According to monarchist logic, a monarch is supposed to be superior to a president because while the later is an elected, and therefore divisive figure, the former is “above politics” and therefore a figure of unity.
This is almost never true in practice, however. Indeed, it is hard to think of a head of state who has been more consistently controversial, polarizing and divisive than Elizabeth II. The Queen was once head of state in 33 countries. Today, only 15 remain, and the question is when, not if, that number will further decrease. In her 56-year reign, the Queen has consistently bred an ever-increasing climate of division within her realms, giving her a track record of “fostering unity” that is rather shoddy at best. Though to be fair, it’s not really Elizabeth’s fault. She’s not unpopular because of anything she, you know, actually says or does, but simply because she exists.
The very fact that people self-identify as “republicans” and “monarchists” today is evidence of the crown’s failure to unify. Indeed, only in a monarchy is the very legitimacy of the office of the head of state itself so thoroughly contested. One does not speak of the pro and anti “presidentialists” in a republic, mostly because a presidency is a flexible and democratic institution. In a monarchy, you’re pretty much stuck with the royal family you’ve got, and woe if that particular royal family happens to rub you the wrong way. Which it does to a great many.
These days the monarchy is sustained in the Commonwealth realms largely by keeping Her Majesty out of the spotlight as much as possible. The less visible the crown, the less controversial and divisive its continued existence will be, or so the logic seems to go. With this in mind, it’s hardly surprising to hear that the Queen was evidently not invited to Quebec’s 400th birthday celebrations, set to kick-off in July of 2008. Her Majesty has never been terribly popular in Quebec, where the monarchy has come to be seen as an embarrassing reminder of French Canada’s historic subservience to English power. She has visited the province exactly twice in her reign, once in 1964, where she was greeted by mass protests and riots led by French-Canadian nationalists, and once in 1987, in a decidedly more modest and brief affair. As the 2008 events will likely be a celebration of French Canadian nationalism and pride unparalleled in recent history, the federal and provincial governments appear eager to avoid stirring up a potential hornet’s nest by inviting a divisive symbol associated with Quebec’s hated “old order.”One can certainly criticize the often insular nature of French Canadian nationalism, but honestly, are there any countries outside of the Commonwealth in which inviting the head of the state—the supposed supreme symbolic leader of your country—to a public celebration would be such a worrisome and awkward occasion?
Monarchists like to criticize the so-called phenomenon of “republicanism by stealth” in which references to the Crown are quietly removed from public life without much notice or fanfare. But really, such stealthy moves may do far more to perpetuate the monarchy than weaken it. After all, the bureaucrats and politicians who favor shuffling the Queen off Quebec’s guest list likely are motivated by a genuine desire to protect Her Majesty from embarrassment, and thus protect the institution. A true republican would welcome the Queen’s participation, and let everyone witness the wonderful things our present head of state can do for Canadian unity.