Back in October of 2002 I wrote one of my first op-eds for the Toronto Star after a typically embarrassing royal visit by Her Highness. To set the stage: John Manley, then one of Chretien’s star ministers, mused about dumping the monarchy, and poor John was piled on fast for the crime of speaking common sense honestly, and I believe did some back-pedalling. I picked up his baton, picking on the defense-of-monarchy from the Monarchist League of Canada’s website. The League soon took down those arguments.
Now, the version the Toronto Star ran with was not my preferred version. It was the no-monkey argument. So, instead of the published article, I will print here, for the first time ever, my preferred version. The Monkey Argument:
In the TV show The Simpsons, there is a running joke where the grandfather tries telling a story of something from the old days. As the kids become bored, they begin speaking to each other over the poor grandfather’s voice. I was reminded of that scene in listening to MP Elsie Wayne’s recent rant about the Prime Minister’s alleged disrespect for the Queen. I could almost picture the younger members of her party yawning and passing notes to each other.
To those of us in our twenties and thirties, the attention being given the Queen’s visit by pundits and politicians remind us of nothing so much as how different old people are. The arguments being made so passionately in support of the monarchy seem so antiquated they make reading the newspapers seem like walking through a museum. Can I claim to speak for all of my generation? Sure, why not? I have at least as great a claim as the Queen does to representing Canada. Greater in fact, as I actually COME from that generation. As an example of the modern importance and relevancy of the monarchy I can say this: I am senior editor for a Canadian magazine which reaches close to 500,000 readers, most of them men in their twenties and thirties. Our magazine promotes and examines Canadian icons and images of all types. One thing we’ve never discussed in our magazine, and our readers have never missed, is the monarchy.
It is a testament to the accomplishments of older generations of Canadians that ours was brought up with hope and belief in an egalitarian society. We were taught to believe in certain Canadian values. The monarchy makes a mockery of them. The lessons the monarchy teaches are that some people are born better than others: not smarter or stronger, simply ‘better’. The monarchy teaches us that the power to govern our own affairs doesn’t come from us- it comes by the grace of outsiders. The headlines screaming pride over whatever bland praise Her Majesty generously throws our way, like a rock star shouting out to a city before rockin’ it, gives a pathetic lesson that we need the approval of our betters. As if she says anything different in her visits to Jamaica or New Zealand.
Perhaps I am being unfair. Let us look at the arguments made in support of the monarchy. As a test, we shall compare how some other choice for head-of-state, say, a blind monkey, would fare by those same standards. True, it may be said that monkeys are not native to Canada. But then, neither is the royal family. According to the website of the Monarchist League of Canada,
“The Queen of Canada is more democratic than a President of Canada ever could be because she represents all Canadians. An elected president would owe his selection to a political faction… The Queen and her heirs have been trained from birth for one vocation — that of discharging the duties of sovereign of Canada. Therefore, they are the only Canadians fit to assume this important position.”
We will ignore the ridiculous idea that those borne into power are ‘more democratic’ than those elected. We will let go the obvious objection that the Queen is, of course, not Canadian. I will simply note that on the basis of this first argument, our unelected, non-partisan monkey comes out even with the Queen. Let us move on along the Monarchist website.
“The Monarchy gives Canada a distinctive political system at a time of strong North American Continental trade, social and cultural influences.”
Today’s Canadians have no trouble with ‘identifying’ ourselves. Furthermore, there could be nothing more distinctive than having a monkey head of state. Monkey 1, Queen 0.
“There is a sense of easy communication between monarchy and people, which politicians by nature are unable to develop.”
Hmmm. Somehow I have a hard time buying the concept that Liz is ready to hang out in ‘easy communication’ with her subjects. But don’t monkeys make you laugh? Monkey 2, Queen 0.
“Many newcomers to Canada have come from countries with monarchies. They readily identify with our Canadian Monarchy”
Many newcomers to Canada come from countries with monkeys. We’ll call his one a wash.
“Perhaps Canadian historian Jacques Monet has said it best. “…a king is a king, not because he is rich and powerful… He is King because he is born. And in choosing to leave the selection of their head of state to this most common denominator in the world — the accident of birth — Canadians implicitly proclaim their faith in human equality.”
Okay, I will give you all a moment to stop laughing. It is true that the Queen is human, and a monkey is not. So she has that going for her. This still sounds more like an endorsement of Ruler-By-Lottery, which would not only be more egalitarian than our current system, but might also earn lotto revenue for our hockey teams. So we’ll concede this point. Monkey 2, Queen 1.
“The French-Canadian tradition, in common with the British and other European traditions, is also monarchical.”
Let’s remember what eventually became of those oh-so-popular French monarchs. In Quebec, the monarchy is viewed at best as an embarrassment, at worst as an insult. But everybody loves animals. Monkey 3, Queen 1.
Finally, I will turn to the argument put forward by the Ottawa Citizen, in their Oct. 8 pro-monarchy editorial:
“Queen Elizabeth’s very distance from current events and political factions, especially in Canada, gives her a disinterested gravitas in the event of a crisis that also helps make such crises unlikely.”
Okay, I grant the royalists the point that the Queen probably doesn’t keep up with Canadian affairs. But what could be more clueless than a blind monkey? Monkey 4, Queen 1. Game over.
There are those who will say it would be cruel to force an animal into a lifetime of such hard work, something for which they may be completely ill-suited and are given no choice in. How much worse to force such ignominy on a human being? Pity the royals. Set them free.