MONTREAL — Hanging a portrait of the head of state in embassies and consulates abroad is the sort of thing most countries do as a matter of routine. For Canada, though, the move has proved controversial, not least because the country’s head of state lives thousands of miles away, in London.Read the rest here.
Don’t fret if you didn’t know that, thanks to a quirk of incomplete decolonization, Queen Elizabeth II of Britain moonlights as Canada’s head of state: most Canadians don’t know it either. A 2008 survey (pdf) found that just 24 percent of them did, with 42 percent thinking that the head of state was the prime minister (in fact, merely head of government) and another 33 percent that it was the governor general (only the queen’s ceremonial stand-in in Ottawa).
The monarchy isn’t exactly a hot topic in Canada. But the conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, having decreed such ignorance unacceptable, has decided to raise the monarchy’s profile in Canadian life.
First, there was the order to display of the queen’s picture in diplomatic missions abroad; then, plans were announced for elaborate celebrations for her 60th anniversary on the throne (that’s Feb. 6). Paintings by a prominent contemporary Quebec artist were replaced with the queen’s portrait at the Department of Foreign Affairs. And the word “royal” was inserted in the Canadian air forces’ name. Only after the announcement was made in English did the government realize that the French version — Force Aérienne Royale Canadienne — would share an acronym with FARC, the Colombian rebel army, sending military officials scurrying for an alternative. (They eventually settled on Aviation Royale Canadienne, ARC.)
Some think that snafu shows the government’s blithe disregard for opinion in Quebec. I go further: I think Harper’s newfound enthusiasm for the monarchy is all about irking the one quarter of the country that speaks French.
In English-speaking Canada, the monarchy symbolizes the kind of traditional authority and deference to a settled social order that conservative voters warm to. To French speakers in Quebec, having a British grandma as head of state rankles: it’s another reminder of the long history of animosity between the region’s largely Francophone, working-class population and its Anglophone, colonial (and, later, commercial) elite. Royal visits to the province are infallibly protested by a hardcore separatist fringe. They bring grimaces even to the “soft nationalists,” a resurgent force in Quebec politics – they’re for independence but instead of shouting that from rooftops work at minimizing the federal government’s role in Quebec’s day-to-day life.
I think this is one of the sillier op-eds I have read in a while. That said I am pleased by the undeniable deference Mr. Harper is showing to Canadian heritage, and yes, that includes the monarchy. Part of me almost wishes this was being done to spite the Quebecois. I have been there on a number of occasions and can't remember a trip where I didn't get the feeling that my presence was at best tolerated and that they were looking down their noses at me. Not all of them to be sure. But a lot of them are insufferable prigs who really don't like Anglophones, and have no qualms about making that known.