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Encyclopedia > Canadian monarchy

Politics of Canada


Monarchy (The Crown)

Governor General

Prime Minister




Speaker of the Senate
Government Leader in the Senate
Opposition Leader in the Senate

House of Commons

Speaker of the House
Government House Leader
Leader of the Official Opposition

Supreme Court

Lower Courts of Appeal


Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Provinces and territories

Canada is a constitutional monarchy and a Commonwealth Realm with Queen Elizabeth II as its reigning monarch and head of state.

In Canada, Her Majesty's official title is (in English) Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom, Canada and Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith. In French, Her Majesty's title is: Elizabeth Deux, par la gr ce de Dieu, Reine du Royaume-Uni, du Canada et de ses autres royaumes et territoires, Chef du Commonwealth, D fendeur de la Foi. Such capacity is Her Majesty The Queen in Right of Canada. In common practice, Queen Elizabeth II is referred to simply as "The Queen" or "The Queen of Canada" when in Canada, or when abroad and acting on the advice of her Canadian ministers (such as when she was present at the Canadian 60th anniversary of D-Day ceremony in France, in 2004).


Constitutional monarchy in Canada

The most notable features of the Canadian constitutional monarchy are:

  • Although Queen Elizabeth II is also monarch of the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom does not have any sovereignty over Canada (nor does Canada have any sovereignty over the United Kingdom).
  • In all matters of state, the monarch is advised exclusively by the governments in Canada. See also Queen's Privy Council for Canada. No British government can advise the monarch on Canadian matters.
  • All executive power is theoretically reposed in the Queen, who is represented in Canada by the Governor General of Canada, the lieutenant governors of the provinces, and the territorial commissioners. Royal Assent is required for all acts of Parliament and the legislatures, which sit at her pleasure. Persons swearing allegiance to Canada, such as immigrants, soldiers, and parliamentarians, swear allegiance to the monarch as the legal embodiment of Canadian sovereignty. Like lieutenant governors the Commissioners of Canada's territories of Nunavut, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories are appointed by Governor-General-in-Council, that is the Federal Government. However commissioners are not formal representatives of the Crown, and receive instructions from the federal Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs. However, as the role of commissioner has become analogous to that of lieutenant governor, the position has developed an informal role of representing the Crown.
  • The legal personality of Canada is referred to as "Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada," and likewise for the provinces and territories. For example, if a lawsuit is filed against the federal government, the respondent is formally described as Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada.
  • As in the UK, the Queen's role is nearly entirely symbolic and cultural, and the powers that are theoretically hers are exercised wholly upon the advice of the elected government. In exceptional circumstances, however, the Queen may act against such advice based upon her reserve powers. In practice, the monarchy functions much like a rubber stamp and a symbol of executive authority. It is often explained that the Queen reigns but does not rule. For more explanation of the Queen's role, see Governor General of Canada.
Queen Elizabeth II, The Queen of Canada, reads the Speech from the Throne
  • Queen Elizabeth II, as is common for all her other non-UK realms, usually assumes the role of "Queen of Canada" only when she is either present in Canada or (occasionally) when she performs certain ceremonies relevant to Canada (such as conferring Canadian honours) in the UK. The majority of the Queen's duties are now performed by the Governor General, although she could technically override any of the Governor General's decisions. However, this convention has been excepted during certain visits to the United States, since it has become traditional for the Queen to incorporate such visits into some of her longer Canadian tours. In 1959, for example, the return dinner for the President of the United States was held at the Canadian, not the British, embassy.
  • The Queen's visible role in Canada has diminished greatly throughout the late 20th century, however, she is still featured on all Canadian coinage, the twenty-dollar bill, and postage stamps. Her portrait can usually be found in all government buildings, military installations, schools, and all of Canada's embassies abroad.
  • The Queen is head of the Canadian honours system. As such, only she can approve the creation of an honour, based on the recommendation of the Government of Canada. The Governor General administers all responsibilities relating to Canadian honours on the Queen's behalf.


Since the creation of New France, there has not been a time when Canada was not a monarchy. In fact, Canada is one of the oldest continuing monarchies in the world, first under the kings of France in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries and then under the British crown in the 18th and 19th centuries. Following Confederation, the "Canadianization" of the crown began.

The Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act, 1927 replaced the concept of a singular crown throughout the British Empire with multiple crowns with each dominion as a separate kingdom, all worn by the common monarch. The Statute of Westminster 1931 granted the dominions of the Commonwealth autonomy from the British parliament and equality with the United Kingdom. However, when a new Royal Titles Act was passed at the beginning of Queen Elizabeth's reign, it gave primacy to the monarch's status as Queen of the United Kingdom. Canada's constitution was patriated under Prime Minister Trudeau in 1982, becoming a Canadian law rather than an act of the British parliament which required amendment in both jurisdictions. See Canada Act 1982.

The Constitution Act of 1982 also entrenched the monarchy in Canada, though some have disputed this. Any change to the position of the monarch or the monarch's representatives in Canada now requires the consent of the Senate, the House of Commons, and the legislative assemblies of all the provinces.

The Throne of CanadaThrone Chairs for the Queen of Canada, and the and the , in the , Ottawa. (The front chair is used by the Speaker of the Senate.)
The Throne of Canada

Throne Chairs for the Queen of Canada, and the Duke of Edinburgh and the Governor General, in the Canadian Senate, Ottawa. (The front chair is used by the Speaker of the Senate.)

Today, virtually all of the Queen's Canadian duties are performed by her representatives in Canada, the Governor General and the lieutenant governors of the provinces, though occasionally the Queen's authority is appealed to by Canada's partisan political leaders. In 1990, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney appealed to the Queen (under Section 26 of The Constitution Act, 1867) to temporarily add eight seats to the Senate (a right reserved for the Queen). Senators are appointed until the age of 75 in Canada. Mulroney made this move to secure passage of the controversial Goods and Services Tax, which faced widespread opposition in Canada and would not have passed without the votes of the newly appointed senators.

This was an occasion on which the Queen played a significant role in Canadian government, though as the monarch's advisors made clear, she felt bound follow the advice of the prime minister, who was answerable to cabinet, parliament, and the Canadian electorate. They argued that to overrule prime ministerial advice would have involved the Queen directly in controversy; by automatically accepting advice she placed the responsibility on the person giving the advice. It is also possible that if the Governor General decides to go against the Prime Minister's or the government's advice, the Prime Minister could appeal directly to the Queen or even recommend that the Queen to dismiss the Governor General.

Beginning January 1, 2005, the Letters of Credence foreign diplomats present when beginning an assignment in Canada are addressed to the Governor General of Canada without making any reference to the Queen. This is also the case with Letters of Recall presented when a diplomat finishes a sojurn in Canada. This change in protocol has been criticised by Canadian monarchists as an example of the government reducing the Queen's role and has been welcomed by republicans for the same reason.

Some monarchists contend that since Paul Martin was elected Prime Minister, his government seems to be attempting to furthur distance Canada from the Queen and elevating the Governor General to more of a presidental figure.

Portraits of the Queen (here with the ) can be found in most Canadian government buildings
Portraits of the Queen (here with the Duke of Edinburgh) can be found in most Canadian government buildings

Debate on the Monarchy

In contrast to Australian republicanism, there is not widespread support for a republic, partly because few Canadians may understand the present monarchical system of government.

Some republican groups have formed and some politicians, such as former Deputy Prime Minister John Manley, have expressed interest in ending the monarchy. In 2002, Canada's first nationally organized republican movement, the Citizens for a Canadian Republic, was established to promote the issue of making Canada's head of state a president, and bring the issue into the mainstream.

The monarchist side, represented by the Monarchist League of Canada was formed in 1970 and currently exists as a strong lobby group advocating and promoting the monarchy in Canada.

Public opinion polls have clearly shown Canadians' mixed feelings towards the monarchy. Some polls show a majority of Canadians, particularly in Quebec, support the creation of a republic, others show a majority favour retaining the current system. Generally however, the prevailing mood towards the monarchy suggested by most polls is one of indifference or apathy.

Quebec, however, is one province that overwhelmingly supports a republic. This became pronounced in the 1960s due to the growing Quebec separatist movement. A key moment was the Queen's visit to Quebec City in 1964 when she was greeted by anti-monarchist demonstrations and the route of her procession was lined with Quebecers showing their backs to the monarch. On Samedi de la matraque (truncheon Saturday) police violently dispersed anti-monarchist demonstrators and arrested 36. The Queen did not visit Quebec City again until 1987.

Since the mid-20th century there has been a downplaying of the role of the Crown in Canada. During the centennial year of Canadian confederation, in 1967, some Canadian opinion leaders, including the editorial board of the Toronto Star began to advocate the creation of a republic as a mark of the country's independence. The Toronto Star no longer holds this as an official view, but The Globe and Mail has printed similar editorials through the 1990s. God Save the Queen was replaced as Canada's national anthem and is now rarely heard in comparison with O Canada. From the early 1970s, all references to the monarch and the monarchy were slowly removed from the public eye (e.g., the Queen's portrait began to be taken down in public buildings and schools, and the Royal Mail was changed to Canada Post). In recent years there have been some attempts at removing references of the Queen from the Oath of Allegiance. Many point out that this process of downplaying the monarchy has led to widespread misunderstandings about the institution and how Canada is governed.

Support and opposition

On the technical side, Monarchists argue that Canada's Crown is an unbiased body whose apolitical nature enables the Sovereign to be non-partisan between levels of government and political parties, an indispensable feature of the federal system. As the ten provincial Premiers said in Regina in 1978: "Provinces agree that the system of democratic parliamentary government requires an ultimate authority to ensure its responsible nature and to safeguard against abuses of power. That ultimate power must not be an instrument of the federal Cabinet." It's argued that Monarchy makes the Provinces in their fields of jurisdiction as potent as the Federal authority, thus allowing for a flexible federalism. Also, the Sovereign holds no favouritism towards any specific political party, group of voters, donors, etc., allowing him or her to be an unbiased referee during any potential governmental crisis.

Republicans counter that it is entirely possible to have an apolitical, elected head of state. Perhaps it's even likely, given the current trend in government to make institutions more transparent, accountable and democratic.

Monarchists say that it is impossible that any elected position can remain apolitical and unbiased, and that having both an elected president and prime minister could lead to the two coming to odds over who holds more authority; each could claim to be 'elected by the people.'

Republicans point out that in our current system, the Prime Minister is elected by his or her party, not by popular election. Canadians therefore, do not vote for a Prime Minister, they vote for the party that he or she leads. Also, there are other methods for electing a president, with popular election being only one option of many. [India's republican system (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/India#Government_and_politics)] is a model many Canadian republicans see as a one that could be applied at least in part in Canada.

Monarchists also argue that a republican head of state would cost more, not less, than the current monarchy, due to additional costs involved in updating the governor-general's residences to full head of state presidential palace level, the costs of state visits, political advisors, increased ceremonial functions, etc.; functions that in many cases do not exist for a governor-general, given that they are not a full head of state, but which would be required for a Canadian president.

Republicans say that cost estimates between the two are hypothetical and based on many assumptions. Although it's unlikey that a republican head of state would be less costly, it's important to note that the present Governor General is now considered by the government to be the de facto head of state and already engages in all roles and protocols expected of one.

On the symbolic side, Monarchists argue that breaking with the monarchy would end more than 500 years of Canada having a crown, and would remove an important symbol of Canada. Also, some say having a monarchy, with a Queen of Canada and a governor-general, is one of the key identity differences between the United States and Canada. This is an important way to maintain the country's cultural independence from its southern neighbour, an ongoing theme in Canadian culture and politics, especially with the loss of many other Canadian heritage symbols. They point to the fact that a republican president in Canada might be seen just another president on the American continent where the most prominent president is the President of the United States. Some Canadians point to their Government of constitutional monarchy as a point of pride, setting them apart from an American-styled Republic. For example, a former Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chr tien, commented on the issue to the Global News: "It's a system that works pretty well."

Republicans in Canada generally reject the comparisons with the American congressional-styled republican model which is used by few nations in the world. The Westminster-style parliamentary republican model, which is advocated by other Commonwealth republican movements, has also been embraced by some Canadian republicans as the preferred model for Canada.

It is also noted that whereas Canada currently has a female head of state and a female governor general and has had a female prime minister, no woman has ever been president or vice-president in the United States.

Proponents of a Canadian republic counter by citing Westminster-style republics Ireland and India as examples where both female prime ministers and/or presidents have been accepted as the norm.

Queen Elizabeth II wearing the insignia of the Order of Canada and the Order of Military Merit

Opponents of the monarchy claim that its abolition would promote democracy and remove Canada's last political connection to her colonial past, and thus improve her image as a sovereign nation.

At the same time, monarchists point out that Canada has had no status as a colony since 1867, and today is an independent kingdom with no political ties to the United Kingdom. They also maintain that a nation's history and past are still the building blocks of a national identity, and argue that the Crown is the foundation and guarantor of Canada's democracy.

Prominent critics of the monarchy point out that the Act of Settlement explicitly excludes Roman Catholics from the throne and the Queen is Supreme Governor of the Church of England, requiring her to be an Anglican. This, they argue, discriminates against non-Anglicans, including Catholics who are the largest faith group in Canada. Former Toronto city councillor Tony O'Donohue launched a court action in 2002 arguing that the Act of Settlement violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in that it discriminates against Catholics. His case was dismissed by the court, which found that the Act of Settlement is part of the Canadian constitution and thus the Charter of Rights does not have supremacy over it. Also, the court pointed out that while Canada has the power to amend the line of succession to the Canadian Thone, the Statute of Westminster stipulates that the agreement of the governments of the fifteen other realms which share the Crown would first have to be sought.

Monarchists claim that since unanimity by all Canadian provinces is required to replace the monarchy, a republic will never be attained. To counter this argument, republicans in March 2004 proposed measures to avoid constitutional deadlock by advocating a parliamentary reform of the office of the governor general, an office generally expected to be transformed into a presidency should the monarchy end. The group claims their proposal will address divisive aspects such as the duties and selection process of the new head of state without constitutional amendment, leaving the remaining issue of who should occupy the position to be decided in a referendum.

There is also, in large part because of previous long disputes over constitutional issues and reforms, a reluctance to enter into the extensive constitutional renegotiation that would be required to establish a new political system in Canada. Unlike Australia, where constitutional reform is confined largely to the future of the monarchy, in Canada, there are comparatively more pressing constitutional issues. Consequently, the 2004 election platforms of the main political parties focused far more upon the reform or abolition of the Senate, appointment of Supreme Court judges, and the powers of provincial governments, than on the future of the monarchy.

This issue is not now an important one in Canadian public affairs, and it is widely predicted that there may be little real debate on the future of the monarchy in Canada.

However, the republican objectives of fellow Commonwealth Realms Australia, Jamaica and Barbados could factor into the Canadian debate as well. Republicans in Barbados are [setting a goal for the end of 2005 (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/01/26/wbarb26.xml&sSheet=/news/2005/01/26/ixworld.html)] and Jamaica [by 2007 (http://www.breakingtravelnews.com/article/3100112)]. However, both need only a majority vote in parliament to implement while Canada requires a much more difficult to attain provincial concensus.

Nevertheless, Canadians generally rate the issue far below others in national importance and the debate may linger for some time to come.

Recent polls

Support for the monarchy in Canada dropped to record lows in the late 1990s. In the first half of the new century support for the monarchy has risen to include the majority of Canadians. However, the fact that many Canadians continue to not completely understand exactly what a "Head of State" is, or the exact nature of the Queen's current role in Canada can cause some problems in drawing concrete conclusions from poll results.

In the year 2002, the year of the Queen's golden jubilee, polls were taken by Canada's three biggest polling firms on Canadian views of the monarchy.

  • The 2002 [Ekos poll (http://www.ekos.com/admin/articles/31may2002.pdf)] found that support for abolition of the monarchy is declining, yet also highlighted many contradictions in public opinion. 48% agreed and 35% disagree with the statement, "Instead of a British monarch we should have a Canadian citizen as our head of state." Yet at the same time 43% disagreed and 41% agreed to the same question, worded slightly differently: "it's time to abolish the monarchy in Canada." Again, monarchists suggest the confusion may arise from the skewed question which refers to the "British monarch" as Canada's head of state. (As the distinct Queen of Canada, sovereign of the Canadian Crown, many argue the monarchy is, in part, Canadian.) Only 5% were even aware that the Queen was in fact Canada's head of state, with 69% thinking it was the Prime Minister and 9% believing it was the Governor General. 55% agree that the monarchy keeps Canada distinct from the United States, while 33% disagree. This survey has often been cited as evidence of the confusion that many Canadians have for the role of the monarchy in Canada. (Poll results (http://www.ekos.com/admin/press_releases/31may2002.pdf)—PDF document)
  • The 2002 Ipsos-Reid poll found that 79% of Canadians support constitutional monarchy as Canada's form of government and 62% believe that the monarchy helps to define Canada's identity. At the same time, 48% would prefer a republican system of government with an elected head of state and two-thirds (65%) believe the royals are merely celebrities and should not have any formal role in Canada. The same poll also found that 58% don't think the monarchy is an issue important enough to go through the "fuss of changing something that works". (Poll results (http://www.ipsos-reid.com/search/pdf/media/mr020203.pdf)—PDF document)
  • The 2002 Leger Marketing poll found 50% said "yes" to the statement, "Elizabeth II is currently the Queen of Canada. Do you (yes or no) want Canada to maintain the monarchy?" 43% said "no", with a majority support for the monarchy indicated in all areas except Qu bec. (Poll results (http://www.legermarketing.com/documents/spclm/020401eng.pdf)—PDF document)


1. In 1997 UK Prime Minister Tony Blair intended offer a Life Peerage to Canadian businessman Conrad Black. Citing the 1919 Nickle Resolution, the Canadian Government advised the Queen of Canada that they have objected to such honours for many years. If Blair had not backed down, the Queen would have been in the situation of having to grant an honour on the advice of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and to object to the same as Queen of Canada on the advice of then Prime Minister of Canada Jean Chr tien. The problem was resolved when Black renounced his Canadian citizenship. Canada raised no further objections and he was granted his peerage, becoming Lord Black of Crossharbour.

2. Refer to the Constantian Society's detailed comparison of the costs of monarchies versus republics. The Constantian Society (http://members.tripod.com/~constantian/expense2.html)

See also

External links

  • Official site of the Canadian Monarchy (http://www.canadianheritage.gc.ca/progs/cpsc-ccsp/fr-rf/index_e.cfm)
  • Canadian Monarchist ONLINE (http://www.interlog.com/~rakhshan), a Canadian website promoting Canada's constitutional monarchy
  • Canadian Monarchist League (http://www.monarchist.ca/)
  • Canada: A Constitutional Monarchy (http://www.parl.gc.ca/information/about/people/senate//Monarchy/SenMonarchy_00-e.htm) from the Government of Canada
  • Golden Jubilee Celebrations in Canada (http://www.canadianheritage.gc.ca/jubilee/english.htm)
  • Citizens for a Canadian Republic (http://www.canadian-republic.ca) Canada's republican movement
  • Monarchy-Free Canada (http://www.monarchyfreecanada.org) Canadian republican and anti-monarchy news site
  • Res Publica (http://makepeace.ca/respublica/ca.html) International anti-monarchy database: Canada

  Results from FactBites:
Monarchy in Canada - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (5633 words)
Canada is a constitutional monarchy and a Commonwealth Realm with Queen Elizabeth II as its reigning monarch.
The Constitution Act, 1867 states that the Command-in-Chief of the Canadian Armed Forces is vested in the Queen, but the Letters Patent of 1947 specify that the title and its duties are held and performed by the Governor General of Canada on behalf of the Sovereign.
Tony O'Donohue, a Canadian republican and civic politician, observed that the Act of Settlement 1701 explicitly excludes Roman Catholics from the throne and the Queen is Supreme Governor of the Church of England, requiring her to be an Anglican.
  More results at FactBites »



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