Ottawa is tight-lipped about King Charles's coronation — and monarchists are worried

Monarchists in Canada say they're troubled by the fact that the federal government hasn’t said yet how the country will celebrate King Charles's coronation — a historic event for the head of state that is just two months away.

Canadian monarchists have coronation envy after U.K. announced three-day spectacle to mark Charles's big day

King Charles and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are pictured at Buckingham Palace in London.
King Charles shakes hands with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Buckingham Palace in London on Sept. 17, 2022. Monarchists say they fear the federal government may have nothing planned for Charles's coronation in May. (Stefan Rousseau/The Associated Press)

Monarchists in Canada say they're troubled by the fact that the federal government hasn't said yet how the country will celebrate King Charles's coronation — a historic event for the head of state that is just two months away.

Royal-watchers say that as a senior member of the Commonwealth of Nations with close historic ties to the Crown, Canada should meaningfully mark Charles's investiture as King and the crowning of Camilla as Queen Consort.

The coronation — a service full of religious symbolism and pageantry — is generally regarded as one of the most important days in a monarch's reign.

While he assumed the throne after the September death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth, it's at the May 6 coronation that Charles will formally make promises to the people he serves.

Charles and Camilla are seen disembarking their plane in Yellowknife.
Charles and Camilla disembark in Yellowknife during part of the Royal Tour of Canada in May 2022. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

The day is also seen as an appropriate time to celebrate the start of Charles's reign because his accession day came during a period of national mourning.

The federal government's silence is frustrating, said Robert Finch, the dominion chairman of the Monarchist League of Canada.

"We're two months away from the coronation and there's still no concrete plan that we know of. There's no meat on the bones and, in some cases, there aren't even any bones," Finch told CBC News.

The monarch stands at the centre of Canada's parliamentary democracy and the festivities should reflect his outsized position in national political life, he said.

"I don't want the day to come and all we do is say, 'Hey, it's coronation day,' and that's it," he said.

"There's a new monarch. There's a new head of state in Canada and it should be recognized in a meaningful way."

WATCH: King Charles's deep ties to Canada

King Charles’s deep ties to Canada

8 months ago
Duration 2:32
Britain's new monarch King Charles has deep ties to Canada, forging connections with some Canadians through his charitable work and outreach during his many visits to the country.

In January, the U.K. government released details of a planned three-day spectacle — a nationwide celebration for the first coronation in 70 years.

Along with the coronation ceremony itself at London's Westminster Abbey, there will be "big lunches" and street parties across the country, special charity events and a televised concert featuring amateur choirs composed of refugees, LGBT community members and National Health Service workers, among others — all part of Charles's push to make the day more reflective of modern society.

There will also be a special "bank holiday" — a day off from work so that British revellers can participate in the festivities and volunteer with local charities.

King Charles salutes as he leaves Westminster Abbey following the state funeral service of Queen Elizabeth.
King Charles salutes as he leaves Westminster Abbey following the state funeral service for Queen Elizabeth on Sept. 19, 2022. (Martin Meissner/Pool via AP Photo)

Canadian monarchists have coronation envy.

"Celebrating institutions, symbols and ceremonies — those are very important aspects of national life," Finch said. "We should do something."

In a statement, a spokesperson for Heritage Canada said the government "looks forward to celebrating the coronation of His Majesty King Charles III in May 2023 and marking this historic moment."

"Work is underway by the government and various partners to plan coronation events and initiatives in Canada," the spokesperson said.

Details of the events "will be announced in due course," the spokesperson said.

Finch said that's not good enough and it won't give communities the time they need to plan events.

In the past, Heritage Canada, the federal department that is responsible for all things royal, has made small grants available to organizers who want to mark royal events.

Last year, for example, the federal government offered up to $5,000 to communities that wanted to stage events to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee — events that were also used to educate the public about the role of the monarchy in Canada.

Without that money, those events might not have come together, Finch said.

"It's a real shame but that's sort of where we find ourselves," he said.

Finch said he and his group are also concerned by the lack of discussion of an official effigy of the King for Canadian coins, or of a royal tour by Charles and Camilla sometime this year to mark his new reign.

People stand around the Centennial Flame as images of Queen Elizabeth II are projected onto Parliament Hill’s Centre Block.
People stand around the Centennial Flame as images of Queen Elizabeth II are projected onto Parliament Hill’s Centre Block to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in Ottawa on Thursday, June 2, 2022. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Justin Vovk, a royal commentator and a PhD candidate at McMaster University who specializes in the history of the monarchy, said he's "not hugely surprised" that the government has been tight-lipped about the coronation — it's just not a priority.

"The Trudeau government sort of sees the monarchy as a kind of Christmas ornament. You take it out of the box, you polish it up and you show it off to people maybe once a year, and then you put it back in the box and you don't think about it again until it's absolutely necessary," Vovk told CBC News.

The government may also be aware that Charles is less popular than his mother, the late Queen, which could explain its muted approach, Vovk said.

"The Trudeau government doesn't really have much use for the monarchy as a day-to-day institution," he said. "And Charles is following pretty much the toughest act to follow. Anything that is done is going to pale in comparison."

If the government rolled out "the red carpet" for the coronation, Vovk said, it might look "really insensitive" to Canadians who are struggling with a host of issues — including the high cost of living and a health-care system in crisis. 

But Vovk said the coronation could be a "golden opportunity" for the government to refresh the monarchy's image in Canada.

There's no prospect of dumping the Crown any time soon — that would require a protracted constitutional battle with the provinces — and so the federal government should use the day to champion topics it cares about most, Vovk said.

A First Nations Chief in ceremonial garb speaks and points off-camera to the right as he stands next to a smiling man in a grey suit lifting one hand up to wave.
Charles waves to the crowds as he arrives with then-Chief Perry Bellegarde at ceremonies at Wanuskewin Heritage Park near Saskatoon on April 28, 2001. Charles was given a Cree name and a star blanket the day — a recognition of his close relationship with Indigenous peoples. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

King Charles is closely aligned with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on a number of topics.

Charles has long been concerned about climate change and youth issues. As the Prince of Wales, he promoted Indigenous reconciliation.

Charles also has been a vocal supporter of Ukraine in its fight against Russia — a position that aligns with Trudeau's worldview.

The coronation celebrations could reflect those shared priorities, Vovk said.

Queen Elizabeth II is seen seated on the throne during her Coronation in Westminster Abbey in 1953.
This June 2, 1953 file photo shows Queen Elizabeth II seated on the throne during her coronation in Westminster Abbey. (The Associated Press)

Canada has changed dramatically in the 70 years since Queen Elizabeth was crowned.

Canada's then-governor general, Vincent Massey, staged a big national party that included "celebrations of the empire," Vovk said.

Massey, Canada's first Canadian-born governor general, had an ornate state carriage built to mark the coronation. He also issued silver spoons to all Canadian children born on that day — June 2, 1953.

Parties were held from coast to coast. Special stamps were issued.

The National Film Board commissioned a documentary on "Canada at the Coronation," which featured the Canadian Armed Forces and the RCMP's special role in the Queen's big day.

Canada sent the largest contingent to London of any Commonwealth nation — 180 servicemen marched in the coronation procession while 320 lined the route in the area near Canada House.

The British empire is gone and Western countries like Canada and the U.K. are grappling with their respective colonial histories.

"The Trudeau government needs to take the core elements of Elizabeth's coronation in 1953 and adapt them to Canada in 2023," Vovk said.


John Paul Tasker

Senior writer

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC's parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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