For our special 50th anniversary issue, Canada’s brightest, boldest, and most rebellious thinkers, doers, and creators share their best big ideas. Through ideas macro and micro, radical and everyday, we present 50 essays, think pieces, and calls to action. Picture: plans for sustainable food systems, radical legislation, revolutionary health care, a greener planet, Indigenous self-government, vibrant cities, safe spaces, peaceful collaboration, and more—we encouraged our writers to dream big, to hope, and to courageously share their ideas and wish lists for our collective better future. Here’s to another 50 years!
Your Majesties, Highnesses, Princesses and Princes Royal, assorted Duchesses, Earls, Lords This and Lords That, please know that the following argument is not personal, i.e. against your personages. How could it be? I’ve never met any of you, nor will I ever. And I do like to visit London, despite what passes for plumbing in your lesser hotels.
No, I’m certain you are lovely people, unique and charming in your own ways. Furthermore, if the following proposal were to come to pass, I suspect I might like your sort as actual people and not think of you, as I do today, as symptoms-made-flesh; as waving, smiling, sometimes skiing and sometimes cutting ribbons personifications of a psychological disorder.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. It is time to be blunt: the future of Canada cannot include a Royal Family. Thank you, you various HRHs, for being so patient while Canadians took generations to figure ourselves out, while we collectively acted like an adult child that lives in its parents’ basement until its 40s. And thank you also for occasionally visiting us and wearing cute hats. But the relationship between Canada and Royalty is dysfunctional and we both need to move on.
Know that you are not the problem, we are. Canada will never be a grown-up country while its head of state lives across an ocean and earns that title by genetic lottery. Your presence in our lives makes us forever dissatisfied with ourselves and unfulfilled by our very real achievements. Canada does not need absentee parents; we need to parent ourselves.
I’ve heard all the arguments, sentimental and legal, but the most often touted position is also the most telling: that for Canada to become a Royal-Free Zone, Canadians would have to endure a messy constitutional debate. Politicians in Canada love to talk about “democratic reform” while at the same time warning us that “constitutional debates” are dangerous, expensive, and distracting. How the hell else do things change?
The reluctance on the part of our political class to even begin another round of constitutional discussions is inherent to the psychological stunting having far-off rulers creates. When a nation willingly situates its concepts of governance and power outside of its borders that nation’s psyche stagnates. We are too slow at becoming who we want to be. When you believe “the centre” is always elsewhere, you develop unhealthy attachments to whatever you have in front of you, good or bad. The status quo becomes a perverse kind of self-actualization.
We are a great country, we tell ourselves today, because we remain largely unchanged. This is not the same thing as stability. Stable nations welcome change and growth because they have faith in themselves. Canada clings to all kinds of broken statuses quo because we don’t believe enough in ourselves to engage with disruption and uncertainty, with the upsetting side of change. We suffer from this fear because we depend too much on symbols from our colonial past.
If that sounds like an exaggeration of the Royal Family’s presence in the Canadian psyche, think about how often you see images and symbols of the Royals: on your money; on your stamps; on the covers of magazines; in the modifier “Royal” that is added to everything from Legion halls to submarines; in no end of television specials. In another, more sinister context, such a relentless parade of imagery would be likened to programming. But the Royal Family is not sinister (they are not that interesting). Their presence in our daily lives, and thus in our minds, is more like an overly familiar pop tune, the kind that gets played by lazy DJs at weddings or funerals.
If we are ever to have true change in Canada, ever to address our chronic democratic shortages, we need to start with the most glaring example of the undemocratic: our dynastic, nonresident heads of state. Once we get past that psychological hurdle, re-organizing everything from how parliamentarians are chosen to what to do with the creaking Senate will seem not only less burdensome but, and this is the important part, natural—even exciting.
Imagine redirecting all that glamour, fascination, and energy that the media machine called The Royals creates inward, finally, onto us, onto Canadians. We can make our own cute hats, and purses to match.
RM Vaughan's latest book is Bright Eyed: Insomnia and Its Cultures, from Coach House Books.