Liberals leave royal position vacant in Queen's Sapphire Jubilee year

A decades-old liaison job between Canada and the monarch has been left vacant since May, as the Liberal government reviews the future of the position during the Queen's Sapphire Jubilee marking her 65 years on the throne.

Trudeau government suspends royal position and committee as officials review role and function of office

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, in Ottawa in 2010. The Trudeau government is reviewing the future of the position of Canadian Secretary to the Queen.

A decades-old liaison job between Canada and the monarch has been left vacant since May, as the Liberal government reviews the future of the position during the Queen's Sapphire Jubilee marking her 65 years on the throne.

The Canadian Secretary to the Queen (CSQ) was created in 1959 as the Canadian adviser to the monarch and co-ordinator of royal visits to Canada, including those of family members. Among the responsibilities was to write the Queen's speeches when in Canada.

Before 2012, the ceremonial duties and title were tacked onto other jobs, such as the Sergeant-at-Arms in the House of Commons, who took the role from 1998 to 2005; and the Usher of the Black Rod in the Senate, from 2009 and 2011.

Then-prime minister Stephen Harper meets with Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace in London in 2012. Months later, Harper would make the position Canadian Secretary to the Queen a full-time job. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

But in 2012, then-prime minister Stephen Harper upgraded the position to a full-time job, and gave it to Kevin MacLeod, retired Usher of the Black Rod.

The job of secretary, reporting directly to the prime minister, included chairing a new advisory committee on vice-regal appointments, which gave non-binding advice on suitable candidates for governors general, lieutenant-governors and territorial commissioners.

But the job was downgraded on Nov. 4, 2015, the day the newly elected Liberals took office. The new government required the CSQ to report to the minister of Canadian Heritage rather than to the prime minister.

And Harper's advisory committee on vice-regal appointments was later disbanded, and remains "dormant," according to a government spokesperson. Last week, a new lieutenant-governor was named for Prince Edward Island without the committee in place.

No replacement

And when MacLeod retired in May as CSQ, no replacement was named as officials decided to review the future of the position.

In the meantime, in an apparent first, Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, made a short visit to Canada this summer without the services of a Canadian Secretary to the Queen. Officials in the Canadian Heritage Department took over those duties instead.

"The Government is currently examining the role and function of the office," said Stephane Shank, spokesperson for the Privy Council Office, which provides administrative support for the Prime Minister's Office. "The roles and responsibilities have been assumed by the Department of Canadian Heritage."

Shank added: "The Advisory Committee on Vice-Regal Appointments is currently dormant and the government is considering its future role and mandate."

A spokesperson for the Monarchist League of Canada says the government has not consulted the organization, nor provided any indication of what's ahead.

It's as clear as mud.- Monarchist Robert Finch on the future of the Canadian Secretary to the Queen

"There's a mystery surrounding this one," Robert Finch said in an interview. "It's as clear as mud."

Finch said his group is keeping an open mind, but that the position of CSQ is "good from both a ceremonial and a functional point of view. … I think it's very important from a symbolic point of view."

An April briefing note on the CSQ for Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act, notes that "there appears to be no other similar positions in other Commonwealth countries."

The briefing note calls on Joly to make a decision about the future of the position before it becomes vacant, though the options suggested to her are blacked out as advice.

The document does indicate, however, that the department was not given any extra money to pay for the position when oversight was transferred to Joly on Nov. 4, 2015.

No resources

"The cost of salaries, benefits and operating expenditures for a Governor in Council appointed CSQ is between $200,000 and $300,000 annually, for which no source of funds is identified within the Department as the CSQ was transferred … without resources," says the note.

The Nov. 2, 2012, cabinet order creating the stand-alone CSQ position set the salary range as between $145,800 to $171,500, and required the person to "advise the Prime Minister on matters relating to the Canadian Crown."

This isn't the first time the new Liberal government has rolled back a Harper government move to raise the profile of the monarchy.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip are pictured with then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau in 1982. There has been a Canadian Secretary to the Queen since 1959. ((Ron Poling/Canadian Press))

Within a week of assuming office, the Liberals reversed a 2011 order from then-foreign affairs minister John Baird that two paintings by a celebrated Quebec artist be replaced by a portrait of the Queen in the lobby of the Lester B. Pearson Building on Sussex Drive. The paintings by Alfred Pellan were restored to their former place of prominence.

At the time, the Monarchist League's Finch called the reversal "outrageous."

The new government, on the other hand, has kept the "royal" name for the branches of the military, such as the Royal Canadian Air Force, a Harper government move that reversed a Liberal government move from 1968.

Follow @DeanBeeby on Twitter


Dean Beeby

Senior reporter, Parliamentary Bureau

Dean Beeby is a CBC journalist, author and specialist in freedom-of-information laws. Follow him on Twitter: @DeanBeeby


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