Inching back to monarchy:
Go to the Governor General's website, look at the main page introducing the Governor General, and you see a photograph of Queen Elizabeth II shaking hands with someone whose back is turned to the camera. That someone is David Johnston, the Governor General.
I know what you're thinking. "So what?" I understand that reaction. But it's a mistake. Because that little photo is indicative of a big change: The Crown is back.
Just a few years ago, the Governor General's website was festooned with glorious colour photographs of Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean. But the Queen? There wasn't a single photograph of the Queen on the website of the Queen's representative. In fact, there were almost no references to the Queen at all, and one could easily get the impression that the esteemed Michaëlle Jean was, in all but name, Canada's head of state.
As Dan Gardner goes onto explain this was not an oversight. It was part of a long-term attempt to "quietly shuffle the Queen offstage." One of the bright spots in the Harper years has been the reassertion of traditional Canadian values, especially the military and the monarchy. As noted earlier this week, this is part of the government's tonal conservatism.
Recalling the pre-Trudeau Canada, including a nice invocation of "our fair Dominion" by the PM during the royal progress, reassures the rank and file that the boys in blue haven't gone completely native in Ottawa. It's probably also sincere. Jason Kenney and Stephen Harper seem to believe that monarchy is a good Canadian tradition that needs to be defended. Some might object to the PM's lack of enthusiasm for the Crown, but please keep in mind who we are talking about. Smiling seems to cause him physical pain.
Sounds aren't substance. It's nice to hear words like Dominion. It's very good that our foreign policy is now more oriented around Canadian values, rather than an international relations seminar on multilateralism, but this has little impact on the daily life of the people. We can bemoan this yet still celebrate a small and important gain for Canadianism. Symbolism is cheap but it can carry a great weight.
The monarchy provides an important constitutional role, mostly as a non-partisan referee and ceremonial imprimatur, yet its greater role is as a cultural icon. The affairs of a free people are organized, whenever and wherever possible, upon the basis of persuasion. Unthinking force is the hallmark of tyrannical governments. However noble the goal, a free people will seek always to find ways of accomplish that goal through argument, debate and reasonable compromise. The tyrant orders. The free man talks.
A constitutional monarchy, who is the head of a free people, reigns rather than rules. Lacking much real power the monarch acts as a model of appropriate conduct. There is no finer exemplar than the current sovereign, who has conducted herself in the spirit of her beloved father and grandfather. Note the careful and precise way Her Majesty speaks, her poise and bearing which is kept even with her many years, and the careful discharge of duty. In her actions she sends a clear message: This is an ideal to aspire toward.
This is not to say that this or any monarch is perfect. They are human and should display that most human of traits, a desire to improve and remedy the defects of nature or personal behaviour. Their example and actions transmit to their people the broad values, character traits and common customs that allow for peaceful and civilized existence. Watch HM's 1957 Christmas Address, the first to be broadcast on television. In that broadcast she made the following observation:
Today we need a special kind of courage, not the kind needed in battle but a kind which makes us stand up for everything that we know is right, everything that is true and honest. We need the kind of courage that can withstand the subtle corruption of the cynics so that we can show the world that we are not afraid of the future.
These are not very specific invocation, yet they are also very true. If you have a few moments listen to the whole broadcast. It is filled with noble generalities that can be easily shrugged at. Yet that is much the role of monarchy. Not to issue dissertations on philosophy, or remedy the failings of current public policy, but instead to make a frank appeal to our better natures. To remind, suggest, advise and ultimately to persuade her people toward a more humane existence. Something which is of greater weight, all in all, than much of what passes for politics in these times.