Canadian republicans inspired by Aussie anti-monarchists
OTTAWA - The Australian governor general's recent musings about an end to the monarchy have cheered Canadian republicans, who would like to jump-start a debate in thus country about getting rid of the Queen.
"We hope it's an idea that will spread," says Tom Freda, a Toronto businessman and activist who is also national director of Citizens for a Canadian Republic. The group, founded in 2002, seeks to promote discussion about changing the way the country is governed.
Quentin Bryce, the Australian governor general, said recently she believes her country a will become a republic.
"I think that that will happen in the future, yes," she said in an interview. "I think that it is part of the development of our democracy in future decades."
Freda said while Australians have a strong republican movement, Canadians don't even talk about the idea.
"We'd like to see Canada take some initiative and start doing what's happening in the rest of the Commonwealth, where there's no fear of discussing this," he said.
Robert Finch is Freda's exact opposite. He's the CEO of the Monarchist League of Canada, and he says there's no appetite for this discussion.
"It's just one of those things that Canadians just are not interested in debating," he said.
Opinion polls show support for abolishing the monarchy has been growing in Canada for years. Freda says it's about 55 per cent and climbing.
Finch sees the opposite.
"I think above everything else, Canadians themselves tend to be monarchists," he said. They may not be vocal about it, but he sees a lot of "silent supporters" out there.
The anti-monarchists say it's time to shed the last trappings of colonialism and have a truly Canadian government with no role for the British Crown.
Finch and his side say the monarchy has been a force for stability, a focus for Canadian identity and a neutral referee above politics.
He said republicans don't even agree on what might replace the Crown.
"I call it the great republican paradox," he said. "Republicans are very quick to argue against the present system but they can't agree on what type of republic they would want, an elected president, an appointed president."
Freda said that's something to be debated. A new head of state might be elected at large, appointed by Parliament or by a council of MPs and provincial legislators or, as an editorial once proposed, by a vote of members of the Order of Canada.
"There are a dozen different ways that are better than what we've got now," he said.
Finch said that all these ways will have the same result: "At the end of the day, you would end up with another politician."
In Australia, a 1999 referendum on cutting ties to the Crown fell flat, with only one of six states voting yes by a razor margin. Both sides blamed a proposal that would have had a new president elected by the national parliament, rather then by popular vote.
Freda said he'd like to see a referendum on ending the monarchy, although he admits that's a distant possibility since few politicians are willing to touch the issue at all.
Former deputy prime minister John Manley came under fire when he expressed support for ending the monarchy -- which he did while the Queen was touring Canada, and he was acting as her official escort.
Both sides agree that if change is to come, there's an enormous hurdle: getting rid of the Crown would need a constitutional amendment that would require the consent of all 10 provinces.
Freda sees the amending formula as a set of handcuffs binding the country even if people wanted change. And getting a new amending process is unlikely.
"The crazy thing is, to change the amending formula we have to use the amending formula. There's got to be unanimity to change it."
For Finch, a Constitutional amendment abolishing ties to London is highly unlikely.
"We don't have a great track record in this country of negotiating the Constitution."
In the end, Freda just wants to get a discussion going.
For Finch, he's happy with the status quo.
However, there is one cloud on the monarchists' horizon: Support for the Queen remains robust, but she is 83. Will Prince Charles inherit Canadian support along with the throne?
"Great question," Finch said. "The only real answer is that time will tell."