Canadians apathetic about monarchy: poll

As the Queen starts a nine-day Canadian tour, a new poll suggests Canadians are feeling rather listless about the visit and the monarchy in general.

Support highest in Atlantic Canada

As the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh start their nine-day Canadian tour, a new poll suggests Canadians are feeling rather listless about the visit and the monarchy in general.   

The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey of just over 1,000 Canadians found that 45 per cent of respondents didn't know they were coming, while almost half — 48 per cent — agreed when asked if they consider the monarchy "a relic of our colonial past that has no place in Canada today."

As well, 44 per cent said they would support a referendum on whether Canada should keep the monarchy, with 58 per cent of Quebec respondents leading the call for a national question.

The telephone poll was conducted between June 17 and June 20. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Tom Freda, director of Citizens for a Canadian Republic, said the poll confirms Canadians are apathetic when it comes to royal visits and the role of the Queen.

"Most Canadians just don't care about the monarchy," said Freda, whose non-profit group wants Canada's head of state to be an elected governor general from Canada instead of a "non-resident monarch."

"It doesn't make sense in the 21st century for a country of Canada's stature to share its head of state with another country," Freda said in an interview.

"It's a symbol of Canada's subservience. It's a symbol of Canada's lack of ability to stand alone in the world as an independent nation."

The Queen is head of state for only 16 of the Commonwealth's 54 members.

And aside from Australia, where the future of the monarchy is the subject of much debate, Canada is the only member of the G20 group of advanced and emerging nations without its own indigenous head of state.

More than 20 visits

There has been little debate in Canada because Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made a point of strengthening Canada's ties with the monarchy, Freda said.

"If the monarchists can't get Canadians interested in the monarchy with a government like that, it indicates just where Canadians loyalties really lie: they just don't care about it."

The cool indifference persists despite the fact that the Queen, now 84, has visited Canada more than 20 times since ascending the throne in 1952.

Robert Finch, chairman of the Monarchist League of Canada, said he wasn't surprised by the lack of awareness about the visit. He said people were preoccupied with other events, including the G8 and G20 meetings in Ontario, the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and World Cup soccer.   

"I don't think the numbers reflect a dwindling interest in the monarchy," he said. "I think they reflect the fact that our lives are very busy."

Still, Finch conceded the results are not encouraging for fans of the monarchy.

"On the surface, it doesn't appear hunky-dory," he said. "But I've seen many of these over the last several years and I've learned never to put too much credence in them. They go up and down over time."

He said it's important to realize the numbers are skewed by the results from Quebec, where 74 per cent of respondents said the monarchy was irrelevant.

"There's a significant portion of Quebecers who, let's face it, don't have any interest in being a part of Canada," he said.

When Quebec is excluded from the results, the proportion of respondents who criticized the monarchy drops from 48 per cent to 41 per cent.

Finch also noted that the number of people who supported a referendum was less than those who described the monarchy as a thing of the past.

"It gets people to think a bit more," he said, suggesting that Canadians would be unwilling to support a bid for a major constitutional change. "We don't have a great track record in this country of opening up the Constitution."

Despite the poll results, Finch said those pushing to make Canada a republic have a long way to go to persuade Ottawa the public is hungry for change.

Meanwhile, he was looking forward to the visit.

"It's always exciting when the Queen is here," said Finch, whose group includes 10,000 members. "We have a wonderful democracy in Canada, and it's all under the Crown. The Crown has given us what we have today. We take it for granted."

The poll also found that awareness of the latest royal tour was highest in Atlantic Canada, Ontario and in Manitoba — the three regions the Queen will be visiting. Older Canadians were also more likely to know about the tour.

Women, conservatives and Atlantic Canadians were most likely to say the monarchy should be maintained.