A Royal Farewell?

Rex says the response in Canada toward Charles' and Camilla's tour shows how irrelevant the British monarchy has become in Canada.

Read the transcript of this Point of View

Rex Murphy Point of View

November 5, 2009


If you don’t know it, and there’s a mild chance you do not, there’s a Royal Tour of Canada in progress right now.


Prince Charles, who is the most perfect living embodiment of Milton’s famous line – "they also serve who only stand and wait" – has been in Canada 4 days and will be here 7 more.


Charles’ arrival, with wife Camilla Parker-Bowles, does not echo the Royal visits of yore  (we always say "yore" when there’s a Prince in a sentence).  When Elizabeth, his mother, came in 1953, the crowds were massive.  When he came with Princess Diana in 1983, people jammed the streets, frantic with excitement, but it was more the magnetism of the charismatic Princess that drew the crowds and the coverage - Charles was essentially the guy on the edge of every photograph.


This time around, if we’re looking at the crowds, it could almost be some Cabinet Minister from Belgium.  Fifty-seven in the small town of Cupids, when Don Cherry would probably call out three or four hundred.  Better still, if Michaelle Jean visited Cupids, they’d have to put up tents to shelter the overflow.


Highlight so far goes to the irrepressible, impish John Crosbie, currently Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland. 


All hail to the mighty Crosbie, who strode out to meet Charles and Camilla, wearing a three-quarter length fur overcoat made of the finest Newfoundland seal pelt, harvested by Newfoundland sealers, the buttons (I’m not sure of this part) made from the bleached and compressed pulp of recycled Greenpeace posters.


The Crosbie coat probably got the royal goat, because Lieutenant Governors are supposed to be wallpaper at these affairs.  However, as we Canadians know, the idea of John Crosbie as wallpaper is a reversal of Nature’s own great order.  It cannot happen.  It would turn physics as we know it on its head.  John Crosbie is his own Mount Rushmore.


There’s some talk that there should be a debate about Canada’s ties to the monarch.  I’m not sure there’s really enough wood to start that fire.  There’s not so much a debate as a kind of polite indifference.  Certainly it has prompted some people to remark that Michaelle Jean, in the vice-regent office to be sure, but mainly on the strength of her own vitality and presence, is more than sufficient as a ‘symbolic’ head of state. 


She owes very little of the kind of respect she draws from being the constitutional shadow of the British crown. Meantime Prince Charles is in Ontario today and will make his way west. 


I’m sure he’ll receive polite welcomes wherever he goes, but this is radically unlike the visits of yesteryear:  Curiosity more than "ancient allegiance" will draw what people show up.  The long shadow of irrelevance - "what are kings when regiment is gone" - is obscuring the once-mighty institution of the British crown, and this tour has more than a touch of unacknowledged farewell about it.


For The National, I’m Rex Murphy.