Will baby Prince George ever become king of Canada?

A baby Prince George has breathed new life into the House of Windsor. Or is he just the symbol of its geriatric destiny? Sparring partners John Fraser and Michael Bliss look at the future of the monarchy in Canada.

The future of the monarchy in Canada

For republicans and monarchists alike, Prince George looks to have brought about general agreement on one issue at least: His very birth is a positive sign for the future of the monarchy.

John Fraser, the master at Toronto's Massey College and author of The Secret of the Crown: Canada's Affair with Royalty, says that even he feels sorry for republicans following the royal birth on July 22.

One of Fraser's favourite republican sparring partners, the eminent historian Michael Bliss, concedes the royals are "on a good run now" — a view that seems to be ricocheting around the globe.

British journalist Claudia Joseph, author of Kate: the Making of a Princess, told Associated Press, "I think this baby is hugely significant for the future of the monarchy," at least partly because George is the first offspring of a "commoner" in 350 years to be an heir to the throne.

Meanwhile, the editors of the New Zealand Herald opined that countries like New Zealand now "may be less anxious to cast off a connection of heritage that presents no threat to their constitutional sovereignty."

And the Australian Times reports that the royal birth "could prove to be the change that was needed for Australia to renew its commitment to the Commonwealth."

Author and journalist John Fraser defends the Crown in this 2012 book. But part of its dedication is to 'Michael Bliss: Historian, Conservative, Republican.' (CBC)

Not everyone was overwhelmed, mind you. In Northern Ireland, after brooding over "an heir backlog within the House of Windsor," the Belfast Telegraph observed that "it is hard even to envisage the future for a royal child born in the age of Twitter."

And Andrew Vine, an assistant editor at the Yorkshire Post, took the BBC to task for what he calls its "nasty little caveat" -- by repeatedly using the phrase "as things stand" in stories about George that implies "doubt hangs over the future of the monarchy."

"It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that within the BBC lies a mentality that regards the monarchy as a tiresome and outdated anachronism, and by extension, the millions who rejoiced at news of the birth as little more than deluded peasants in thrall to the pomp, pageantry and spectacle of royal events, an easily-pleased rabble who turn ga-ga with starry-eyed adoration and abandon all critical faculty when the glass coach passes by," Vine writes.

What does history tell us about the monarchy’s future?

Last year Fraser and Bliss were debating the monarchy before large audiences across Canada. So after the new prince's name was revealed, CBC News checked in with the two eminent Canadians for their thoughts on the future of the Crown in Canada.

Bliss, ever the historian, looks to what recent world history tells us about forms of government and counts fewer monarchies. "You don't have many countries that adopt a monarchy and you have various countries that get rid of it, so the historical trend is against the poor baby," he said.

He also pointed out the decline of the monarchy among Commonwealth nations over the last half-century. Only 16 of the 53 members nations recognize the Queen as their head of state.

"I would bet my money the baby will never be the king of Australia and New Zealand, and my guess is not of Canada either," Bliss said.

John Fraser says the test for the Royal Family is not the good times but how they weather 'the crises, and so far they look pretty resilient.' Fraser shows off Massey College at the University of Toronto to Prince Philip in 2002. (John Fraser)

When it comes to monarchy, much depends on public opinion, both he and Fraser agree. "The polls do show that with every generation of Canadians, there's less interest in the monarchy," says Bliss and he expects that trend to continue.

Fraser's view: "Any institution that depends on the goodwill of the masses has clouds over it, they're built in."

But he also noted that the same applies to parliamentary democracy or the American republican system.

Testing constitutional monarchy

"The test is not the good times, these nice times of renewal for the constitutional monarchy. But how it weathers the crises and so far they look pretty resilient," Fraser said about the the Royal family.

"They've been counted down so many times," he added. But "if you project from today, things are looking good."

Fraser argues that, in Canada, the monarchy "probably will continue, because to open up any kind of constitutional issue in Canada is always so fraught, and it had better be for a pretty important reason, and I don't think the constitutional monarchy actually constitutes a very important reason to hurl each other at each other."

Bliss concedes "there's a certain amount of truth in that, and that's the inertia factor, which is probably [Prince George's] best hope.

In 2008, with the opposition parties planning to bring down his government, Prime Minister Stephen Harper succeeded in getting then governor general Michaelle Jean to approve his controversial recommendation to prorogue Parliament. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

"The problem with that is that as we've seen at least once, maybe more often in recent history, the status quo can get us into some serious problems."

As Bliss sees it, "there is a serious flaw in the Constitution related to the monarchy, and the flaw is that the monarchy is so completely ceremonial and toothless that it is nothing more than a creature of the government of the day."

Abuse of prime ministerial power

That toothlessness results in the Governor General having no legitimacy to be a serious check on prime ministerial power, Bliss said.

It is a serious problem that "crops up whenever a prime minister appears to be abusing power, as in proroguing Parliament. In the next 65 years it's hard to think that Canada will sail along quietly, constitutionally."

This week the Quebec government said it would be an intervener in support of a court challenge to the legislation passed unanimously by the House of Commons in March that removed the gender bias in the rules on royal succession.

Since Henry VIII (in portrait), British monarchs have had the title, 'Defender of the Faith.' Prince Charles, shown here in 2004, has proposed dropping the 'the.' (Fiona Hanson/Reuters)

The challenge is mostly about the way the changes were implemented. The Quebec law professors bringing the case argue Canada's Constitution requires the consultation and agreement of all the provinces for a change of this magnitude to become law.

The federal government disagrees, arguing that a change to the rules of succession is not a constitutional amendment to the role of the monarchy. But Bliss says that this case could be "a real sleeping stick of dynamite."

Only Anglicans need apply

Another argument in the court challenge is that the change discriminates on the basis of religion because it requires the heir to be Anglican.

Fraser points out that, in Britain, there is the real possibility of the disestablishment of the Church of England as the state church. "The moment that happens, the denomination of the sovereign is irrelevant," he argues.

In 1521, Pope Leo X bestowed on Henry VIII the title "Defender of the Faith," and every monarch since then has taken on that title at their coronation. Prince Charles has argued for a slight but important change in the title — dropping the word "the."

And while the suggestion provoked a firestorm, Fraser argues that Charles's view is important for the survival of the monarchy. "The monarchy has to be inclusive, not exclusive, that's his instinct and that's being passed on to his heir."

Historian Michael Bliss says we are entering the age of the geriatric monarchy, with the prospect of only elderly men succeeding each other once Charles becomes king. (CBC)

Fraser and Bliss both agree that Catherine has boosted the monarchy's popularity at the moment, essentially because shecomes across as a lovely young woman with an easygoing nature. 

But Bliss points out that we are also in what he calls the age of the geriatric monarchy.

As things stand, to  invoke the BBC caveat, after Queen Elizabeth the crown passes to her already 64-year-old son, Charles.

Given the longevity of the Windsors, and their opposition to abdication, the future of this royal family looks to be one of elderly men succeeding each other for at least three generations. 

For Bliss, the likelihood there may not be another young queen like Elizabeth poses a problem for the monarchy's future image.

The Quebec law professors' motion for judgment on the Succession to the Throne Act:

Daniel Schwartz is both a Massey College alumnus and a former student of Prof. Bliss.