The Resilient Crown edited by D. Michael Jackson and Christopher McCreery marks the milestone Queen Elizabeth II reached when she celebrated her Platinum Jubilee this year. A Resilient Crown examines a broad range of issues related to Canada’s constitutional monarchy, its present state, and its future by drawing from academics, serving and retired public servants, and well-known commentators. Read a chapter excerpt below now, and order A Resilient Crown from our website or your favourite bookstore!
The Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne as Queen of Canada and of a host of other realms is an opportune moment to reflect upon the Crown’s presence in Canadian life, as well as the Queen’s remarkable seventy years of service. Canada has grown and changed greatly over the course of the Queen’s reign, yet her role, and that of the Crown in the broadest sense, has not faded into obscurity as many predicted in the 1970s and 1980s.
When the government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau introduced the contentious Bill C-60, An Act to Amend the Constitution of Canada, in 1978, proposing to royally demote the Queen by labelling the governor general as head of state and “the First Canadian,” the library shelves had few useful resources to offer. Eugene Forsey’s The Royal Power of Dissolution in the British Commonwealth (1944), John T. Saywell’s The Office of Lieutenant Governor (1957), Frank MacKinnon’s The Crown in Canada (1976), and Jacques Monet’s The Canadian Crown/La Monarchie au Canada (1979) were the principal resources. There were also the standard academic studies of Canadian government, such as R. MacGregor Dawson’s The Government of Canada (1945) and Alexander Brady’s Democracy in the Dominions (1952), which contained robust examinations of the Crown’s role. By the 1970s, less and less attention was being given to the Crown’s legal and symbolic functions.
However, from the 1990s, and especially following the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002, there has been a proliferation of writing and commentary on the Canadian Crown, its past, present, and future. The diversity and breadth of the written discourse have grown immensely, considering the few resources that were available at the time of the constitutional debates of the late 1970s and 1980s. David E. Smith’s The Invisible Crown, first published in 1995, marked a significant turning point in academic attention to the Crown. It was followed by numerous books on monarchical topics, some, like the present volume, contributed by the newly formed Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada. To this output we can add publications in the sister realms of Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Evidently the constitutional monarchy exemplified by Queen Elizabeth II remains topical in the twenty-first century.
Elizabeth II is the only head of state 85 percent of Canadians have ever known. Over the same period we have seen twelve prime ministers and 128 premiers serve in office. The passing of the Queen’s consort, the Duke of Edinburgh, in April 2021 brought into sharper focus the reality that an inevitable transition of the Crown is on the horizon. Naturally, this has sparked discussion and debate about the monarchy’s purpose and future in what will be the post-Elizabethan era. The revitalization of Canada’s viceregal family over the last forty years through increasingly active and publicly engaged governors general and lieutenant governors has helped to afford the Crown a renewed and increased locally focused profile. Despite the challenges posed by the precipitous departure of Julie Payette from the post of governor general in 2021 and the associated fallout of the circumstances surrounding her three years in office, the continuity of the institution was ably demonstrated when Chief Justice Richard Wagner assumed for six months the role of administrator of the government of Canada.
The transition of Barbados from one of the Queen’s realms into a parliamentary republic headed by a president in 2021 naturally fostered greater discussion of constitutional monarchy, if not among the public, then certainly within the media. Polling related to Canadians’ support for the Queen has remained largely unchanged over the last decade, although there appears to be a slight shift in attitudes toward constitutional monarchy and its future. This may well be a byproduct of the controversy surrounding Payette’s tenure and a civil society that is increasingly skeptical of all structures of authority, especially in the post-pandemic world; or it could signal a deeper change.
The long-term influence of the increased social media presence of Canada’s governor general and lieutenant governors, combined with the strong online media presence of the Prince of Wales, who has taken on an increasingly prominent role, remains to be assessed. Aside from those aspects of the Crown’s function that are very focused on the institution and key office holders, there is the less tangible but highly significant role that the Crown has to play as part of reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous Peoples. The foundational nature of this relationship, woven into the constitutional and historical fabric of the country, has only recently entered the public sphere as something more than just a symbolic connection.
A Resilient Crown: Canada’s Monarchy at the Platinum Jubilee is divided into four parts, each containing chapters that examine a specific aspect of Canada’s monarchy.
In Part I, “A Constitutional Monarchy,” legal and constitutional aspects of the Crown are discussed, opening with Warren J. Newman’s “The Queen, the Crown, and the Structure of the Constitution.” The Crown, says Newman, and more particularly, the Queen and her representatives, the governor general and the provincial lieutenant governors, are integral to the institutional and structural architecture of the Constitution of Canada. This chapter introduces the key elements and basic principles inherent in that constitutional framework.
The chapter by Jonathan Shanks, “The Crown’s Contemporary Constitutional Legitimacy,” examines the role and status of the Crown during the reign of Elizabeth II. The monarchical institution is continuously being reassessed by parliamentarians, professors, government officials, interest groups, the media, and the public. Shanks sees the modern Crown as resilient and multifaceted, successfully accommodating a monarchical past with a democratic future.
The monarchy in Canada is shielded from hasty abolition, let alone radical change, by its constitutionally protected status. Andrew Heard examines the intricacies of that status in “Canada’s Entrenched Monarchy: The ‘Offices’ of the Queen and Her Representatives.” Under the Constitution Act, 1982, the unanimous consent of Parliament and the provinces is needed to alter the “offices” of the Queen, governor general, and lieutenant governors. But the definition of those “offices” and extent of their constitutional protection are difficult to determine. Heard explores different ways to define these offices and offers some thoughts on which is preferable.
Part II, “The Canadian Crown and Indigenous Peoples,” focuses on an integral, historic, and highly topical dimension of the Canadian Crown. Keith Thor Carlson addresses this dimension in “The Promise of the Crown in Indigenous–Settler Relations.” Indigenous people suffered at the hands of the settler colonial majority, which worked to dislocate them from their ancestral lands and resources, deny them the ability to govern themselves according to their traditions, and assimilate them into the body politic. One of the few effective checks on settler society, asserts Carlson, has been the Crown.
But how do Indigenous people view that Crown? In Winnipeg on July 1, 2021, demonstrators overturned statues of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth to protest the colonialism that suppressed the identity and culture of the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. Serge Joyal, in “Overturning Royal Monuments,” considers whether it is now possible to acknowledge past wrongs, restore the honour of the Crown, and retain the value of these royal symbols and all they mean in our constitutional order.
In “Treaty Spaces: The Chapels Royal in Canada,” John Fraser, Carolyn King, and Nathan Tidridge describe one of these symbols, Canada’s third chapel royal, authorized by Queen Elizabeth II in 2017, and explain how it continues a tradition unique to this land that stretches back centuries. The Queen’s newest chapel is rooted in this history, while also part of a reawakening in the twenty-first century by the Crown’s representatives regarding their responsibilities and relationships with Indigenous Peoples across this land.
The contributors to Part III, “Representing the Sovereign,” discuss the role and status of the viceregal representatives — the domestic manifestations and instruments of the Canadian Crown. Barbara J. Messamore begins her chapter, “The Enduring Crown in Canada: Reflections on the Office of Governor General at the Platinum Jubilee,” by acknowledging that for both the Queen and the office of governor general 2021 was a challenging year: Governor General Julie Payette resigned and Buckingham Palace had to face damaging news stories. Nonetheless, the Crown is weathering the storms and remains a robust institution.
In “The Lieutenant Governors — Second Fiddles or Coordinate Viceregals?” D. Michael Jackson underlines the coordinate status of the provincial Crown and its representatives with their national counterpart. In addition to essential constitutional duties, lieutenant governors play a major role as symbols of the Crown and their provinces, notably in Indigenous relations and citizen recognition. The federal government, argues Jackson, should reform the currently flawed process of viceregal appointments. The Canadian Crown functions best as a partnership between its national and provincial viceregal representatives.
Christopher McCreery studies a little-known aspect of the Crown in “The Spare Fire Extinguisher: The Role and Function of the Administrator.” This is a separate office discharged by the chief justice of the Supreme Court during periods when the governor general is unable to exercise his or her function on account of death, incapacity, removal, or absence. The chapter delves into the origins, role, and development of this supplementary, yet important, safeguard in our constitutional order, imbued with the same legal and constitutional powers as the governor general yet lacking the same moral and symbolic authority.
The final part of the book, titled “Perspectives on the Crown in Canada,” offers four different views of how the monarchy is perceived by Canadians. Arthur Milnes reveals a unique and privileged perspective in “The Prime Ministers and the Queen.” Through exclusive interviews with five former prime ministers, and by examining the memoirs of late prime ministers, Milnes takes us on a journey through our nation’s political history with Her Majesty and her Canadian first ministers. It is a record of first-hand knowledge of Canadian prime ministers that will likely never be surpassed.
In “The Rise and Fall of French Canadian Loyalism,” Damien-Claude Bélanger examines French Canadian loyalism to the Crown. Loyalism served the interests of various groups within French Canadian society and expressed a desire among its exponents for Quebec to find a place within the British Empire. The doctrine survived the tumultuous 1830s, but it could not survive the imperialist reaction of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. French Canadian loyalism disappeared because it had become untenable, but also because it was no longer politically useful.
Carolyn Harris offers a contrasting view in “Royal Tours During the Reign of Queen Elizabeth II.” Although the format of the tours has changed, she says, the themes have remained consistent, including a focus on Canada’s environment, culture, and economy, royal patronage of Canadian philanthropic organizations and institutions, commemoration of historic anniversaries, and meetings with Canadians of all backgrounds. Subsequent monarchs will face the challenge of maintaining steady engagement with a smaller number of working members of the royal family.
Our work concludes with an emotive piece by Canada’s twenty-eighth governor general, the Right Honourable David Johnston, “Queen Elizabeth II: A Personal Tribute.” This essay provides vivid reflections on interactions with Queen Elizabeth from 2010 to 2017, reflecting on the more personal aspects of the Queen’s reign — her personality and her devotion to peoples throughout the Commonwealth. It describes three of Elizabeth II’s enduring and inspiring characteristics: graciousness, service, and faith; and illustrates these through her words and actions.
The complex, adaptive, and constantly evolving nature of the monarchy headed by Queen Elizabeth II has been described in other realms in terms such as “chameleon” and “shapeshifting.” For our part, we give the final word to the author of this book’s first chapter. Warren J. Newman aptly observes that “the Crown itself, while in certain respects an abstract and occasionally elusive concept … remains subtly and profoundly embedded in Canada’s constitutional structure …. It is, as the evocative title of this book suggests, a truly resilient Crown.”