The Queen may live long, but not forever, and life in the Commonwealth will carry on
Barbados intends to replace the Queen as head of state within a year, which would make it the first country to do so in nearly 30 years.
The British government and Buckingham Palace both said simply that this is a matter for the Barbadian people.
“The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind,” said Sandra Mason, Barbados’ Governor-General, in a speech on behalf of Prime Minister Mia Mottley, whose Labour Party commands a parliamentary majority that could speed the process.
“Barbadians want a Barbadian head of state. This is the ultimate statement of confidence in who we are and what we are capable of achieving.”
Although Barbados has tried this twice before, the cultural omens are good for successfully becoming a republic by next November, the 55th anniversary of its independence. Now seems as promising a time as ever for anti-monarchists to strike anywhere in the Commonwealth.
The Queen may live long, but not forever, so soon enough the pomp of a monarch’s funeral will pass and life in the Commonwealth will go on. Money will have Charles’s face on it, from ear to ear, and all the functions of state governance in Canada will be carried out in his name, with the “R” of criminal prosecutions standing suddenly for Rex rather than Regina. A
new King of Canada would soon come for a visit.
“There will be a rude awakening,” said Tom Freda, co-founder of Citizens for a Canadian Republic, which advocates replacing the Queen as head of state with a democratically chosen Canadian citizen.Most Canadians think the royals aren't relevant anymore, some willing to leave monarchy, poll finds After years of mixed messages, Trudeau signals he's treating the Crown more seriously What happens to Canada should Queen Elizabeth II die: The behind-the-scenes plans
With Harry off in California as a private citizen, William unlikely to get the tap for another decade at least, and Buckingham Palace vacant for the foreseeable future as the Queen has decamped to Windsor, the stage is set for another episode of Canadian republicanism, which has a rich tradition of failed legal efforts.
The personality of Queen Elizabeth seems to be “the one thing that holds the monarchy together in Canada,” Freda said.
This is not institutional support, he said. It is affection for Elizabeth as the best-loved monarch perhaps ever, at least since Victoria, and longer serving, having advised prime ministers since Winston Churchill in 1952, and signed Canada’s constitution into force in 1982.
Barbados fits this idea, by taking action in the monarch’s 94th year, but the project is not a foregone conclusion, even if it does not go to a referendum. Barbados has made similar vows before, as have other Caribbean countries including Jamaica, where a referendum is a common campaign pledge that has never actually happened.
Guyana made the replacement official in 1970, Trinidad and Tobago in 1976, and Dominica in 1978. The last country of the former empire to remove the Queen as head of state was Mauritius in 1992. Australia voted against becoming a republic in 1999.
In Canada, efforts have occupied jurists more than politicians.
One such legal challenge ended in 2014 with an appeal ruling forcing new Canadian citizens to swear an oath to the Queen “does not violate the appellants’ right to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience because it is secular; it is not an oath to the Queen as an individual but to our form of government of which the Queen is a symbol.”
That same year, then Attorney-General Peter Mackay, actually put it in writing that Queen Elizabeth “cannot unilaterally deploy the Canadian Forces,” to settle a dispute with Aralt Mac Giolla Chainnigh, a lifelong military man and Canadian of Irish heritage who served in Afghanistan and retired as professor of physics at the Royal Military College of Canada. He objected to toasting the Queen at formal dinners, and swearing allegiance to her. He lost too, but was pleased to have his voice heard.
The Queen’s death might make republicanism more popular, and get it into the media, but it will not make the project easier, Freda said.
The British media coverage has cast the Barbados decision in light of domestic race relations issues, including Black Lives Matter and the Windrush scandal of historical deportations and discrimination against British subjects of Caribbean ancestry.
Canadians are similarly taking greater notice of historical injustices committed in the name of the Crown, particularly against Indigenous people.
But Freda does not see that as much of a factor. He would like to think so, because it would theoretically help the cause, but Canadians have a way of seeing the present monarch apart from the monarchy.
Replacing the Queen with a domestic alternative ― “a truly Canadian head of state,” as it was once provocatively put by the former Liberal Foreign Minister John Manley, a rare republican in federal cabinet ― is an effort to “shed the last thread of colonialism,” Freda said. But it is not the same as the effort to decolonize, to undo or repair the crimes of colonial
“If Canada was being set up today, no one would pick monarchy as a system for head of state. We just fell into it,” Freda said.
Even the Queen’s present popularity is a republican argument, Freda argues.
“If you enter popularity contests, then you’re asserting a republican principle,” he said, that the people’s preference is important. So if they have a choice, then they should have a choice.
The thing is, he said, even those who find a foreign-based monarchy the most ridiculous or objectionable tend not to think about it very much.