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The quote from above highlights the unique political and social situation that Canada faces in the modern age of republics and deliberative democracies. Still technically part of the Crown, Canada has achieved legislative and diplomatic autonomy from the United Kingdom. However, the country has continued to retains its political system as a constitutional monarchy. This presents a unique conundrum from both a political science and sociological perspective, and is the main topic that this paper seeks to address. More specifically, this discussion paper asks whether Canada should retain its constitutional monarchy, become a parliamentary republic, or else introduce reforms in the existing system that would satisfy those looking for a republican form of government.
This question is the basis for the subsequent discussion of modern Canadian politics.
Of course, this question does not necessarily have an objective or absolute answer or solution. Instead, the response is largely dependent on one’s preexisting political and social perspective. Despite this, the discussion paper seeks to provide an objective overview of how Canada functions as a constitutional monarchy, along with both the pros and cons of transitioning to a parliamentary republic.
The answer is further clouded by an all-around misunderstanding about the Crown in relation to Canada. As one author states, “Although the Crown is Canada’s oldest continuing political institution, it is perhaps the least understood.” Therefore, this discussion also seeks to establish an overall understanding of Canadian politics in relation to the crown. Overall, this paper argues that Canada should become a parliamentary republic in the long run, but the best short term solution is to seek political reforms related to the Crown.
One example of this is altering the current method of selecting Governors General in Canada. While this is certainly not an exhaustive discussion of Canadian politics, it should provide a good starting point for the discussion of Canada as a constitutional monarchy versus the potential of becoming a parliamentary republic.
Before turning to the potential of Canada transitioning to a parliamentary republic, it is certainly worthwhile to examine the status quo. More specifically, this section discusses how Canada functions as a constitutional monarchy, and how this form of government has either remained relevant or lost relevancy in modern day politics, foreign relations, and deliberative democracy. First and foremost, the discussion must note that the monarchy is essentially the core of Canada’s political structure, as it determines both the federal level structure and the function of the constitution. One source highlights the particular role of the monarch in relation to Canada as a constitutional monarchy: “As a constitutional monarch the Queen, who is sovereign in Canada, reigns but does not rule”; instead, executive power “is effectively wielded by the prime minister and the Cabinet.” In other words, Canada’s status as a constitutional monarchy versus a parliamentary republic seems to be more titular than functional. Despite this, federal system of Canada means that the queen “is represented at both levels of government, federally by the governor general and in each province by a federally appointed lieutenant-governor.” Therefore, while the Queen does not function as a political figurehead the monarchy as a whole certainly affects the political machinations of Canada at all levels of government. It is also worthwhile to note that the monarch – currently Queen Elizabeth II – functions as the monarch of Canada independently from the United Kingdom or other countries in the Commonwealth. The combination of these two factors only serves to confirm the antiquated nature of the monarchy in Canada, and serves as the backbone of the argument to transition Canada to a parliamentary republic.
Despite its complexities and unpopularity in some parts of the country, the Crown remains an integral part of both Canadian politics and society. In another academic discussion of the Canadian monarchy, the scholars wrote the following regarding the Crown: “Complex and sometimes controversial, nuanced and even perplexing, the Crown nonetheless endures at the core of Canada’s governance.” Therefore, Canada as a constitutional monarchy creates a much more complicated modern Canada than one would originally think. As the authors conclude, the Crown is “far more than a colourful symbol, although of course that is one of its most prominent – and attractive – features.” In other words, the monarchy as it stands now is an integral part of the institution of Canadian politics, woven intricately with the parliamentary system and founded in the constitution itself. For instance, both the actions of the governor general and the individual lieutenant-governors means that the Crown has become “separate and divisible through practice and usage” since these various representatives of the Crown can act independently of each other. While this may have translated into a more democratic system, it also means a more antiquated Crown. In short, while there are certainly both pros and cons to the continued observance of Canada as a constitutional monarchy, the real issue is a pragmatic one: how would the people of Canada go about dismantling something that is an integral part of governance and political practices in their country? Transitioning to a parliamentary republic would not be a simple matter of introducing certain reforms, as Canada’s monarchy is more a part of the governance process than simply a regal name for an otherwise modernized democracy. Instead, it would require a complete renovation of Canada’s political system as a whole. Whether this process is worth it or not depends on one’s perspective on the benefit of transitioning to a parliamentary republic at all – which is the topic of the subsequent section. Following this discussion, the paper also recommends how certain reforms could introduce a slow transition toward a parliamentary republic.
Now that the paper has examined the current status quo of Canada as a constitutional monarchy, the discussion can now turn to the potential of the country transitioning to a parliamentary republic. As mentioned above, there are certainly limitations in making this transition – namely that it would require a complete change in the political process and overall way of thinking in Canada. However, many hold that this transition will prove to be well worth the effort, and benefit the people of Canada in the long run. Perhaps the most popular (if not best) argument for making Canada a parliamentary republic is the fact that few Canadians see the Crown as relevant to day-to-day politics or the constitution as a whole. As Smith writers, “Canadians, if asked to choose between existing and alternative forms of head of state, will see the Crown only in a half light and, then, largely from a historical perspective” despite the fact that the Crown has “woven itself into Canadian life in distinctive ways – through its settlement and expansion, colonial government and federal innovation.” This argument for the necessity of a parliamentary republic is not so much pragmatic proposal as popular sentiment. According to the quote above, the Crown is simply seen as unnecessary in light of parliamentary machinations and increasing deliberative democratic practices in the country, despite its integral nature to the parliament itself.
The debate regarding Canada as primarily a monarchy or republic has been ongoing since the original Fathers of the Confederation formed what Canada is today. For example, reform groups tried to make their voice heard in the years leading up to Confederation in 1867, and specifically proposed a republican Canada. Even in the debates immediately surrounding Confederation that year, there was included the question of whether the new government ought to take the form of a republican or monarchical state. Obviously the latter eventually won out in these debates. In recent years, Quebec has been particularly vocal in their views regarding the reform of the current monarchical government. For example, Benoit Pelletier, then the Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs in Quebec, expressed in the last decade the following sentiment: “It is not impossible that we might have to reconsider the role of the monarch, the lieutenant governor, and the governor general,” although the official clarified that he was not “saying that the monarchy must be abolished, but it will take some thought, especially on its usefulness and relevance.” This quote all but encapsulates the entire movement (if it can be called that) for the introduction of a parliamentary republic.
But what would a parliamentary republic look like if Canada were to transition away from its current form as a constitutional monarchy? First and foremost, Canada is likely to become a much more deliberative democracy than it has previously proven to be. As one scholar points out, “The demand of the Canadian people to be directly involved in the making of their constitution cannot be resisted. They might well say it is about time Canadians had a genuine social contract with a constitution based squarely on the will of the people.” In other words, the major difference of Canada as a parliamentary republic versus as a constitutional monarchy would be in the participation of its people. Besides that, there would not be all that much difference between the two forms of government. As one review on the topic states, “A constitution can simultaneously hold republican and monarchical elements…and most of the anti-democratic failings in British government today come from the lingering influence of monarchical principles.” In other words, introducing a parliamentary republic in Canada would simply make more effective the political processes that are already in place by ridding the system of ostensibly antiquated monarchical influence. In this way, making the transition to a parliamentary republic may be simpler than originally thought. While there are certainly limitations (such as the speed of transition, as discussed below), the above discussion makes it clear that the transition is possible.
This discussion paper has examined the question of whether Canada should retain its constitutional monarchy or else become a parliamentary republic in the face of modern democracies around the world. While this discussion is certainly not exhaustive, it has shown both the difficulties that Canada would face if it were to completely reform its governmental process, as well as the benefits that Canadian citizens would have as a parliamentary republic more holistically embraces a deliberative democracy in the modern day. Therefore, this paper does argue that Canada ought to become a parliamentary republic in the long run, based on the democratic benefits described above.
Despite the obvious benefits of transitioning to a parliamentary republic, this paper also cautions against making radical political, constitutional, and governmental changes immediately. Instead, this discussion suggests starting by reforming the role that the Crown currently has in Canada without removing its figurehead role altogether. The most direct and immediate way this could be accomplished by changing the way the Governor General is selected in Canada. Currently, the Governor General is appointed by the Crown (albeit based on the advice of the Prime Minister). Because the Governor General exercises direct power in the legislative branch of Canada’s government, it is certainly recommendable that the position of head of state be selected either by the ruling party or else by a general election. This process would be an important step toward a parliamentary republic without directly altering the role of the Governor General itself. It would also ostensibly be a step toward making the voice of the Canadian people heard.
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