Do Canadians care about the pending royal birth?

Pollsters say Canadians are largely indifferent toward the monarchy and the House of Windsor, but there are also signs of growing Canadian interest in the baby Prince William and Kate are expecting any day now.

The anticipated arrival of Prince William and Kate's first child is drawing at least some Canadian attention

Prince William and Kate talk during a Canada Day celebration on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on July 1, 2011. (Charlie Riedel/Associated Press)

In Victoria, there's a guest book already brimming with good wishes for Prince William and Kate's soon-to-be-born royal baby.

In Toronto, plans are in the works to light up the CN Tower with the appropriate colour — blue or pink — once the new prince or princess of Cambridge arrives, and retailers are ready to tap the royal tot's potential to spur sales of everything from souvenirs to baby buggies.

Guests and visitors at the Fairmont Empress hotel in Victoria have signed a book to offer their good wishes to Prince William and Kate on the upcoming birth of their first child. (Fairmont Empress hotel)

And Niagara Falls, the landmark that draws tourists from around the world, will also glow pink or blue once the new third-in-line to the throne arrives.

In a country where pollsters report great public indifference toward the House of Windsor, there are also hints of Canada's growing public interest in the royal birth, even if some of that interest, arch-republicans say, is only to spark a renewed debate on the value of the monarchy itself.

Still, at the Fairmont Empress hotel in Victoria, which has hosted several members of the Royal Family in the past, staff organized a royal baby celebration focused on a charitable drive to support local children in need.

Alongside the crib, to receive donations of clothes, toys or gift cards, there's a guest book visitors can sign offering good wishes that will be sent to William and Kate. So far, the celebration that began on July 5 has been a big hit.

"We've actually had a really great response to it," says Angela Rafuse-Tahir, the hotel's director of sales and marketing.

"The royal couple themselves are very active in supporting charities worldwide and certainly I think if they knew of our royal baby celebration they'd be proud to see that we’re supporting our local community."

Smiles all around

The first guest book is already full, with "hundreds" of signatures, Rafuse-Tahir says. Donations have also rolled in, and Rafuse-Tahir puts their value in the "thousands" of dollars so far.

She says she has also watched hotel guests and visitors as they catch their first glimpse of the hotel's display, and seen it set off a "sparkle" in their eyes. "It's great to see the smiles on everyone's faces."

The Fairmont Empress hotel's royal baby celebration includes a crib to receive contributions for a local charity supporting children in need. (Fairmont Empress hotel)

The hotel had held a breakfast celebration when William and Kate were married in 2011, and had been fielding calls from local residents and guests asking whether it would be celebrating the royal baby.

"I think people just really have such great joy with the arrival of a baby, and of course William and Kate are obviously in the media right now and a lovely couple …  so it's very suiting to be celebrating the arrival of their baby."

In Toronto, retailers have their eye on the economic booster shot the royal baby might offer. One owner of a British imports shop ordered official royal pottery ages ago.

"As soon as the baby comes and they tell us what [Kate's] going to have, then the mugs that are on order — they'll slap on the right name and picture and they'll be here," says Creig Stearne of Empire by Bullet on Queen Street East.

William and Kate's rumoured preferences for baby items like strollers are also on retailers' radars. 

"They're not over-advertising, but we know that they have the Bugaboo [stroller]," says Karen Judd, owner of Moms to be ... and More on Bayview Avenue in Toronto. "It's nice to be able to feed off that."

Gauging interest

While retailers will eventually be able to gauge the impact of the royal baby on sales, getting a sense of how much overall Canadian public interest there is in the child is not easy — especially before the birth. Ask a monarchist, and the anticipation is high. Ask a republican, and it's not.

From the perspective of Robert Finch, dominion chairman of the Monarchist League of Canada, "there's a lot of interest."

His organization has been fielding dozens of calls daily in the last little while and responding to media requests for interviews.

Kate receives an Anne of Green Gables doll in Dalvay by-the-Sea, Prince Edward Island, on July 4, 2011. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

"This is a significant royal baby because it's the heir to the throne, but it's a little different this time," he says, comparing it with the arrival of Prince William in 1982.

"We live in a new digital age of Twitter and social media so there seems to be not just a day-by-day but an hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute [interest from] people paying attention to see what's new."

The league has encouraged Canadians to hold royal baby showers with a charitable twist — suggesting that any gifts at those get-togethers be donations for local children's charities or women's shelters, rather than people buying, wrapping and wanting to send something to a couple who will have no need for any royal baby supplies.

"We're encouraging people to have fun and celebrate, and keep the gifts close to home," says Finch. "It's about giving back to the community."

Finch knows there are Canadians who couldn't care less about the royal baby, and don't understand why or feel the event is worthy of attention. And he has a response ready.

'Worthy of celebration'

"You've got to be pretty cold-hearted not to be happy about the birth of a baby regardless of what your feelings are on the institution," he says.

"We all have our busy schedules and busy lives, and there are other items that we have to take care of. But that doesn't mean you can't celebrate an historic occasion. I mean, this baby is going to be the future king or queen of Canada so it is worthy of celebration."

Prince William and Kate inspect a group of children dressed as British soldiers as they visit Fort Levis in Levis, Que., on July 3, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

But ask Tom Freda, co-founder of Citizens for a Canadian Republic, about the kind of interest he's seen in the royal baby, and the answer is dramatically different.

"With the exception of Hello magazine and Maclean's, I've seen virtually nothing on it in the media except the odd little small newspaper article," he says.

"It's certainly not on the lips of the general public. I don't hear it being discussed, and if interest in the royal baby is anything remotely similar to interest in the royal wedding, it's not going to be much."

Freda points to a December 2010 Angus Reid poll that found the share of Canadians wanting the country to remain a monarchy in the future had dropped 15 points since a survey after the Queen's visit to Canada earlier that year.

According to the survey, which polled 1,016 people, 70 per cent of Canadians said they were "not too interested" or "not interested at all" in the Royal Family. Sixty-nine per cent answered similarly with respect to William and Kate's wedding.

In an analysis of that poll at the time, Angus Reid said: "The drop in support for Canada remaining a monarchy is not directly related to a rise in 'republicanism.' The true cause of the severe fluctuation is the lack of interest in this issue, particularly among respondents aged 18 to 34."

Make people think

Freda, whose organization wants to see Canada's constitutional ties with the monarchy cut, and the country have a head of state who is democratically selected here, expects the royal birth will generate interest in the discussion of the relevancy of the monarchy.

Prince William and Kate chat with young cancer patients who are working on crafts during a tour of Sainte-Justine children's hospital on July 2, 2011, in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

"We welcome the royal birth for two reasons, because we wish all the best to the royal couple, but we welcome the debate that will result from the birth."

Freda hopes Canadians will start thinking about the constitutional side of the story, considering whether it is right for William and Kate's child to be in line for Canadian head of state solely because of his or her birth, and without any input from Canadians.

"If the royal birth makes people think about this, all the better."


Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.

With files from Kimberly Gale