The Sovereign and the Snowflake

Well, what can I say: you can’t win ‘em all.

Canadian monarchists had a good week overall. The King met with Indigenous leaders. The RCMP were front and centre in the procession. The Canadian government finally announced that the King’s effigy would not only be on coins, but that his image will replace Queen Elizabeth II on the $20 bill (I was genuinely surprised that they were so decisive here.) The King also got an updated standard and a stamp.

Not a bad batch of good news for an institution that isn’t particularly en vogue among Canadians at the moment.

Alas, there was also a fly in the anointment.

The Canadian government unveiled a new Canadian Royal Crown. The new Canadian model features maple leaves, a wavy blue line, and a snowflake on top. The snowflake in question is instantly recognizable to any member of the Laurentian Elite; it’s the same design used for the Order of Canada.

If your monarchism is steeped in tradition or religiosity, the new Canadian Royal Crown is an aberration. The other realms will be going with the Tudor Crown, which King Charles III has chosen to use, instead of the St. Edwards Crown that his late mother employed. Those two historic crowns reflect continuity and the Crown’s inherent ties to the Christian faith. Canada’s new Royal Crown, however, grafts Canadian nationalism and agnosticism onto a deeply English and religious symbol. Like nearly all efforts to modernize and Canadianize the monarchy, the result looks awkward and forced. Over time, though, it’ll probably be accepted or met with a shrug of indifference.

The Canadian Royal Crown comes after the government included a new Canadian royal style and titles in the budget bill. The updated royal style and titles drops the United Kingdom and Defender of the Faith for Canada. From now on, the King will be “Charles the Third, by the Grace of God King of Canada and his other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth”. That made be chuckle a bit, since ten years ago we were told that the retention of the United Kingdom in the royal style and titles was evidence that Canada automatically takes the British monarch as our own. Louis St Laurent’s argument that the offices of the Sovereign of the United Kingdom and Canada are not separate hinged on that language, too. Most importantly, we were told by both the government and the courts that the preamble to the Constitution Act 1867, which holds that Canada was confederated under the Crown of the United Kingdom, ensures that the British Parliament decides who sits on our throne. Now the royal style and titles won’t align with that supposedly fundamental language in the preamble. I dunno, seems kinda odd.  

As I argued in a recent book chapter, though, the Crown has no consistent meaning in Canada. Our understanding of the Canadian Crown twists, pivots, and turns to meet the demands of the day. When political expediency requires that the Crown be British, it’s the Union Jack all the way. But when we want the Crown to be Canadian, we break out the snowflakes.

To the monarchists who find this latest round of maple-washing distasteful, therefore, I can only recommend patience. A future government might insist that we go back to the Tudor Crown. The importance of history and tradition will likely be re-emphasized. The British connection may be stressed again. The preamble to the Constitution Act 1867 trumps the statutory royal style and titles, and nobody is under any illusion that Canada inherited the monarchy from the United Kingdom and that the royal family are fundamentally British.  

Snowflakes melt but the monarchy endures.

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