitution to replace the cobbled-together mess of British acts and decrees that the country was currently governed by. Much of the ensuing debate centered around the issue of federalism—remember that at the time Pakistan was still divided into an “east” and “west” with India in-between. The easterners, who were in the majority and overwhelmingly Bengali in ethnicity, wanted, rather logically, to have a government that would enshrine their rights to a majority of seats in the parliament, rather than merely give them equal status, or worse, keep them in the minority as they were at present.

In 1953 the parliament (which doubled as a constitutional assembly) recommended a model of government that would do just that, but Governor General Mohammad decided to veto the decision, dissolving the legislature. A westerner from the Punjab tribe, like many politicians in his clan he was very defensive about retaining the political dominance of his people. He proceeded to fire Prime Minister Nazimuddin a few weeks later for no real reason other than he thought he was bad at his job, and installed Mohammad Ali Bogra, Pakistan’s larglely unknown Ambassador to the United States, in his place. Nazimuddin actually appealed his firing to Queen Elizabeth, who ignored him, with her handlers quoting the common mantra that “Buckingham Palace will not meddle in the affairs of sovereign nations”—an argument that made little sense considering that Elizabeth was supposedly “Queen of Pakistan” now, and thus capable of acting independently from her role as Queen of England.

The legislature met for another constitutional assembly in 1954, and they made more or less the same recommendations as they had last time, as well as additionally suggesting that perhaps the Governor General’s office should have a few less powers. Now convinced that the sinister Bengalis were trying to take over the country, Governor General Mohammad once again dissolved the assembly, this time declaring a state of emergency as well. In the words of Tariq Ali, for the next few months Pakistan was “ruled by a semi-insane Governor General” who crushed press freedom and gave the army a free hand to round up dissidents.

In 1955 a new constitution was finally approved. As part of this process, the monarchy was abolished for largely symbolic reasons; there was no desire to have a white, protestant woman as head of what was supposed to be an explicitly Muslim state. Politically, however, the new President of Pakistan occupied an office that was largely the same as that of the Governor General. The movement to weaken the executive had faltered, and the new presidency would retain all the same “reserve powers” of dissolution, appointment, and veto usually associated with a constitutional monarch. Unfortunately, Pakistan had already grown used to authoritarian Governor Generals exploiting their constitutional powers to the full extent, so it was unsurprising that the man who became the first President of Pakistan following Mohammad’s 1956 resignation, General Iskander Mirza, chose to conduct himself in a similarly aggressive manner.

President Mirza continued to rule under a state of emergency, till 1958, when he was quietly deposed by General Mohammad Ayub Khan, his ambitious defense minister. As President, Khan eventually ditched the 1956 constitution altogether and wrote his own, formally entrenching an authrotarian system of “managed democracy” that would last until his resignation in 1969, at which point the country descended further into internal breakdown and civil war.

Does the system even matter?

Pakistan has been an effective dictatorship, or failed state, for virtually all of its 60 troubled years as an independent nation. The fact that this was obviously the case even during the 1947-1956 period when the country was a constitutional monarchy under the British Crown seems to suggest some inherent flaws in the monarchist argument that constitutional monarchy breeds greater political stability and democracy than alternative systems.

So did the monarchical system of government fail Pakistan? Or did Pakistan fail the monarchy? Neither, I believe. The model of government that Pakistan used is largely irrelevant to our understanding of why Pakistan went through what it did in the 1950’s, or why it is going through the events of the present, for that matter.

Jinnah and Mohammad can be easily criticized as just being bad governor generals, and a monarchist might argue (as many Brits did at the time) that their actions in office simply made a farce of the Westminster principles that their positions are supposed to respect and honor. What their regins ultimately demonstrate, however, is that a governor general (or monarch) is only as politically useful as he or she choses to be. An office of government is not in itself benign; it can only be begin if the individual who occupies it believes in the value of being so.

Jinnah and Mohammad were men with grand ambitions and authoritarian personalities who inherited a brand-new country without any sort of democratic traditions. That they helped bring their countries down the road to dictatorship is thus more an indictment of their own political priorities, style of leadership, and lack faith in the parliamentary process than any sort of grander thesis about monarchies or republics. As a counter-example, we need look no farther than next-door India, a country that went through virtually the same constitutional evolution as Pakistan—briefly a monarchy, then a republic—yet has enjoyed a nearly unbroken record of liberal democratic government since 1947. The difference was that India’s governor generals (and presidents) were willing to act as subservient figureheads, and its prime ministers were content to govern through the proper parliamentary process. Had India been led by a different caliber of men in those first shaky years, things could have turned out much different.

Wiser people than me continue to debate whether or not Pakistan was doomed from the get-go, and whether Jinnah’s dream of a multi-ethnic, secular Muslim state was ever really feasible. Certainly dictatorship arises more often than not from circumstances of social unrest and political tension—which invariably breed demands for “strong leaders” to fix everything—and such has been the status quo in Pakistan more often than not.

We can pray that Canada (or Australia or Britain or wherever) never collapses into a state of ruin and turmoil, and that our populace and politicians never begin to cry for dictatorship. But if they ever do, you can be sure that the Crown will not save us from ourselves.

The Obscure Debate thrives online

One of the reasons why I like republicanism is because I like being part of a polarized debate. You can call the issue esoteric or irrelevant, but there’s no denying that a great many people do consider this monarchy-versus-republic business to be serious stuff; a quick glimpse at some of my recent “comments” should make that clear.

However, outside of Australia—which has already held a referendum on separation from the British Crown—I would argue that the monarchy debate in the Commonwealth is also rather undeveloped at present. It’s simply not an issue that one hears discussed much in the mainstream media or partisan discourse, and when it is, it’s frequently only in the most superficial way. Again, one could argue this is because the issue itself is fringe and irrelevant, but I believe a more genuine explanation comes from the fact that the need for a republic has simply not yet had reason to register on the national priority scale.

It will eventually, however. Indeed, the clock is ticking faster every day and it’s now just a matter of time before some spark triggers an explosion of interest in the future of the Crown, be it the Queen’s death, a re-opening of the constitution, an unprecedented political move by an agent of the monarchy, or some high-profile scandal or controversy within the House of Windsor. Until that time comes, it’s worthwhile to anticipate this inevitability through discussions that remain, admittedly, largely academic at the present time.

One enjoyable by-product of this status quo is the large role that the internet has come to play in helping raise the profile of the intellectual side of monarchy debate. As I’ve mentioned before, my friend Lewis Holden, a New Zealander who heads his country’s official republican movement has created a wonderful blog called the Holden Republicin which he regularly addresses all manner of republican and monarchy related issues—both national and international in scope—from a Kiwi perspective.

Then there’s The Monarchist, an equally engaging pro-monarchy blog written by a handful of writers in Canada, Britain, New Zealand, and Australia. Though I hardly ever agree with its postings, it is a well-written and insightful blog which offers a good window into the intellectual mindset of “the other side.” Unlike formal, capital-M monarchist organizations in the Commonwealth, which tend to be mushy-mouthed political spin groups of the worst sort, The Monarchist is unapologetically brash, brazen, and aggressive in its defense of the Crown. Its writers speak unabashedly from what I believe is the true root of most passionate monarchist sentiment—a love for Britain, Empire, and all the accompanying trinkets and baubles.

I joined the fray with this blog last month, hoping to offer a Canadian perspective into the milieu, and contribute something to the greater Commonwealth discourse. And now I see there’s another new blog in town, A Commonwealth Monarchist, written by a British guy who, unlike The Monarchist, seems to hate republicans more than he loves the Queen.

Though his arguments are quite wrong (he in particular seems to honestly believe that a monarchical system of government prevents tyranny, when there are countless examples to the contrary) he is a decent writer and seems as keen as I to become part of this great, obscure debate. And for that, I give him kudos.

Any successful political movement requires multiple wings, including partisan allies in the legislature, a strong interest / lobby group, and an effective media presence. But such movements also require a strong intellectual foundation, composed of men and women who spend time studying their cause in great detail, and formulating a clear ideological case for why their position is the right one.

Republicans and monarchists are no different in this regard, and I’m continually impressed to see the way the net has already become the dominant forum for what will doubtlessly be one of the most interesting political battles of the 21st Century Commonwealth.

The myth of the medals continues…

Rideau Hall announced a slew of new appointments to the Order of Canada yesterday, and, depressingly, the media once again took the opportunity to spread misinformation about how the candidates were chosen.

In today’s National Post, for example, we have the complete list of appointments, under the heading “Governor General’s Picks,” with a photo caption that begins “Governor-General Michaelle Jean appointed 61 Canadians to the Order of Canada yesterday…”

The two major Canadian wire services, CanWest News Service and the Canadian Press offered up stories on the appointments that were not quite as explicitly wrong, but still bad. They made no mention of who actually made the decision to award the medals, though both stories note in some form that Governor General Jean “announced” the winners, which in turn seems to imply that she was the only important figure involved in the matter.

As I noted in my earlier post detailing the brouhaha over Ms. Jean’s supposed “failure” to ensure that a popular slain police officer recieved a medal for bravery, the Governor General does not actually award medals in this country. Instead, it’s councils of bureaucrats who make the decisions, which are then rubber stamped by the GG in traditional GG rubber stamping fashion. In the case of the Order of Canada, the decision-making council is known as the “Council of the Order of Canada” and it consists of:

-the Chief Justice of Canada
-the Clerk of the Privy Council
-the Deputy Minister of the Department of Canadian Heritage 
– the Chair of the Canadian Council for the Arts
-the President of the the Royal Society of Academies of Arts, Humanities and Sciences of Canada
-the Chair of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada
-two other individuals, appointed by the council for a three-year term, both of whom must be Order of Canada holders themselves. I don’t know who these individuals are at present.

I am not sure if it is due to journalistic laziness, or just good ol’ fashioned Canadian deference to authority, but I find it quite astonishing that there is never any effort made in the Canadian media to track down members of this council and make them justify or explain the reasons why they made the appointments they did. It’s not that I disagree with Walter Gretzky  or whoever receiving the OoC, it’s just I think it would be nice if we treated the awarding of our nation’s highest honor as a process that deserves at least minor levels of scrutiny and accountability.

Of course, part of the poor reporting is almost doubtlessly due to the fact that the majority of Canadians simply do not understand how the Crown works in modern Canada, so writers are perfectly happy to just retreat behind the polite fiction, a la the National Post headlines, that the list of Order of Canada appointments is devised by Michaelle Jean herself personally  (I assume in a smoke-filled room at 3 AM, surrounded by news clippings and crumpled paper).

I am often asked why I care about the republican issue as much as I do. Part of the reason stems from my basic dislike of the Canadian system of government, which I consider to be badly designed, ineffective, undemocratic, and deceptive. The Crown embodies all of these flaws, and indeed, one can make a strong argument that the underlying principles of monarchy—which inspired the Canadian system of government—are directly responsible for creating them in the first place.

I’d like to have a system of government where all the component parts are honest, and do what they are supposed to do, without a lot of symbolism and ceremony clouding and confusing the chains of command and accountability. The story of medals in Canada is interesting, because it really highlights this status quo so well. No one is really clear who is making the decision to award the medals, because the fiction of the monarchy hides the considerably blander reality. A minor case study to be sure, but the lesson is profound.