Replacing the Queen Means Talking about Everything from Electoral Reform to Canadian Identity

By: Laura Steiner
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that now isn’t the time to be talking about getting rid of the monarchy.  Arguably, now might be the perfect time.  The Governor-General’s position is vacant, parts of it being filled by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. And Trudeau seems in no hurry to name another one.
On some level he is right.  Maybe now isn’t the time to talk about it- we’re in a minority government.  One of the Governor-General’s constitutional duties is to keep that going.  Let’s say the Prime Minister calls a federal election, and wins another minority.  But through circumstances he is unable to meet the house.  The Governor-General has the option to say “Hi second place leader,  Would you like to try and form a government?” This hasn’t happened since the fabled “King-Byng” affair, but it is a legal option.
If not now, then when? There is never a good time to talk about changing the head of the state.  In Canada’s case, replacing the Queen could take decades.  It requires unanimity of all 10 provinces, and likely the three territories.  It would be an easy thing to leave it vacant, and begin the discussions to change.
However,  it will mean opening up everything. All provinces have demands and pet topics they would like to see dealt with.  The amending formula is  50% of the population or seven provinces. If let’s say Alberta proposed something, and Quebec and Ontario didn’t like it.  They could get together and veto the change.  If they decide to open it up, and seven provinces don’t want the change, it ends the discussion.
The Canada of 2021-2022 is a different place from 1982 on a social level.  In the last 20 years, Gay marriage has been legalized, as has Medically Assisted Death. The country has begun the painfully slow process of recognizing systemic racism and addressing it through the reconciliation commission with First Nations.  Wouldn’t it be a big step if Canada symbolically made them a full partner in the country? Set down on paper a promise to do better.  Climate change has become a big issue, something could be added on that.  The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for stable healthcare funding.  Electoral reform has been a long time   The questions that surrounding the senate’s viability.  The reasons to reopen the constitution pile up, and leave the impression that maybe it’s time to again talk constitution.
When you start the conversations about Canadian identity you immediately think of three things.  One- the idea of not being American; a negative definition.  Two- Canada’s multiculturalism; the notion of acceptance no matter where you come from as a source of pride.  And three- the British monarchy.  Until 1867 Canada was a colony of Great Britain.  Slowly by inches the country has won its independence.  Vimy Ridge marked the first time four Canadian divisions fought under one banner.  1911 marked the formation of the Canadian navy. Court decisions could be appealed to Great Britain until 1949.  How do we define ourselves if not for the monarchy?
The Governor General has an actual role.  They sign legislation into law.  They’re commander-in-chief of the Canadian Armed Forces.  They keep an eye on parliament in the case of a minority.  If not a Governor General then what? Is it a President, voted directly by the public to the role every four years? Do we breakdown the responsibilities of that role, and assign them to different offices? What would be the checks and balances of that?
When Canada talks about replacing the Governor-General everything else is on the table.