The Diamond Jubilee Book Reviews 4: The Evolving Canadian Crown edited by Jennifer Smith and D. Michael Jackson

The Evolving Canadian Crown, a volume of papers first presented at the June 2010 conference, “The Crown in Canada: Present Realities and Future Options” contains the answers to every conceivable question about the workings of the Canadian constitutional monarchy. The contributors to this volume cover a diverse range of topics including the role of provincial Lieutenant Governors in what is often described as “the Compound Monarchy,” the relationship between the crown and the Canadian parliament, the history of the crown’s relationship with the First Nations and the Quebecois, and how the Canadian crown compares to other commonwealth constitutional monarchies. At a time when polling data demonstrates that numerous Canadians are unaware of the crown’s place in Canada’s political system, The Evolving Canadian Crownis an invaluable resource that should be part of the library of anyone interested in Canadian history and politics as well as the workings of the commonwealth.

Readers who enjoyed The Secret Of The Crown: Canada’s Affair With Royalty, which I reviewed a few weeks ago, will find The Evolving Canadian Crown to be the ideal book to read next about the Canadian monarchy because the contributors expand on many of the issues raised by John Fraser. The degree to which the “Canadianization” of the crown following the appointment of exclusively Canadian born Governors General after the Second World War has minimized the role of the sovereign is of particular concern to contributors Jacques Monet and Serge Joyal. These authors propose longer terms for Governors General, more working visits by members of the royal family and greater opportunities for consultation between the Prime Minister and the crown to improve the visibility of Queen Elizabeth II’s role in Canada’s government.

Joyal argues that the appointment of Canadian born Governors General has resulted in a “hybrid” system where the Queen actually reigns but her representative performs the crown’s duties in Canada. The most famous example of this interpretation of the Canadian crown is former Governor General Michaelle Jean’s 2009 speech before the United Nations cultural agency in which she described herself as Canada’s Head of State. Christopher McCreery effectively refutes this interpretation of the 1947 letters patent in the third chapter of The Evolving Canadian Crown.

It would have been interesting to read an article in The Evolving Canadian Crownabout Canada’s British born Governors General  as there is evidence that these aristocrats and members of the royal family were encouraged to present themselves to the public as Canadians by hosting comparatively informal receptions at Rideau Hall and displaying enthusiasm for winter sports. As R.W. Sandwell discusses in Majesty in Canada: Essays on the Role of Royalty, the Duke and Duchess of Argyll endeared themselves to Canadians by receiving people from all walks of life during their extensive tours of the country in the 1880s. The Duchess described her enjoyment of skating and sleigh riding in her correspondence. The Canadianization of the Governor General’s office was clearly underway long before the Second World War.

One of the great strengths of The Evolving Canadian Crown is that it draws on the entire history of monarchy in Canada. The reader is reminded that New France was governed by the French crown until the  territory was formally ceded to Great Britain under the 1763 Treaty of Paris, at the end of the Seven Years War. The book contains reproductions of the portraits of the French monarchs who were Kings of Canada, which are currently displayed in the Foyer and Salon de la Francophonie of the Canadian senate, as well as British monarchs from the eighteenth century to the present. The longstanding relationship between the Crown and Canada’s First Nations people is also covered in the chapter by David Arnot, reminding the reader that land treaties were negotiated directly with the crown.

The Evolving Canadian Crown places Canada within a comparative context, discussing how the monarchy is perceived in Australia and New Zealand. Australia has already held a referendum on the question of severing ties with the constitutional monarchy but Peter Boyce argues that this outcome is unlikely in the future, as Australia’s government and citizens have different views concerning the selection of a potential president of an Australian Republic.

In New Zealand, attitudes toward the crown are more positive, particularly as the structure of the modern state dates from the Treaty of Waitango between the Maori leaders and Queen Victoria. In New Zealand, as in Canada, there is a close relationship between the crown and original inhabitants of the state. These chapters of The Evolving Canadian Crownare fascinating and it would have been interesting to read additional pieces concerning the crown in the Caribbean particularly because Jamaica is considering becoming a republic on the 50th anniversary of the nation’s independence.

The Evolving Canadian Crownis a collection of thought provoking articles that demonstrate the continued relevance of the crown to Canada’s political system. The inclusion of comparative and historical pieces as well as essays about current events involving the Governor General will appeal to any reader interested in Canada’s government and history as well as the wider commonwealth.

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