Monday, 29 June 2015

Queen of Canada

From time to time I am asked about the relationship of the Queen of Canada to the Church.  It used to  be, when I was a member of the clergy of the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC), that some would assume that Her Majesty (HM) was the "Head of the Anglican Church of Canada."  

This was a hangover from the 1950s when the ACC was still called THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND IN CANADA even though it was an independent ecclesial body in the ever loosening Anglican Communion. Certainly the Queen has never had a formal role in the ACC except as a fellow Anglican who is also the Head of State of Canada.

Now, with the many judicial and legislative measures dealing with moral and ethical problems: Euthanasia, Marriage, Abortion, etc.,  the question arises as to the personal views of HM as they may relate to her role as Sovereign in a Constitutional Monarchy.  

For example, the following request for an explanation was made recently.  After some thought on the matter I asked an expert (anonymous) friend to respond.  Here is the request and the response.


 " . . . an explanation of how we can reconcile HM’s signing evil legislation into law (against her personal convictions) that is not an exercise in unsustainable mental gymnastics…. I’d love to hear it. As an ardent monarchist, it’s one thing I struggle with. I know the technical explanations, and that if she refused to sign legislation it might very well mean the end of the monarchy, but is all the monarchy good for now the “reserve powers” to prevent a dictatorship? It seems to me we already have a dictatorship presided over by the Supreme Court. Any good reading recommendations on this topic?"


The convention of a constitutional monarchy is that the Sovereign acts on advice of her Ministers – the government of the day via the Prime Minister – and has no authority to exercise the Royal Prerogative in terms of giving Royal Assent to legislation (nothing is “signed” by the way; that is an American expression which accurately expresses what the President does, but not Her Majesty or the Governor General, who if present give a nod of the head; but more normally are represented by commissioned officials) unless:

a) the Prime Minister of the day leads a government which lacks the confidence of the House of Commons (has been defeated on a motion of no-confidence or a budgetary resolution – “supply” - and not subsequently resigned; or has been clearly “defeated” by the results of of an election and neither returned his Commission nor advised The Queen that the leader of the “winning” party be summoned to attempt to form a government);

b) the Prime Minister or his ministry is enmeshed by credible, serious and unanswered charges of scandal and has refused to meet the House of Commons but instead asked The Queen or Governor Governor General to prorogue Parliament and/or sustain the administration by Warrant rather than the normal process by which Parliament votes for funding – “supply.”
 Absent those instances there is no way, in a constitutional as opposed to an absolute monarchy, whereby the Sovereign may substitute his personal judgment to refuse Assent for (or “advice” in the constitutional sense from) a Prime Minister/government whose legislation has been passed by the normal legitimate process – in Canada, that means passage of identical legislation through three “readings” in each of the chambers of Parliament.  

The siren calls for the Sovereign/GG to do otherwise, as in the case you cited led by what many would identify as “the right wing” or what many termed “the left wing” during, for instance, Hilary Weston’s time as Lieutenant Governor, would destroy at once the constitutional monarchy by thrusting The Queen or her representatives into the role of being simply another partisan player/actor who determines what is “good/right” and what “evil/wrong” which are, you would agree, highly pejorative terms susceptible of various interpretations according to the varying philosophy and point of view of those using them – in this case, the electorate of the Dominion of Canada.

The political neutrality of the Crown and its status as standing only (in the political world) for the maintenance of “the rule of law” could not exist should The Queen substitute  her judgment (congenial to you or me on one issue, antithetical to you or me on the next) for the process by which laws are made. The Royal Assent has nothing to do with The Queen’s views on the substance of the legislation. As well, many laws are modified or overturned or, some would argue, are made, these days, by the Courts – the process in Canada sometimes called “reading in” – which rulings admit of no process of being overturned by the Crown – but only by fresh legislation (which itself would be subject to judicial review) or by a Constitutional Amendment according to the various formulae for same under The Constitution Acts 1867-date. 

So had The Civil Marriage Act 2005 been partially or wholly constitutionally deficient, the Courts could have so held. But given that it was passed through Parliament by the usual process by a Government of unquestioned legitimacy (in the Constitutional sense) AND after an affirmative pre-review of the Legislation by the Supreme Court using the right of the Government to so submit a reference case which is a long-established procedure) AND by a majority of the popularly-elected Commons in a “free” vote except for members of Cabinet and the NDP, and affirming the legislation 158-133, there can be no argument that it was deficient in the constitutional sense.
Of course the ultimate arbiter of national argument over divisive legislation is the ability of the public to “throw out the rascals” in an election and vote for a new government committed to changing the offending legislation. This did not occur, either.

All of which is a lengthy rehearsal of established Constitutional Convention in this Realm of Canada to say that one’s correspondents are simply dead wrong when they call The Queen complicit in “evil” in respect to the Royal Assent being given to this or that piece of legislation. The Queen does what she has always done: act as a perfectly-constitutional monarch, on the one hand, and as a universally-admired (or nearly so) figure in our national family precisely because she voluntarily surrenders the expression of personal opinion for the good of the Realm. 

Your friend might remember that one of the very few occasions on which she has broken this practice during her long and exemplary reign was c. 1988 to authorize her Private Secretary to reply to a letter from an aggrieved correspondent by which HM shared the view “all people” felt – I paraphrase – about how offensive was the film “The Last Temptation of Christ.”

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