The official campaign just began on Sunday, August 2. But unofficially the real Canadian federal election of 2015 has been under way since as long ago as the 24th of May.
Back on June 19 the veteran CBC TV pundit Andrew Coyne urged that there “has never been an election campaign like the one on which we are now embarked … There’s a weird fin-de-siècle glow in the air, a sense of things coming unstuck, old certainties uprooted. Policies, parties, institutions, everything is in flux, to a degree I cannot recall any precedent for.”
For the first time since anyone can remember …
Who knows if Andrew Coyne will prove right about this unprecedented campaign once the ballots are counted on October 19? Yet with opinion polls still showing close to a three-party horse race in the mid-to-later summer, this is already an unusual federal election.
As the Canadian Press has explained : “for the first time since anyone can remember, all three main parties have a legitimate shot at forming a government.”
It also ought to be a good time for at least starting to publicly debate the guiding mission of Republic Now/République du Canada — “the replacement of the non-resident British monarch as Canada’s head of state with a democratically-selected resident Canadian.”
As stressed by RN/RC’s current “No thanks to King Charles of Canada” campaign, a vital, upbeat 21st century democracy like Canada does not need any kind of monarch! Yet if we don’t start to do something now we’ll just be handed a new king for life in the all too near future.
Iranian parliamentarians on Canada’s “UK supervision” in 2012
Some say it’s romantic. But in Canada today the old imperial symbolism of the British monarch in our highest office of head of state is also an obsolete tradition, on official life support.
It compromises our practical commitment to real democracy. And it blurs our international identity as a forward-looking independent country in our own right.
As just one of many crazy cases in point, in the late summer of 2012 two different Iranian parliamentarians argued it was the British government at Westminster that had closed Canada’s embassy in Iran in protest — not Stephen Harper’s Canadian government in Ottawa.
The chairman of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, explained : “Canada is a country supervised by the UK and its governor is appointed by the British queen and all the important decisions by the country’s governor are taken by the (British) queen and in coordination with her.”
From one point of view, this only shows that some Iranian parliamentarians are almost as badly informed about real life in Canada as some Canadian parliamentarians are about Iran.
Yet others in other places routinely make similar mistakes about the geographically second largest country in the world today. And images still on our money and stamps — along with all the other obsolete colonial trappings of the British monarchy adrift in early 21st century Canada — make it too easy for still others in still other places to draw the same wrong conclusions.
The real world of Canadian democracy in 2015
Romantically or otherwise, the British monarchy remains an obsolete tradition in Canada today. And in the real world, as the eminent English historian J.H.Plumb explained back in the 1960s : “Traditions are quickly bred and quickly destroyed and they snap suddenly.”
The head of state issue isn’t for Canadian political party platforms just yet. That’s still some way further down the road.
Yet as the RN/RC “No King Charles of Canada” campaign stresses, we need to start having some constructive public debate about the democratic head of state alternative, so that wise and effective choices can be made when the time comes to make them. Our aspiring political leaders need to be helping the sovereign Canadian people set this kind of debate in motion.
Yes, democratic reform of our office of head of state does raise constitutional issues. Just like Senate reform, aboriginal rights, the Quebecois nation in a united Canada, and so forth.
Now is the time, however, for our aspiring political leaders to start cultivating the public debate we need, to prepare for the constitutional conferences that finally will be necessary, if Canada is going to have a strong future as the “free and democratic society” enshrined in section 1 of the Constitution Act, 1982 (with its widely admired Charter of Rights and Freedoms).
Mandate from July 2015 Directors’ meeting
After some lively discussion, the July 21 meeting of our duly elected RN/RC Board of Directors was inspired by a 2015 election suggestion from Executive Director Ashok Charles.
We need to be asking our aspiring political leaders, Mr. Charles urged, how they will contribute to the rising great debate about our Canadian democratic future — at all-candidates meetings and all similar events, in the unusually long election campaign now upon us, for which Andrew Coyne cannot recall any precedent.
Another agenda item at the July 21 Directors meeting involved a vote of support for former longtime Toronto city councillor Tony O’Donohue’s parallel election campaign letters to current Members of Parliament — moved by RN/RC Secretary Treasurer Ron Berdusco, and seconded by chief technology officer Marc Cormier.
Mr. O’Donohue is urging that in 2015 we need the kind of alliance for a democratic Canadian head of state that we had for an independent Canadian flag, back in the first half of the 1960s.
New directions down under … and up here too …
Meanwhile, intriguing parallel developments have recently arisen in Canada’s fellow former self-governing dominion of the declined and fallen empire, Australia.
Late last month the leader of the Australian Labor Party Bill Shorten told the party’s national conference that Australia “should become a republic with its own head of state within a decade.”
Subsequently the conference adopted a motion that committed the party to “establishing a clear plan to build the case for an Australian republic and the process to achieve it,” including a future Labor cabinet minister with direct responsibility for the issue.
We have, we think, pretty solid information that Thomas Mulcair, leader of what might be called Canada’s NDP equivalent of the Australian Labor Party (ALP), will not be taking any specific position on the head of state issue in the 2015 federal election campaign.
But there are reasons to believe that both NDP and Liberal voters harbour especially strong support for a democratic head of state in Canada. And, though both the Harper Conservatives and Elizabeth May’s Green Party are avowedly monarchist at the moment, more than a few of their voters also harbour Canadian republican convictions.
According to a 2013 Harris/Decima survey of 2,024 Canadians, sponsored by Your Canada Your Constitution, 55% “want to change to a Canadian head of state, while only 34% want to continue with a member of the British royal family as Canada’s head of state.”
During the Maclean’s Leadership Debate, on August 6, 2015, Mr. Mulcair called the present unreformed Senate of Canada a “relic of our colonial past.” The same could be said, with still greater force, about our current undemocratic head of state!
All Canadian parties ought to be open to at least discussing options for a more democratic head of state right now.
Examples of two key questions that could be asked …
To conclude — and strictly as dumb examples from Hogtown, to be improved upon elsewhere in Canada’s impressively vast and diverse geography — here are two particular questions that could be put to aspiring federal MPs at all-candidates meetings and all similar events, between now and October 19, from coast to coast to coast (et dans les deux langues officielles) :
(1) “Given the venerable age of the current remarkable occupant (89, as of April 21, 2015), do you believe Canada now needs to start debating publicly and quite seriously just what it would mean to adopt a more democratic office of head of state in the near enough future?”
(2) “If your answer to this first question is happily yes, what do you think elected federal politicians in Ottawa can do to help get this kind of wider public debate started?”
(And meanwhile again, what about the reported casual conversation between Charles Windsor himself and a New Zealand republican as long ago as 1997? While visiting the land of the long white cloud the current heir to the British monarchy was quietly asked “what his reaction would be if, as King, he was told that New Zealand wished to remove him as Head of State and become a republic?” The prince replied : “Well, to be frank, I think it would come as a great relief to all of us … It would remove the awful ambiguity we have at the moment. It seems to me that it would be a lot easier for everybody if you all had your own completely independent head of state.”)