3 min

Check your fantasy notions at the door

Amidst all the stories of protesters lining up to heckle Prince Charles in Montreal, in and amidst the rather pedantic pseudo-conversation of whether we want to dump the monarchy or not, and the way that both Peter Stoffer and Mike Duffy embarrassed themselves on Evan Solomon’s show last week, I am reminded of something I read a few days ago.

This interview with political history professor Michael Behiels had this very interesting quote in it:

I think Harper’s education in Calgary warped his understanding of the parliamentary system in Canada. He was taken down the wrong path by Tom Flanagan and others, who think ours is an easy system to change.

Indeed, there has been this perception perpetuated by the likes of Harper, or “elected” Senator Bert Brown that all it takes is a little national will and we can do all kinds of things – like forgo the Crown and declare the GG the Head of State, or wholesale reform of the Senate. Except that it’s not true. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, because doing any of the above is going to require re-opening the Constitution, and well, that’s much easier said than done.

What’s more, before we want to even think about the process of constitutional amendment, we need to sit down and have a serious talk about what we want any of these reformed systems to look like, or what kinds of powers we want these new institutions to have – because we can’t even do that. Declare the GG the Head of State? But how is one selected? What about all those reserve powers? If one is elected, would they try to carve out all kinds of new powers for themselves, or start exercising those reserve powers in new and more aggressive ways – something the monarchy is uninterested in doing, yet it remains vital that they have those powers, just in case. Would we simply end up with a President? And the Senate – an empowered, elected Upper Chamber would demand all kinds of new powers that currently reside in the Commons, and it would be fundamentally incompatible with out current system of responsible government.

Of course, if people had an actual political education, they might realise these things. They might realise the current functions of these institutions have a purpose, that things happen for a reason. Or that the demands for a more “Made in Canada” institution is actually already that way – the Canadian Monarchy functions vastly different from the way it does in the UK, and that our GG and our Senate have evolved in ways that would never have been expected in 1867. They are indeed “Made in Canada” – but most of us don’t have enough political education to see that. And perhaps if we had it, we’d appreciate what we have, and not fantasise about unrealistic and unattainable models that don’t have any particular grounding in reality.

As it happens, new immigrants to this country are going to face more questions about our military history before they can become Canadian. Which is all well and good – except I somehow doubt that we’re going to be ensuring that people born and educated here know the same things (let alone about how our system of government works). And thus we will continue the trend of immigrants knowing more about our history and political system than most “average” Canadians do.

Over in Quebec, new revelations by the ADQ raise even more ethical concerns about Senator Housakos. That will make for a very interesting Question Period once the House resumes.

Prince Charles and Camilla spent some time at Rideau Hall this morning with Her Excellency, Harper and Ignatieff (each separately) before their day-trip to Montreal.

Up today – it’s Remembrance Day, and there will be a ceremony at the National War Memorial which Prince Charles will be attend, as will Her Excellency in her role as the Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Forces. I’ll be curious to see if Harper tries to get up on the podium during the parade again this year, even though it’s not his place to do so.
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