The Republic of Canada

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Canada is a constitutional monarchy and, following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Charles III became King of Canada. This event sparked a renewed debate about what form of government Canada should have. Should Canada be a republic, remain a monarchy, or find some other form of government? Recent polls have suggested that a majority of Canadians would favour a republican form of government. We should throw off our colonial past and adopt a form of government more suited to our times and nation. But this raises certain questions that must be addressed.

First, some basic definitions about government structure, specifically Head of State and Head of Government. The Head of State has important constitutional responsibilities but is, ideally, politically neutral. Currently, this is Charles III, represented in Canada by the Governor General. Also note that Charles III is King of Canada no matter what other domains he may “rule” over and this would remain so even if Great Britain were to declare itself a republic. The Head of Government is a political person who heads a Cabinet. Currently this is the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. What is significant about this is that for many republics, such as the USA, these two offices are combined in one person (a President). So, one question to be addressed is this: one office or two?

The next issue (partially dependent on the first) is: How should the person that replaces the monarch be chosen? By ballot, by the government of the day? By the provincial and territorial governments? Across the world, there are representations of each of these systems. Also, of note, the Australian republic referendum of November 6, 1999, failed precisely on this point. A majority of Australians favoured a republican form of government but failed to agree on how that republic should be implemented. The result is that Australia remains a constitutional monarchy. Also, related, should Canada have a parliamentary system, a congressional system, or something else?

There is, for Canada, a further complication. Section 41 of our 1982 Constitution Act mandates that a change to a republican form of government requires agreement between the House of Commons, the Senate and all 10 provinces. (Input from the territories is not required but recent changes to territorial governments would suggest that their views on the matter be considered.)

The only conclusion is this: if Canadians want to change from a constitutional monarchy to a republic, we will have to have a significant majority agreement on the exact structure and legislative powers of the new government. And this should be a one-time change. To remain a stable country, changes to the constitution should be infrequent and implemented with the belief that they will be permanent. In the meantime, we should work on how to make our current system more reflective of the nation. For example, is the current first-past-the-post the best method of selecting members to parliament or is there a method that would be fairer?