By James Fife
Though that has never been my intention, there is a possibility that some of the ramblings I have laid out in these articles may stir a bit of ire among some readers. I am well aware that is the case from the time I committed the sin of dropping superfluous u’s in words like neighbor(u)r or when I left out the middle initial of That Primer Minister Who Shall Not Be Named. I heard about it. Maybe this time too.
That’s because I propose to discuss what appears to be a fairly striking difference between North and South that we have encountered in our transition. It concerns the two countries’ respective attitudes toward Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, as well as the rest of her extended family/dynasty. Given the differing history of associations and the continuing difference in constitutional position of the British monarchy in my two homelands, one could expect that there would be some strong feelings on the subject among their respective citizenry.
That makes me a little nervous about venturing any observations on the topic. That and the perhaps justified objection that, “What do you know about the subject?”—being as I am a relative newby to official, Canadian status. But I do venture to comment, because I believe that I have some basis at this stage to put in my oar. The first basis being that I am (and apparently have been, in law, from birth) a subject of the Queen. When I got my certificate of citizenship from the Ministry, it not only confirmed my status as a vassal of Sa Majesté, but also insisted I had to take an oath of allegiance to Her and Her Heirs. Now, I don’t know if anybody actually born in Canada is ever asked to utter that oath; I would imagine it would not sit well with some folks in Lower Canada. But I think that gives me a right now to opinionate on the monarchy, since I am an actual subject of hers. Also, I am not unacquainted with life under her reign, as I lived for a couple years in Wales and had day to day experience with life in a society structured on the principle of inequality by birth.
I guess by that last remark, I betray some of my own outlook on the matter and the reason why I suspect that I could be stepping on some toes of fellow Canadians. And it might be supposed that I have that attitude because of my upbringing in the U.S., a self-pronouncing hotbed of republican (with a small ‘R’) sentiments. That may make it seem doubly galling, to have someone go spread-eagle all over a cherished, Canadian institution. However, now that I have had some time to experience life North and South, I come to realize that such assumptions are quite mistaken.
That’s because Canadians, even those not of the Gallic persuasion, cannot hold a candle to Americans in terms of their royalist tendencies. And I have concrete proof to back up that assertion.
I was never particularly aware of how much I was personally shaped by growing up American as I was when I started living abroad, in Britain, Ireland, and Poland. The daily contrast with the attitudes and behaviour of those around me made it obvious that some of the stereotypes of Americans had rubbed off onto me, willy nilly. That is still the case, as these articles demonstrate. But I eventually learned that the differences were not always what I expected, and views on monarchy was one of those. Because I had to admit that, however much I found that some Britons (and Canadians) are real Royal-Lovers, it did not compare with the ardour shown by some Americans, who were simply ga-ga over the Royal Family. For an avowed republic that fought tooth and nail to free itself from the control of the British monarchy, some of my fellow southerners act as if they regret the decision to turf the Hanovers out.
Let me give one example of this. Recently I crawled through a lengthy stream of news stories posted on a typical internet news page, counting the articles devoted to topics of the day. On the day that Michael Cohen dropped his bombshell testimony in Congress, there were 15 stories related to it (it was the same day Jody Wilson-Raybould testified in Parliament, but, true to American form, there were no stories on that). The same day there was a summit in Vietnam between two nations poised to fire nuclear missiles at one another; less than a dozen stories on that. I lost count after 80 stories relating to the various Windsors.
I suppose some of that fascination stems from the fact that one of the most trendable royals recently married an American, an African-American at that. Still, there were far too many stories about other members of the clan to explain Americans’ seeming obsession with all things Windsor. I guess I should not be too surprised. Americans, for all their democratic bluster, are not Jacobins or Bolsheviks in their passion for equality. Over the years we have attached so much pseudo-royal deference and ceremony to the presidency that we could now take up John Adams’s suggestion that his official title be “His Highness the President of the United States.” That seems all the more likely these days.
In contrast, I cannot imagine a typical Canadian I have encountered in Victoria applying that sort of obeisance and genuflection to a prime minister, for instance. In fact, the contrasting news item that I would point to is the fact that the majority of the newly installed members of the Victoria city council refused to take an oath of loyalty to the Crown. I know, that is sooo Victoria. But it is not totally out of synch with what I have seen up north: royalty is simply not so widespread a hot item as it is in Home South. I sense a slightly begrudging acquiescence to it all, still using the phrase “the Crown,” but imbuing it with very little substance marking its feudal significance. So, I am happy to observe that even when occasion calls for a gushing rush of Canadian patriotism (e.g. July 1), so little of it involves exultation of the monarchy.
Whether it is just a reflection of current-day, Victoria attitudes or something more ingrained, I find the toned-down royalism of Home North a comfortable fit for me, making the transition to life there less roiling than I might have expected. I feel more relaxed, knowing that a stray, anti-royal remark will not instantly raise umbrage among my listeners. Now, whether the same sangfroid would ensue after a Meghan Markle-Windsor remark in ‘the Colonies,’ well, that’s a different question.