The180

Canada's monarchy makes us better republicans

Monarchies, by their nature, assume an elite hierarchy. For some Canadians, it's a concept that is not in line with values like egalitarianism. But, recent events in the U.S. have convinced Colby Cosh that it's America that's become elitist. He argues Canada's monarchy has fostered egalitarianism.
Listen7:15

Canada is, technically, a Constitutional Monarchy.

That means a few things, one of those being that the symbolic and constitutional leader of our nation got the job by being born.

While you were loading up on student loans to try and make something of your life, Elizabeth became Queen of Canada because she happened to be the child of a man whose brother gave up the throne to marry an American, and had the good fortune of being the descendant of a German princess.

Princess Elizabeth, already destined to be Queen of Canada, posing with her sister Princess Margaret and their father King George VI in Britain. (HM The Queen via Associated Press)

The United States of America is a republic. The state represents the people, and head of that state, the President, is just a regular joe, as long as he or she was born as a U.S citizen. 

Some people find it incompatible with modern liberal values that one person should be born wealthy, on another continent, and have the right to be the constitutional head of our country. The group Citizens for a Canadian Republic says this:

 Inherited rights in government, symbolic or otherwise, is a concept incompatible with Canadian values of egalitarianism.- Citizens for a Canadian Republic

If symbols matter, and if a system of government can influence the mind and soul of a country, then one might expect Canada to be a stratified dominion of lords and paupers, and the United States a land of economic equality and equal opportunity.

But here's the twist.

National Post writer Colby Cosh has a hypothesis. Recent events in American politics suggest there's a paradox: our unique system helps foster a sense of egalitarianism in Canada, and the United States's devotion to their own version of a republic does the opposite. 

My ultimate hypothesis is that being a monarchy with this absentee monarch, this absentee Queen who lives abroad, paradoxically helps us preserve republican virtues that have long disappeared in the United States.- Colby Cosh, National Post
The White House. A simple ordinary house for an ordinary person. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

In an interview with The 180, Cosh points to our lack of an ostentatious elite class, the way we address each other, and our treatment of elected politicians, as evidence of that egalitarian spirit. For example, the White House, which was originally meant to be just a house, is now more like a fenced and guarded palace. Presidents get privileges for life. Canadian Prime Ministers meanwhile, walk amongst us.

We've just had a Prime Minister for ten years who's just left office. And what does he do? He doesn't go and build a big Presidential Library, a tomb he's going to be buried in one day. He's not addressed for the rest of his life as Mr. President. He doesn't have a personal bodyguard assigned to him. He just shows up at the Chapters in Calgary with everybody else. - Colby Cosh, National Post

To Cosh, because we have a Queen who exists as a distant untouchable figure across the ocean, Canadian politicians are prevented from assuming a greater role than simple legislators. Canadians don't allow them to become symbols of something greater. They're just people who got a few more votes than another person. Meanwhile in America, presidents, and people who want to be president, occupy a near religious space for their followers. 
A supporter of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a sign at a rally in Arkansas on Feb. 27, 2016. (John Bazemore/Associated Press)
This is a feature of Presidents, this increasing religiousness, the sort of priest-king nature that they have.  And Donald Trump is a person who sees that and said: well let's play this game seriously, let's really talk about being a sort of God-Emperor figure.- Colby Cosh

To Cosh, the fact the Royal Family doesn't live in this country, and exists more as a symbol than in reality, is a critical element of the paradox.

The Royal Family has the useful function of consuming some of that oxygen, of occupying that place that a politician might otherwise barge into. Canada has its own political system, neither a republic or a monarchy. It's something that has the form of a monarchy with this empty heart in the middle. - Colby Cosh

Click the "play" button above to listen to the interview.

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