Could Canada follow Barbados and drop the Queen as head of state?
TORONTO -- After Barbados’ government announced plans for the island nation to drop the Queen as head of state and become a republic next year, there has been speculation that other Commonwealth countries will cut ties to the monarchy too, including Canada.
The Queen is currently the head of state in 16 countries, including the U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and several other nations in the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean. If Barbados removes the Queen as its head of state, it would be the first country to do so in nearly three decades after Mauritius became the last country to drop the Queen as its head of state in 1992.
In Canada, however, the process might not be as simple as it has been for other smaller nations or would be for Barbados.
Royal historian Carolyn Harris explained that, while the process to remove the Queen as head of state in Barbados would only require a vote of two-thirds of their Legislative Assembly, the process in Canada is much more complicated.
Under article 41(a) of the Constitution Act, any changes to the office of the Queen would need the unanimous support of all 10 provinces.
That may be difficult to achieve, given the Queen remains a popular figure across the country.
According to an Ipsos poll from February, 81 per cent of Canadians approve of the Queen with the highest support reported in B.C., Ontario, and Atlantic Canada, and the lowest in Manitoba and Quebec.
“Canada has long been considered to be a very friendly place for royal visits,” Harris told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday. “William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, made their first overseas tour as a married couple to Canada in 2011, and the Queen has visited 24 times.”
Because attitudes towards the Queen have been generally favourable in Canada over the years, Harris said she thinks there wouldn’t be the same support to separate from the Commonwealth as there has been in other countries, such as Australia, where a referendum on the monarchy was held in 1999, in which voters rejected the idea of becoming a republic and cutting ties to the Queen.
What’s more, Harris said Canada would have to determine its future governance if the Queen were removed as head of state.
“There would be the debate over what happens next,” Harris said. “What would be the new system of government? Would it be an appointed or an elected head of state? Or would head of state and head of government become the same person?”
WHAT WOULD CHANGE?
If Canada obtained unanimous support from all the provinces to drop the Queen as head of state, Harris said it could have an impact on historic treaties between the government and Indigenous peoples.
Harris said there are 70 historic treaties with Indigenous people dating from 1701 and 1923.
“These treaties are with the Crown,” she said. “So potentially, if Canada were to transition to a different form of government, it could reopen some of these treaties.”
The Queen’s removal as head of state would also put into question Canada’s relationship with the rest of the Commonwealth, according to Harris.
“What’s interesting is some of these countries that have transitioned from [Commonwealth] realm to republic still acknowledge the Queen as head of the Commonwealth in order to keep having these historic connections to these other countries,” she said. “So certainly, it would depend on what sort of alternate government was decided on in the event that there was a change in government.”
Lastly, in terms of any potential cost savings for Canada, Harris said most of the Royal Family’s expenses are paid for with the Sovereign Grant in the U.K. or revenue from their own estates. She said Canada only really incurs costs related to the monarchy when there is a royal tour that requires security.
“Where we see controversy, and sometimes lower polling data about the monarchy in Canada, that tends to be when there are royal tours, or there has been discussion of the costs of security,” she said. “That has been controversial in the past not so much for the Queen's visits as for when more junior members of the Royal Family visit.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that there are still nations in the Commonwealth realm located in the Indian Ocean.