If you’re anything like me, you spent the latter half of your summer engrossed in news about last week’s historic Australian election, finally decided a full fortnight after their election day. It’s a vote that could have implications for their relationship to the British monarchy, and could be instructive for future Canadian policy.
For those not in the loop, Australia’s ruling Labour Party underwent a bloodless coup d’état a few months back when unpopular Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was replaced by up-and-comer Julia Gillard. She became the first female prime minister of Australia, as well as an atheist who lives with her partner out of wedlock. But like our own Kim Campbell, Gillard seemed destined to lose power as quickly as she gained it as her fortunes turned sour in this election.
But Gillard managed to sneak by with a tie in final seat counts with her opposition, and after some deals she managed to get enough independents and the lone Green Party member to support Labour and establish a coalition government.
I could make lots of comparisons here between our country and Australia, from their natural acceptance of coalitions, to their more proportional electoral system for their senate, or the fact that an atheist was elected prime minister and no one really got upset. But instead, I want to discuss one short quote that Gillard made during her campaign that was almost ignored.
She stated that Australia should seek to become a republic once the monarch changes.
Australia, like Canada, is a constitutional monarchy whose head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, the queen of England and the entire Commonwealth. Meanwhile, France and the USA are republics, which means that the people of either country directly or indirectly elect their heads of state.
In 1999, Australia actually held a referendum to determine whether they should drop the monarchy and instead install a president who would be nominated by a two-thirds majority of parliament. The referendum failed, in part because the alternative presented was a somewhat obscure option that didn’t necessarily have the support of all republicans in the country.
Monarchists defend the status quo using one of two main arguments: tradition, and the political advantages of an unelected head of state.
Tradition arguments can be rejected out of hand, as tradition is what brings us racism, sexism, xenophobia, and most other prejudiced systems. Just because something is what has always been done does not make it the right or moral thing to do. Monarchs are a throwback to theocratic days where people could be hung for the victimless crime of blasphemy with nothing more than a show trial. A monarch is the crown of a caste system where one cannot work their way out of despondency. The divine right of kings (and queens) is an affront to our modern free and secular society.
An unelected head of state is also argued to provide stability and rationality to the democratic process by acting as sober oversight to the whims of the public and politicians. Further, it is argued that by removing the monarchy, we risk consolidating even more power in our already bloated prime minister’s office.
However, as demonstrated by recent decisions of our governor general, the prime minister has little difficulty pushing his agenda through. Parliament has been prorogued twice to end debate that threatened the government. An independent and accountable head of state, separate from the PMO and cabinet, could act as a new focus of Canadian pride, and help to rebuild our crumbling democracy.
There’s many ways that we could establish a Canadian republic, and it is time we start the conversation about Canada after the queen.