In light of the fact that the royal wedding has attacked me this morning, I’ve dug up this old opinion piece I wrote for my student newspaper in 2008. It has all the flippancy of youth (how I’ve matured in three years!) but my general feelings stay the same. I should add, I’m a big believer in the importance of symbolic heads of state– but I do think we should start thinking about a homegrown one, rather than continuing to depend on the British monarchy. Anyway, here it is:
* * *
True story: I was in a bar in Wuhan, a Chinese city of about eight million. I was talking to a co-worker, a British civil servant-turned-English teacher. And he was livid. What about? Well, Canadians — and our attitude. Our attitude towards the monarchy, to be specific. Namely, the fact that we don’t hate it.
“But doesn’t it piss you off,” he began, confusion and rage glowing in his eyes, “that you have the Queen — a woman from a different country, who’s barely been to Canada — on all your money?”
“But — she means nothing! She doesn’t do anything!”
“Yeah . . . ”
“And you’ve got her on there! She’s your head of state! Even we hate her, and she at least lives on our continent!”
“Well, you’ve gotta have something. Don’t really know what else to put there.”
At this point, I think he may have passed out from rage. Either that or we started talking about how weird it is that Americans love guns so much. It doesn’t really matter. The point is that I was remembering this conversation the other day, when suddenly it dawned on me that one day the Queen will die.
And she’ll be replaced . . . by Charles.
And then I started thinking that this drunken British rant may not have been so crazy after all.
Now, it’s nothing against Charles, really. I’m sure he’s an OK guy. I don’t know, actually — I’ve never paid attention. Just like I never paid attention to the Queen. She’s just the lady on our money, the one whom the Governor General supposedly represents, and the person being referred to when we say, “God save the Queen.” If we ever said it, which I don’t. To me, the monarchy has always just sort of — been. Existed. Neither good nor bad, just something I’d grown up with and accepted, like the smell of Prince George’s pulp mills (or supposed smell — having been raised here, I don’t really notice it. But Vancouver? Man, that stinks). The point is, I — and others like me — accept the Queen for that very reason: she just is.
We’ve never known life without her. We’ve never had anyone else on our money. The only changes we’ve seen to the portrait on our coins has been the gradual aging process represented by more wrinkles etched into the backside of pennies and a more regal crown replacing the ornamental wreath of youth.
But she’s getting on in years. I know the Queen Mum lived to something like 157, but even if Elizabeth doubles that I’m guessing she may want to retire from the head-of-state business in the next 20 years or so. And when that happens, everything changes. We’ll have to mint new coins, all the government documents reading “Her Royal Majesty” will have to be replaced with “His Royal Majesty,” and “God Save the Queen,” will become “God Save the King.” I think part of the reason we Canadians accept the Queen so apathetically is the fact that we don’t want to make the effort to find something new.
But if we’re going to be changing anyway, wouldn’t it be a good time to make it something a little more domestic? Back when the Elizabeth became Queen, royalty meant something to (English) Canadians. She still represented something to them. The fact that she was there during the Second World War touched the hearts of earlier generations. But what about now? Does Charles mean any more to us than Rod Stewart or is he, like Stewart, just some old dude that tabloids write about to appeal to the gossipy baby-boomer demographic?
So I think we should have a plan in place for when Lizzie moves on. The office of head of state can be assumed by the Governor General easily enough, but the position changes too often to put their faces on our coins. Americans use old presidents like Washington and Lincoln, but they’re far enough back in history to be relatively uncontroversial. We’ve got MacDonald, but who else are you going to use? Trudeau? Diefenbaker?
No, it needs to be symbols that everyone can agree on. I’d say the Maple Leaf, but the pennies already have it (although maybe we could eliminate the penny at the same time). Another option would be to have six different things — one for each coin. Maybe different representations from across Canada: the West, the Prairies, the North, Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.
But then people would just get pissed off that Ontario and Quebec get their own. Maybe we should use symbols from each of our remaining NHL teams — but what happens when Ottawa moves south? Or perhaps we could use various figure from aboriginal mythology — then again, the Olympics did that with their mascots and people confused them with Pokémon. National heroes seems like a good idea — people like Terry Fox and Laura Secord. Tommy Douglas seems a fair guess — after all, he was chosen as the greatest Canadian. Of course, it should be noted that Don Cherry made the top 10 of that list, and I sure don’t want him on my quarters.
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