Michael Valpy: So long, young royals, you did good
In William and Kate, a royal couple that seems to know how to fit in
The photograph from Yellowknife said it all. A backdrop of teenage street-hockey players. Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, in his blue suit — was that the only suit he packed? — takes a shot on goal.
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, forms a big O with her mouth as he misses.
They looked like us at that precise moment, these people destined to be the country's king and queen. Informal. Unstuffy. Touchable. Spontaneous. Real.
Doing something with hockey. For that reason alone their just-completed tour qualifies as a game-changer for the monarchy in Canada.
We don't have people in Canada like the Queen (who, in any event, we expect to see in gloves and hat looking regal and remote). Or Prince Philip or Prince Charles.
But we do have plenty of people who behave and look like balding William with just one suit and jeans-wearing Kate.
We now can talk about him as a prince of Canada without uncomfortably shifting feet. We can even be smugly OK knowing that a Canadian Forces plane will fly the couple from Calgary to Los Angeles and that they will be officially met at the airport by the Canadian consul-general.
Our prince. Our Kate.
This tour has been a success. From the 300,000-plus who turned out on Parliament Hill on July 1 to the Quebec visit (more about that in a moment), to the dragon boat race in P.E.I. to the Northwest Territories to burnt-out Slave Lake and the Calgary Stampede.
Credit goes to William and Kate, of course. Who knew they were so charismatic?
Credit, a lot of credit, also goes to the formal and reserved (in public at least) Canadian secretary to the Queen, Kevin MacLeod, the true-believer monarchist who was responsible for the tour's planning. Who knew he could be that clever and imaginative?
The whole affair was expertly staged and you can recognize his fingerprints: a Cape Bretoner, MacLeod had bagpipes at almost every stop.
He also had William and Kate meeting young people everywhere they went and doing the sporty things that young people do. He worked hockey into the frame. He had them identify with the land — their solitary canoe trip, the float-plane flights, the night alone in the Rockies.
He kept the tour free of all but a few bits and pieces of pomposity and he put the young royals firmly into the heart of Canadians' lives with the visit to Slave Lake.
He also insisted that they leave Canada as they arrived, aboard a Canadian Forces flight, and that they be met in the U.S. by a Canadian diplomat.
Plus, he took a necessary risk with Quebec, and pulled it off.
You can't have a future head of state hiding from French-speaking Canadians.
Finessing the grumps
In Quebec, the young separatist protesters, by being rude, shot themselves in the pied. The crowds were minuscule in Montreal, probably mostly tourists in Quebec City — but genuinely warm, welcoming, numerous and Québécois across the river in Lévis.
What's more, the organizers — who had to include the government of Quebec — had the couple doing all the right things: meeting with sick children (imagine protesting against a meeting with sick children) in Montreal and homeless youth in Quebec City.
So what if Premier Jean Charest used the occasion to talk about the warm ties between Britain (rather than the monarchy) and Quebec? And perhaps travelling down the St. Lawrence from Montreal to Quebec City on a warship was dodgy optics.
But it was done mostly at night and MacLeod, having given visibility to the air force and army, likely felt obliged to do something for the navy.
As for the media, they couldn't find anything really negative to say about the couple.
The Canadian media were almost fawning, ga-ga over Kate and were routinely referring to William as a future king of Canada, something rarely mentioned in references to Prince Charles.
Even the British journalists on the tour got it, making the point that William is a prince of Canada.
Of course, it likely will be a couple of years or more before William and Kate are back here. (For one, William has his air force obligations. He really did this trip on his holidays.)
As a result of the success of this tour, the demand for them in the 15 other countries where William is a royal prince is going to be enormous.
Canada's constitutional monarchy will likely get a small boost in the polls (depending on what question is asked).
Stephen Harper is going to be at 24 Sussex Drive for a while and he's the most overtly monarchist prime minister (more overt than even the Queen's chum, Jean Chrétien) that Canada has had since John Diefenbaker half a century ago.
Kevin MacLeod, the true-believer royal ringmaster, is a fit, healthy 60. And the monarchy's grumpiest critics are coming around to accepting the fact that getting rid of it would tie the country in knots.
The fantasy dream that Parliament merely has to not proclaim Charles king of Canada when the Queen dies is just that — a fantasy. The succession is immediate and requires no law. And Charles's stock seems likely to rise as a result of his son's performance.
What will be lasting is the awareness that William and Kate are a new and very different generation of royals who look — and are — familiar.