The Monarchy in Canada
For Queen and Country
With the wedding of Will and Kate so fresh in our minds I thought it appropriate I focus on the state of monarchy in Canada.
Most people are aware Canada is a constitutional monarchy, and that Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II is our monarch, but few people, even amongst Canadians, know what this actually means for Canada and Canadians.
Is Canada its own Country or is it Part of Britain
The answer to this question is yes. Canada is its own separate Country, but we are part of the British Commonwealth. The British Commonwealth is a loose association of countries which view Queen Elizabeth II as their ruling monarch.
The Rise of a Nation
Prior to 1867 Canada was a colony of the British Empire, or at least going back as far as 1763 when New France (now known as Quebec) was transferred to Britain. In 1867 however some prominent politicians in Canada approached Queen Victoria with a revolutionary idea. Canada wanted to separate and be its own country, but after the bloodshed of the revolutionary war that led to the United States splitting from Britain they wanted to do it in a different method. The idea put forth was that Canada would still hail the monarchs of Britain as their monarchs, but Canadians would have their own parliament and be responsible for their own rule under the guidance of a Royal representative called the Governor General. Thus Canada as a separate country was formed.
The British North America Act was passed was passed in the British Parliament on July 1st 1867. This entitled Canada to form its own parliament and served as a loose constitution for the new nation. In 1982 the British North America Act was rolled into the newly created Constitution Act making it officially the constitution of Canada. It does not serve the same purpose of the American constitution but rather serves as a guideline for how government should act. Most provinces signed on to the new constitution, however Quebec remains a holdout as they don't feel the constitution reflects their needs.
One of the primary reasons Canada pushed for this was for its own protection and the right to raise its own military. Canada shared borders with an enemy state, one which 55 years ago they were at war and still had a hostile relationship at best. The Unites States of America was no friend to the British Colonies in what would become the Dominion of Canada. These pressures caused the politicians of Canada to push for the creation of a new beast which could protect itself from the Americans without need to run back to help from the Queen.
Who Is Canada's Head of State
Canada has a Prime Minister, who is the highest elected official in the Canadian Government, but is he the head of state? The simple answer is no. The head of state of Canada is Queen Elizabeth II, but it isn't really that simple. The queen is little more than a figurehead with power only in extreme circumstances, her Canadian Representative (the Governor General) is a more accurately the Head of State.
The Governor Generals position is a crown appointment, in other words Queen Elizabeth gets to choose who our Governor General is. This is a technicality really, because never in the history of the position has a monarch of Britain turned down a recommendation for the Governor General position by the Prime Minister. This means that in practice the Governor General Position is chosen by the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister is an elected official, however he is NOT elected by the people to be Prime Minister, he is elected (usually) simply as a Member of Parliament for a given riding. He is appointed to the role of Prime Minister by, you guessed it, the Governor General. Once again tradition dictates that the Governor General always accept the recommendations of the House of Commons, and the House of Commons always puts forward the Party Leader of the political party that won the most seats in the house. In fact this is such an ingrained tradition that it happens automatically.
To further complicate things technically the Prime Minister doesn't even need to hold a seat in the House of Commons, so technically he doesn't even need to be elected by the people at all. Now this is just a technicality. Never in the history of this country has there ever been a Prime Minister who did not hold a seat in the House of Commons.
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Powers of the Crown
The Monarch of Britain has certain powers in Canada, above and beyond choosing (sort of) the PM and GG, these powers are rarely used however and Canada is generally left alone. The reason the powers exist, and should exist in my opinion, is to remind the government that it is in the Monarch's power to guard democracy and block abuses of power.
- Royal Assent for all Laws - Every law passed in Canada are not legal until given Royal Assent. Generally this is granted, and federally it has always occurred, however there are several cases in which royal assent was refused on the provincial level.
- The power to dissolve government - The Crown is the only person with the power to dissolve government and call an election. They can do this at any time for any reason, they do not need it to be an election year. The flip side is they can refuse to dissolve government if a minority government requests it.
- The Power to Appoint or Remove a PM - The Crown can at its leisure dismiss or appoint a Prime Minister.
That is the extent of the power of the crown in Canada. Powerful enough to put a stop to corruption, but not powerful enough to change our laws without the consent or will of the people.
© 2012 Jeff Johnston