Royal Visit 2016 - Junior Team Tours the West Coast

Royal Visit 2016-Junior Team Tours the West Coast

As published in the Victoria Standard: October 11, 2016.

The September 2016 royal tour of British Columbia may temporarily boost Canadian monarchism but a recent Forum poll indicates that support for the house of Windsor is waning. Increasingly, public veneration of royal personalities resembles celebrity wordship; not unlike that bestowed upon movie stars and reality show presidential candidates.

As Canadians bask in the reflected grace of the recently-departed royals; I’m compelled to examine our puzzling relationship with this controversial dynasty. Of course, clever language has always helped create mythologies that discourages dissent and fosters deference and obedience to both legitimate and illegitimate authority.

Aside from the official line that the English queen is Canada’s head of state; I fail to see any legitimate reasons to hold royalty in such high esteem nor do I feel personal loyalty to her or anyone arbitrarily presented as my leader. While the queen has little direct power in Canada, her continued presence subtly dignifies our often-ruthless political process with ancient notions like “the crown” and a host of crests and coats of arms.
As well, public approval of royalty by elected officials and senior bureaucrats lends credibility to the institution and creates an official barrier to dissent. Underlying it all is an unspoken assumption that the endurance of royalty somehow justifies its highly-subsidized presence.

The world is replete with people who are smarter, kinder, tougher, prettier and far nobler than British royalty. Nevertheless, the queen’s family still enjoys pompous descriptors like highness and majesty based mainly on coincidental birth into a family of great wealth and privilege; surrounding by sycophants eager to protect the highly-profitable royal illusion. From time to time; notable individuals are offered a knighthood or membership in some exclusive clique to perpetuate the notion of noble elitism.

Strict social protocols are another device employed to enhance the royal mystique and solidify the gulf between monarch and “commoner”; a term overdue for deletion. While minor transgressions against the monarch were formerly punished with extreme brutality; today’s trespassers against royal dignity are subject merely to social scorn and catch-all legal sanctions like trespass or public nuisance. The sight of the queen reminds me that she descends from a line that long defended its capricious power to torture and kill as they pleased.

While the duke and duchess of Cambridge confined themselves to Canada’s West coast, the financial burden will be evenly distributed from sea to sea. We are often told that the monarchy is “good value for the money spent” and that eliminating its role in Canadian governance would be “very difficult and might involve changing the constitution” to install a symbolic Canadian-born head of state. However, further empowering a symbolic figure like the governor general to perform all the duties of the monarchy would be very economical. The only way to truly test the subjective value for money claim is to try an alternative. Finally, while changing the constitution was difficult, so was Confederation and World War Two; but we managed those graver situations quite effectively.

As a person of Highland ancestry I’ve always been slightly amused to see members of the royal family clad in kilts since they never wear traditional Scottish garb but rather a tartan of their own invention. The Balmoral Tartan is a particularly glaring example of cultural appropriation in that the tartan was created for the royal family’s exclusive use and is protected from commoners by trademark and good taste. Imagine a regular person attempting to attach a patent to one of these fancy hats favored by the queen.

Queen Victoria purchased Balmoral Castle and estate in 1852 with her personal wealth. Not surprisingly, royal “purchases” are a fairly modern phenomenon since the possession of massive military power made the historical acquisition of royal possessions a mere matter of declaration backed by naked or threatened force. In a recent display of diminishing influence, the Queen has been reduced to offering her official blessing to Canadian institutions like Cape Breton’s Gaelic College, whose board refused the dubious honor.

British citizens may share the royal family’s habit of acquiring Scottish titles like baron or baronet if they are willing to pay thousands and accept the notion of adding only a noble suffix to their name. Only royals, whose titles came gratis, may use a prefix to denote their status. Conrad Black’s lost citizenship case illustrates the headaches of the noble life if one abandons their homeland for a foreign title.

According to the Ottawa Citizen, “While the costs of the upcoming Canadian tour won’t be revealed until after the eight-day trip, past royal visits have yielded hefty price tags. Will and Kate’s 2011 tour cost $1.2 million, a two-day visit by Princess Ann last year cost $128,000, and the Queen’s 2010 nine-day tour came in at $2.79 million…” I’ve never heard a public word of thanks from the Queen regarding the expense of these neocolonial expeditions. Undoubtedly, the royals could afford to finance the privilege of presenting themselves as unique and superior beings. Perhaps the Monarchist League could ease the public burden by volunteering to finance Charles and Camilla’s upcoming vacation to Canada.

At a time of ostensible austerity; Harper’s government spent $ 8.1 million public dollars to finance the pomp and ceremony of the queen’s Royal Diamond Jubilee. The original budget was $7.5 million. According to the National Post, “…there were the automatic recipients, not all of whom are held in the highest esteem by Canadians simply by virtue of their positions: Every MP; every Senator; every ambassador, high commissioner and consul general; and the chair of the Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians, just to name a few…” A total of 60,000 medals were created and, “…there was the politics. Rideau Hall didn’t just hand every Canadian MP and Senator in the country his own medal, but 30 each (50 to each minister), and a total of 6,000 to the provincial premiers, to dole out as they saw fit.” This bonanza was concurrent with the cynical closing of Veterans Affairs offices across the nation. Heritage minister James Moore stated in the Globe and Mail that, “Canadians should feel honoured to be able to celebrate the “Diamond Jubilee” of a reigning Queen, or the 60th anniversary of the monarch ascending the throne.” I’m not alone in resisting emotive political attempts to define my priorities.

Fortunately, the royal family is mainly subsidized by the taxpayers of Great Britain. For example, returning to the Globe and Mail: “The Queen’s accounts show a 6.7% increase in funding last year to £37.9m, of which she spent £35.7m, setting the rest aside in a reserve account…Royal travel costs rose to £5.1m, up 21% on 2013-4…” Of course, royal protection costs in the UK and during foreign travel are excluded from these totals on convenient basis of national security. Staying home is always an option.

Of course, Canadians are free to line the roads to smile and wave as the royal carriage glides but ultimately; they are cheering foreign strangers vastly removed from their own daily lives. Nevertheless, the cult yet lives. As monarchist David Warren once said of Queen Elizabeth II, “I shouldn’t have to adore her personally. That she is my Queen is enough.”