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Why Canada could be King Charles's first trip outside U.K. as monarch

Speculation has swirled in recent days over where King Charles may go for his first trip outside the U.K. as monarch, and Canada has garnered headlines as a strong contender.

Destination for initial visit will be of 'strategic importance' to Britain, royal expert says

A man stands beside a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer as he salutes.
Then-Prince Charles visits Canada House in London, England, on May 12. News reports suggest King Charles could visit Canada on his first trip outside the United Kingdom as monarch. (Hannah McKay/Getty Images)

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Might it be France? Or Canada? Or a Commonwealth country Down Under?

Speculation has swirled in recent days over where King Charles may go for his first trip outside the U.K. as monarch, and Canada has garnered headlines as a strong contender.

Wherever he does go, that first trip outside the U.K. will send a message that the destination country — or countries — are of "strategic importance" to the U.K., said Prof. Pauline Maclaran, a royal expert at the Centre for the Study of Modern Monarchy at Royal Holloway, University of London, via email.

For example, Maclaran said there was speculation three weeks ago that the first trip might be to France to discuss environmental issues — a known priority for Charles — with President Emmanuel Macron, who shares similar concerns. 

"This was thought to be with the aim of healing Brexit wounds. There is presently no sign of this coming to fruition, and now the speculation is around the first trip being to a Commonwealth country."

An adult speaks with a group of children.
King Charles speaks to well-wishers in Glasgow on Thursday. (Andrew Milligan/AFP/Getty Images)

Indeed, The Times reported in recent days that U.K. government ministers were considering a proposal to send Charles to Canada.

"One source said Canada was at the 'top of the list' for potential visits," the Times reported, noting the British government "is keen to foster closer ties with Ottawa after Brexit."

If the first trip is to Canada, Maclaran said, "it would be to reinforce ties with the Commonwealth, as well as consolidate trade with what I understand is the U.K.'s third-largest trading partner and a country pinpointed as a strong growth area for U.K. imports."

If the British government, along with Charles and his advisers at Buckingham Palace, do have their sights set on Canada for the first overseas visit, it would come as no surprise to David Johnson, a political science professor at Cape Breton University in Nova Scotia.

"I think the symbolism of a first visit to a Commonwealth country would be important to the King (as opposed to him visiting a totally foreign country)," Johnson said via email.

And if the idea is to visit a Commonwealth country first, there are several reasons Canada would be an obvious choice, Johnson said.

"We are the oldest and most senior member of the Commonwealth, if one traces the Commonwealth's history back to the very idea of the Commonwealth floated as early as the 1880s-'90s."

Charles and Camilla, then the Duchess of Cornwall, talk during a ceremony in Heart Garden at Government House in St. John's on May 17 on the first day of their three-day visit to Canada earlier this year. (Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty Images)

More than that, said Johnson, "we are the safest place for the King to come to in order to have a successful and relatively stress-free visit for the Palace, and the British and Canadian governments."

In almost any other Commonwealth country, Johnson said, Charles and the Palace "would be dogged by critical-to-hostile media attention."

"Any such trip to the Caribbean or African or South Asian Commonwealth member states would be met with questions and demands for royal apologies for colonialization, slavery, imperial domination and demands for fiscal reparations and the return of looted treasures."

A first visit to Australia or New Zealand "would likely result in media questions and stories about how soon those countries should sever ties with the monarchy," he said.

While such issues have been the focus of some discussion in Canada in recent months, Johnson said "the reality that the status of the monarchy in Canada is so deeply entrenched in the Canadian Constitution [means] that no major political player in Canada — PM, premier, most leaders of the official opposition parties in Ottawa or the provinces — have any interest in reopening the Constitution to abolish the monarchy here."

There is, however, a proviso to all this, said Johnson.

Charles stands near Great Slave Lake in Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories, on May 19, the final day of his visit to Canada last spring. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

"If and when such a royal visit occurs, there will be serious calls in this country from Indigenous peoples and their leaders, and from many other Canadians desirous of seeing some form of formal recognition and apology by the King with respect to the monarchy's historic connection to the colonization of Indigenous nations."

If and when Charles does come, Johnson would expect him to be coming to make "some form of formal statement and apology for the Crown's connection to past wrongs perpetrated in its name by British and Canadian governments," along with speaking "openly and sincerely about the importance of truth and reconciliation that all people in Canada need to be a part of."

Wherever Charles goes for that first trip outside the U.K., it seems unlikely it will be Egypt for next month's COP27 climate conference, as some had seen as a possibility.

British media reports have suggested he was advised — or told — or otherwise discouraged from attending by Prime Minister Liz Truss.

"If Charles attended the COP27 meeting in Egypt, he would be highlighting a cause that he is passionate about, the environment and climate change," said Maclaran.

Charles being advised against going by Truss "is likely to be because they, in conjunction with the Foreign Office, want to use the diplomatic power of the King's first trip outside the U.K. for something they regard as of higher strategic importance and likely with stronger economic implications," Maclaran said.

"It is well known that Liz Truss has not got the environment high on her agenda. Also, there is a risk that if COP is the King's first trip, this will emphasize his own interests rather than state interests."

What kind of Prince of Wales will William be?

A person stands in front of a picture of a lion's head.
Prince William attends the United For Wildlife summit at the Science Museum in London on Oct. 4. The Prince of Wales delivered a keynote speech highlighting the serious and organized nature of illegal wildlife crime and its damaging impact on global biodiversity and local communities. (Paul Grover/Getty Images)

When Prince William made his first major speech as Prince of Wales, he chose to focus on an issue that has been top of mind for him for a while: the effort to stop the illegal wildlife trade.

In that work, William said, there was also an opportunity to honour the memory of his late grandmother, Queen Elizabeth. 

"In times of loss, it is a comfort to honour those we miss through the work we do," he said.

The speech was also seen by some as a signal of what he might do in the role his father — the former Prince of Wales — proclaimed for him the day after the Queen died.

"The speech suggested he was going to take up the mantle of his father, King Charles, in being outspoken about protecting the environment," the BBC reported.

William has had an interest in environmental issues for several years, and created the Earthshot Prize, an award aimed at finding solutions through new policies or technologies to tackle the largest environmental problems.

Craig Prescott, a constitutional law expert at Bangor University in Wales, says it looks like William has been following his father's pattern of trying to use his convening power.

"You can see that with the Earthshot Prize," Prescott said in an interview via Zoom. 

"I think it goes to what the King said in his speech the day after the Queen's death, which was [William will] be the Prince of Wales and [Charles] expects him to sort of do what he did as Prince of Wales, which was to be more than a mere ribbon-cutter," taking causes and drawing attention to them.

Prescott sees a similar approach — more than being just a patron of a charity — with the foundation led by William's wife, Kate, that is focused on early childhood development. 

"It's actually driving it, funding research and allowing others to … have a role in the debate," he said. "She doesn't necessarily come to any conclusions herself, but she creates processes by which others can shape that debate and or tend to that issue."

An adult leans over to talk to children waving flags.
Prince William speaks with children during a visit to Swansea, Wales, on Sept. 27. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Prescott said Charles had difficulties shaping the role of being Prince of Wales in the modern monarchy.

"If we just take the environment, Charles was the one who sort of created that space and … drew attention to it when it wasn't a political issue. And clearly it's easier for William to … follow in that footstep and in a sense with the environment you've got a precedent for other issues as well."

While William follows his father as Prince of Wales, there is little sense he will have an investiture similar to the one Charles had in 1969.

There has also been some opposition to the position itself, with one Welsh council recently passing a motion calling for the title to be abolished.

Prescott said it's no coincidence Gwynedd council recently voted to say there shouldn't be a Prince of Wales, noting that the area  "has one of the highest concentrations" of Welsh speakers in Wales.

"There's certainly a small and quite vocal minority … perhaps larger than it used to be, who clearly don't think there should be a Prince of Wales," said Prescott. 

"They're mindful of the history of the relationship between England and Wales, where towards the end of the 13th century, Wales just ultimately became part of England."

Queen Elizabeth holds the hands of Charles, then 20, during his investiture as Prince of Wales on July 1, 1969, in Caernarfon, Wales. A similar ceremony for Prince William seems unlikely.

For his part, William has pledged to serve the people of Wales with "humility and great respect."

He and Kate visited Wales the day after the Royal Family's mourning period for the Queen ended. Other visits by the couple in recent days have focused on issues they have been promoting for several years, including mental health.

On Thursday, William tried out his boxing skills as he and Kate helped mark the 10th anniversary of a charity that helps disadvantaged youth become sport coaches. 

"Sport has an incredible way of providing hope, connection and opportunity," William said.

Prince William visits the Copper Box Arena in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London on Thursday. (Heathcliff O'Malley/The Associated Press)

A coronation earlier than expected

Then-Prince Charles delivered the Queen's speech at the state opening of Parliament in London on May 10. His coronation as King will take place on May 6, 2023. (Hannah McKay/AFP/Getty Images)

The date has been set for King Charles's coronation, and it's coming a bit sooner than some observers predicted.

Buckingham Palace said this week that the coronation will take place on May 6, 2023, ending any speculation that it might be held in early June, and coincide more closely with — if not exactly on — the 70th anniversary of his mother Queen Elizabeth's coronation on June 2, 1953.

"Perhaps there's a sense that he wants to move away from his mother, which is understandable," said Prescott.

The coronation at Westminster Abbey will come eight months after Charles's accession, making it "one of the quickest coronations there's been," he said. (The last coronation came 16 months after the death of the monarch — King George VI.)

Elizabeth's coronation was a three-hour ceremony that saw 8,000 guests crowded into the abbey and a military procession that took 45 minutes to pass any one point.

Queen Elizabeth sits in Westminster Abbey on her coronation day on June 2, 1953. (Intercontinentale/AFP/Getty Images)

Charles has long been thought to favour a slimmed-down monarchy, and the cost of living crisis in the U.K. at the moment has led to questions about the lavishness of such an event at a time when people face economic strain in their day-to-day lives.

Prescott found it interesting that Charles's coronation will be on a Saturday, and not a weekday, which would have triggered a bank holiday (although there is still some discussion in the U.K. about whether there will be a holiday).

Prescott sees the move to a weekend day — Elizabeth's coronation was on a Tuesday — as perhaps part of an effort to dial down the public profile of the monarchy.

"It's always been in the media," he said. "It's like its own little industry now, you know, with lots of commentators…. The way it's grown in the past 20 years is remarkable and maybe that they just want to try and … lower the temperature a little bit."

Elizabeth wore the Imperial State Crown and carried the Sovereign's Orb in her left hand as she left Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953, at the end of her coronation ceremony. (The Associated Press)

The palace itself has said the coronation "will reflect the monarch's role today and look towards the future, while being rooted in longstanding traditions and pageantry."

Prescott took a look at the coronation program from the last time around, and saw a lot of repetition in it, along with potential areas to trim or update the service.

"They might look at removing the giving of homage from hereditary peers," he said. 

There has also been discussion around what people will wear.

A child leans on his hand as he stands between two adults.
Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, left, Charles and Princess Margaret attend the coronation ceremony for Queen Elizabeth on June 2, 1953. (Intercontinentale/AFP/Getty Images)

"I don't think there's much appetite for the robes and coronets that everyone wore" in 1953, said Prescott.

"You can remove those elements to it and that removes the cost."

Prescott also expects there won't be construction of stands along the procession route, as there was the last time, and any procession will be much shorter. 

"Essentially there's a lot that you can cut and it will still look and feel like a coronation."

A large crowd watches a parade.
A large crowd looks at Royal Horse Guards parading in London on June 2, 1953. (Intercontinentale/AFP/Getty Images)

Royally quotable

"Your voices are what is going to change things."

— Sophie, Countess of Wessex, speaking to survivors of conflict-related sexual assault during a visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The comment came as Sophie, the first member of the Royal Family to travel to that country, toured a hospital where women who have endured conflict-related sexual violence and trauma receive medical treatment. 

Royal reads

  1. A jewel in a British crown is coming under new scrutiny with the upcoming coronation of King Charles and growing questions and controversy over what Camilla, the Queen Consort, will wear on her head. [Washington Post]

  2. Princess Anne took a ride on the Staten Island ferry during a surprise visit to New York City. [The Guardian]

  3. One of Queen Elizabeth's favourite loyal companions made a poignant appearance on the day of her funeral, and now Buckingham Palace has released a portrait of the black fell pony. [ITV]

  4. The decision by Queen Margrethe of Denmark to strip four of her eight grandchildren of their royal titles has — perhaps inevitably — invited comparisons with the House of Windsor. And it's plunged the Danish royal family into what experts say is its most serious — and unforeseen — crisis in decades. [The Guardian]

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  • An earlier version of a photo caption in this story said that Prince Charles was standing near Great Slave Lake in Alberta. In fact, the lake is in the Northwest Territories, and Charles was visiting Yellowknife at the time.
    Oct 16, 2022 11:02 AM ET


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

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