Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and Royal Consort, as seen all week on the Government of Alberta’s web page (Photo: Screenshot).

It’s been more than a week since the death of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, but his pale blue eyes still stare resolutely from the home page of the Government of Alberta’s website. 

Given the challenges facing Alberta, a number of social media commentators have crossly suggested this is somewhat over the top. 

Queen Elizabeth, Mrs. Windsor (Photo: Joel Rouse, Open Government Licence).

But our United Conservative Party premier, Jason Kenney, does love the monarchy, and so it would seem do a lot of his political advisors. So this outpouring of affection for the Royal Consort, a job title that makes the work sound a lot more fun than it probably was, should not come as a surprise to any of us. 

But why do Canadian Republicans love the monarchy so much? 

By Republicans, of course, I do not mean republicans, as in people who believe Canada ought to be a republic, necessarily. 

Rather, I mean Canadian conservatives in their various provincial and regional permutations, people who have almost completely adopted the attitudes, strategies, tax policies and talking points of the American Republican Party. All but for but a couple of minor points, that is, those being their adoration of the monarchy and the colour they choose for their lawn signs at election time. 

Political labels can be confusing this way. Canadian Conservatives are just American Republicans with a maple leaf flag hanging limply in the background, if you go by ideology, strategy, tactics or their growing contempt for democracy. 

Similarly, British Columbia Liberals are really Canadian Conservatives. Canadian Liberals are really small-c conservatives, and Alberta New Democrats are too. Canadian New Democrats, I would say, are confused – unsure if they are Liberals (conservatives), Conservatives (Republicans) or Canadian Greens. 

There’s nothing uniquely Canadian about this, of course. Australian Liberals are also Republicanized Conservatives. Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party wasn’t remotely revolutionary ages before it ceased to be quite as institutional as it once was. Even the Communist Party of China doesn’t seem very communistic any more. 

Prince Charles, Philip’s son, who may or may not be in line to occupy the British throne (Photo: Arnaud Bouissou, Creative Commons).

All of them are to one extent or another neoliberals. 

But, I digress. 

Since modern neoliberalism under the Republican banner – or, as we say in Canada, the Republi-Cons – takes a pretty agnostic position on monarchies, why do Canadian Cons love the British Monarchy, which they constantly remind us is constitutionally speaking the Canadian Monarchy too, so much? 

Well, it’s said here they love it for the same reason that British Conservatives love the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family – pardon me, the plain old Windsors. Because, “that is, subtly, with its claque of a press, the crown helps make a Conservative vote seem the British patriotic norm.”

We owe the foregoing insight to Polly Toynbee, explaining in the Guardian on Tuesday how the monarchy has been weaponized by the right.

“The miasma of monarchy sets a stamp of respectability on whatever rottenness hides beneath,” she explained in an essay prompted by the Royal Consort’s departure from this plane of existence that could be quite helpful to Canadians as we decide what to do about this anachronistic institution when Mrs. Windsor, better known as Queen Elizabeth II, transitions and we are confronted with the prospect of having to get new business cards from all our lawyers because they have transitioned from Q.C.s into K.C.s.

Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee (Photo: cooperniall/Flickr).

We don’t know much about the actual politics of the Royal Family, although it’s reasonable to assume that they’re pretty conservative in the traditional sense of the word, Philip’s son Charles’s dalliance with green causes and populist architecture criticism notwithstanding. (This may explain why certain otherwise royalty-loving conservatives are anxious that the Crown pass over Charles and land upon his son, William.)

But while “the monarchy never stopped the country electing a progressive government,” Ms. Toynbee observed, “the pomp of the crown acted as useful cover for the wild insurgents subverting the Tory party.”

There were better choices every step of the way along the Conservatives’ “ruinous post-1979 path,” she argued. Britain could have put their North Sea oil revenues into a sovereign wealth fund like Norway, instead of pissing it away like Alberta. They could have invested in education, instead of weaponizing ignorance. 

“The authentically patriotic choice now is to invest, with inspiration from Joe Biden,” she wrote. “Instead of planned cuts, plough funds into our sciences, the arts, sport and invention.” The same could be said, in the same words, about Alberta. 

“This week is a reminder of how their culture war weaponizes the monarchy,” she explained. “Unchecked, these bullies will terrorize all unorthodoxy as unpatriotic.” 

Of course Mr. Kenney’s strategic brain trust views the monarchy in exactly the same way. 

Ms. Toynbee proposes that Britons “see off the rotten party that brought the country low, and end the Elizabethan era with some of the optimism with which it began.”

As for us Canadians, I think we can do one better. Not only should we see off the Conservatives until they’re truly conservative again, we should bid a fond farewell to Britain’s monarchy, set a course to become a progressive republic, and perhaps even realize the dream of leaving neoliberalism where it belongs, with kings and princes on the ash heap of history. 

In such a Canada, Conservatives might be Republicans, but republicans would be democrats!

Coverage of Prince Philip’s funeral, which will doubtless dominate CBC programming throughout the day today, begins at 9 a.m. The Consort’s photo, presumably, will be removed from sometime next week.

NOTE: despite the quotation marks, The Guardian’s British spellings have been edited to reflect prevailing Canadian practice, just as I was taught on the copy desk at the Globe and Mail, which in those days always knew better, even when it came to what a politician’s first name ought to be. Joseph Clark, c’mon down! 

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    1. Sorry about that, and thanks for the heads up. The link is now working. DJC

  1. Dave, I can see where you’re coming from re: the monarchy. and I’m not a monarchist myself, but would you really want to reopen the constitution right now? The neo-Trumpians in AB might consider themselves Her Majesty’s loyal subjects, but what fresh new hell in provincial autonomy would they be contemplating while the Republic of Canada was coming into being?

  2. I think the Queen would be Mrs Mountbatten if normal convention were to apply. Philip was a Mountbatten after the Battenbergs changed their last name to not appear quite so Germanic for patriotic reasons. Also, the OED, and probably the Globe and Mail, has always preferred the ize endings unlike the average Brit. However, as we were taught in Grade Nine in Nova Scotia sixty years ago, it is analyse and paralyse, with not a zed but an ess. The real difference in practice is that Americans spell practice the noun as practise, and the verb “to practise” as “to practice”, thereby getting things completely wrong. Webster was an Anglophobe. No doubt like me, you have lately seen the increasing practice of Canadians in print dropping the double ell in words like travelling and levelling, and I’ve seen the Brits starting to do it as well. Spell check is wonderful for those who rarely crack a book, paper or electronic, but it leaves them no basis as to what spelling is supposedly correct.

    On less interesting matters, I found your commentary on the monarchy apropos and quite to my way of thinking. I do feel sympathy for the Queen on her most personal loss of a treasured lifetime partner.

    Speaking of whether the UK Tories rely on the monarchy to whip up votes, I think the UK is in for a very rough economic ride from the EU, a neoliberal country versus a neoliberal bloc who both despise each other. The Northern Irish border with the Irish Republic as member of the EU is a great bone of contention between the two. Furthermore, the EU’s policy of enforcing strict customs documents and procedures on British exports is ruining thousands of small British exporters, particularly in the specialty industries. Boris and his Tory band of ideological ministers, fully up to UCP standards of doctrinaire stupidity and duplicity, have led their fellow citizens down a path to economic ruin with Brexit. The austerity to follow will be real because there is no money to do otherwise, even if Boris and his merry band of Tories wanted to give Brits a break. But they live in a make-believe world where anyone beyond their sceptred isles is a “foreigner”, and class divisions in the UK are more deep than Canada’s. Was born in England, went back there for post grad study after a decade in Canada from age 12, and I know the general outlook. kenney and the Canadian Cons are just pikers by comparison, but they sure would like to be reliably elected seven times out of ten. Too bad for them they cannot crack the Canadian middle class code, I think. People here have more sense than to want to be like aristos, so all the Cons have left is regurgitating the usual talking points for the umpteenth time. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a change in voting results except now and then in special circumstances, shows the moribund nature of Con thought, and the inability to inspire people by a vision of a better future — Con philosophy is that the past was better. Works like a lead balloon without the trapping of past glory of Empire to dream about. Shh, don’t tell ’em, it might give them a clue.

  3. One must ask the question: do CON-servatives on this side of the pond like the monarchy so much because of colonialism? Is it because they want to reinforce powers over racialized minorities, and a weaponized monarchy accomplishes this?

    This seems to fit in Alberta, where the premier had no qualms about blaming people in northeast Calgary for Covid, without acknowledging the reality that Covid is a socioeconomic and gender-based phenomenon. And how about his refusal to help this quadrant of the city, doubly hit by a catastrophic hail storm, then Covid-based job losses? Help the (higher-paid, mostly white male) oil workers in Fort McMurray, but ignore the plight of tens of thousands of families that don’t have significant savings to draw on for restoring basic needs for shelter.

    “Oil workers” is code for white males. “Monarchy” is code for suppressing anyone who is “other”.

    Where, by the way, is our Lieutenant Governor? Her name is Salma Lakhani. She seems to have been “vanished”. We should not forget her power. She can dissolve the provincial legislature in times of political crisis, or when the a majority of the people oppose the government in power. That time is now. Although this power has rarely been used, perhaps it should be. We live in unprecedented times. Why do we have a Queen’s representative, if these appointments are merely a mirage?

    Remember Michaëlle Jean? We came so close. Must the Queen’s representatives always acquiesce? In that way, they allow themselves to be the weapons of whatever government is in power. They serve no useful purpose in our Canadian democracy.

  4. Well. I am a social democrat and a republican in favor of sacking this rotten lot. The fact that people were sad that someone dies at 99 years when this happens everyday is quite amusing. The same can be said for the fact that they procreate. While it is true that they serve a constitutional function, other countries have roles that are similar. France and Israel have presidents who carry out the functions of the governor general and lieutenant governors. I hope that we will have a referendum as Australia did in 1999 and almost came close to cutting their ties. I will bet anyone that they will do it before we do.

  5. Pussycat, pussycat, where y’all goin’ with this?

    We’w, ven, oy bin to O’awar a vist vuh ‘ead o’ state, mate,
    Nowt in Russia, nowt on a plate, mate,
    Nowt in a castle full we’w a spoiled brats,
    But to Canerder wif, loik’, ‘em foin beaver ‘ats,
    Neiver per chance a fall on yer knees,
    But a guv’na, as foin as you please,
    As foin an’ gen’l, an’ we’w knows ‘er plice,
    ‘An only ve money e’r sees ‘er fice.
    ‘An fer ve werkin’ Can’ok, alone she’s ve best,
    In merry ole England we moind a’ ve rest.


    The Royal Family has but one task with respect Canada: to ‘put the biscuit in the basket,’ as ‘t were, so we don’t have to elect a head of state—who, BTW, is a single soul, not a family, and as Canadian as maple syrup.

    The Sovereign is definitively the most conservative officer possible: the realm, in our case the Canadian federation, must be conserved. Anybody says it ain’t, ain’t a conservative.

    It has evolved that the feudal state invented by King William I in the years after The Conquest in 1066 (in the land of his birth and regular home, William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, he was merely a vassal of the French Crown) became an imperial state, then a Commonwealth of former colonies of which Canada is now the largest and richest. In 1982, the Queen (not the Royal Family, nor any other person in it) became, constitutionally, our head of state. The “monarchy” has become as apolitical as it possibly can without Canada becoming a republic.

    The office remains quintessentially conservative, but without any ideological philosophy. And though that be intentionally purposeful, you’d hardly know it by the misconceptions taken for granted these days, so much so that few know that conservatism once had as little to do with politics as Clausewitz aphorized (that is, it was almost entirely strategic)—just as most would be surprised to realize that liberalism was once touted as a way to dispense with politics altogether (like technocracy, anarchism, and socialism).

    Our head of state, the Queen (and, by mere coincidence, her whole family), lives in a time when celebrity is king, and she (and her family) subject of it, which is why the whole networked planet presumes a right to be busy bodies with respect her late husband’s demise. As far as Canada is concerned, he might have been anybody so long’s he served the Queen in issuing our next head of state. Thus we avail the rules of royal succession in order the office is passed on without any partisan politicking whatsoever. It is failsafe for that—we’ll never get a tRump, for example—but also because, if there was no issue, the rules provide an instantaneous alternative (the line of succession is remarkable short before including ordinary plebeians—indeed, when Richard III’s body was recently discovered under a parking lot in Leicester, UK, genetic verification was gotten from a distant descendant who happened to be Canadian, hadn’t a clue about his pedigree, and was as ordinary as a plumber).

    As a human being, the late Duke of Edinburgh was aristocratically blessed by birth but used his position altruistically and successfully: his children’s physical resemblance would seem proof of our next HoS’s legitimacy and, anyway, in this case, the issue is of the Queen alone, regardless the father. I mention this with the greatest respect only to introduce the technological temper of our times. He was a remarkable person but, once heirs and spares were born, of no constitutional matter to Canada. His family and many admirers condole, but our country remains the same.

    It’s moot that people say we should get rid of the Royal Family, but only slightly less so to say we should get rid of the unelected office of HoS. The most succinct rejoinder is that it would require a constitutional amendment. Is it enough said that, unlike the HoS subject, an amendment would be so charged with everything it is not—that is, with political, partisan and patriotic provincialism—as to be, for all practical purposes, impossible to get the requisite ratifications. The pseudo-controversy does have one practical application: like amalgamation of sovereign provinces and abolition of the Senate, it’s a handy distraction for politicians in a pickle. Indeed, we might get extraordinary consensus that, as our current distraction over the Royal tragedy suggests, we all seem to agree we’re definitely in a political pickle like never before (and only bicker about the details). So, get rid of the Monarchy? Well, maybe read up on constitutional amendment in Canada. It’s, like, a full negatory. Jason.

    Let’s wonder if it’s irony that, as impartial, impersonal, and perfunctory as the office of HoS is in Canada, Elizabeth Windsor’s personal life neatly correlates with the trend that we’ve gotten rid of much of the Canadian ‘monarchical’ office already. North America’s relationship with the United Kingdom began in the 16th century as England gained world hegemony but, with Canada, it properly began in 1759 when (now~)UK conquered New France. Although the Brits had clipped Royal prerogative by 1689, the Crown still had political influence in the Empire (for example, King George III could decree the Royal Proclamation in 1763, commanding Crown agents to treat with indigenous nations in colonial territories). A couple of rebellions later (a big one creating the USA, two little ones creating a couple of Royal Commissions in the Canadas), Elizabeth’s great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria began relinquishing colonial power as remaining BNA colonies confederated to become Canada. But the seminal transfer of national sovereignty from UK to Canada didn’t happen until December, 1931, by the Act of Westminster when Elizabeth was just five years old. Although not the beginning of the trend, it marked the substantial diminishment of —or “getting rid of”— the last vestiges of Royal prerogative on the road to a commonwealth of constitutional monarchies of which Elizabeth II is still, remarkably, the Sovereign Queen. She meets diplomatically with heads of state as Head of States.

    As Prince Philip’s funeral reminds, British sovereignty has conserved its martial bearings. Princess Elizabeth of York served in uniform during Britain’s most trying era: rallying the troops and keeping up morale—in fact, doing what the original drafters of the American Constitution intended to restrict the Presidential office to (which should be a warning about electing this office—like we don’t have to do). Certainly there was a lot of politics and diplomacy to do at the time (as well as fighting and reconstructing—all well documented by the King’s literary Prime Minister Churchill), but the neither the Princess nor her father had anything to do with that. In fact, she became heir apparent to the throne precisely because of her uncle’s decidedly political, partisan and patriotic positions which led to his abdication in favour of his brother who thence became George VI. After the War, she married Prince Phillip and they got down to the business of relevant importance to Canada: producing heirs and spares, their eldest, Prince Charles, the heir apparent and our apparent HoS.

    But Elizabeth’s remarkable life of service didn’t stop there. She of course has many diplomatic duties as HoS of 15 Dominions and as head of the Commonwealth with about as many associated republics. Of primary importance to Canada was her granting of Royal Assent to the Constitution Act 1982 (popularly, if incorrectly, called “repatriation”). In addition, we might consider: what other head of state has survived Hitler’s rampage, the collapse of the world’s greatest hegemony, the nuclear arms race, the collapse and partitioning of the world’s largest nation, the conquest of space, celebrity cultism, neoliberal globalization, the internet and gene-editing technology?

    Her job is not her celebrity, nor her family’s infamy, nor even about her remarkably long and interesting life. Rather, for us here in Canada, it is simply to guarantee we have governments (she’s Queen of eleven sovereignties in Canada alone) which can act at all times. As we know, voters elect parliaments in which it isn’t always easy to recognize which members will form government. She delegates guaranteeing we have active, timely government to governors for whom she is the beacon of informed, impartial, nonpartisan, apolitical, unelected leadership.

    The only thing that remains of power which used to be total for British monarchs is the contingency that she must be ready to fulfill if, by some freak circumstance, both government and governor are temporarily indisposed, and the fundamental conservatism of the office—that is, of our nation of which her office is sovereign.

    It has nothing to do with the conniving, manipulative, ambivalent, divisive, ignorant or unpatriotic gyrations of our info-overloaded, self-indulgent, greedy, inconsiderate society. Of that, nothing remains of conservatism, liberalism, or socialism.

    Good thing we have such a head of state when all about her partisan politicians are losing theirs.


    1. I usually agree with our host, but in this case I think you’re right. As bad as the Royal Family is, we have to have some way of choosing an arbiter of tight electoral outcomes and a political office is bound to be politicized. Perhaps better, then, to acknowledge that sometimes an undemocratic office can be more democratic than a democracy. But why not a uniquely Canadian monarchy, started by some remitted offshoot of the Royals, no longer welcome in England’s green and pleasant land? Y’all know who I mean.

  6. To start, I sort of think as the monarchy as a mirror on our society. Everyone sees something reflected, mostly what they want to see. Politically, yes pro monarchists tend to be more conservative in views and those who are not in favour of the monarchy tend to vote for other parties.

    I suppose the whole meaning of the word conservative, which actually has a bit more meaning than the pablum republican US term, is about conserving or keeping things the way they are. So, in Canada, those who are satisfied with the current system and/or have done well in it, tend to be Conservative party supporters. Of course, party names are not always totally logical, nor are the parties always consistent in their views. The Institutional Revolutionary party is a good example. There is some inherent contradiction here. Also, we don’t need to abroad to find similar contradictions – Progressive Conservative was a good one. Well, at least Federally, they decided they really didn’t want to try be progressive anymore, so they solved that one and changed their name.

    However, one area of conservation not supported much by Conservatives is in environmental areas. In their efforts to not change, they also can ridiculously fall behind times, like when we were having debates about gay marriage and abortion in the last Federal election, more than a decade after these things had been decided. So, I suppose it is also not a surprise that more than a decade after a carbon tax was proposed by other Federal parties, the Federal Conservatives are still debating that one too.

    It is a balance to achieve electoral success. No one wins an election for being ahead of the times – for instance, ask Stephane Dion about that one, he proposed a carbon tax before our country was ready for it. However, voters are not eager to support parties that seem to be living way in the past, even if it seems a comfortable place for these parties and their supporters.

    Likewise it is a balance for a monarchy to seem relevant. Prince Philip probably seemed modern in the 1950’s and 1960’s with support for wildlife conservation and his interest in science, but not so much more recently. If you are fortunate to live a long life, the world will probably eventually change beyond what you know and are comfortable with. So it will be up to the next generation of the British Royal Family to try to be more relevant and relate to modern society or not, when they get their turn.

  7. DC great column, as always. Your headline immediately brought to mind these lines from The Outstation by W. Somerset Maugham (which some of us studied in school more than a half-century ago): “Mr. Warburton was a snob. He was not a timid snob, a little ashamed of being impressed by his betters, nor a snob who sought the intimacy of persons who had acquired celebrity in politics or notoriety in the arts, nor the snob who was dazzled by riches; he was the naked, unadulterated common snob who dearly loved a lord.”

  8. Never thought of any plumber as “ordinary”; more along the lines of “necessary”, so also electricians, back-hoe operators, fruit pickers, and I could go on. On the other hand, the veerrryyy rich royal family, wealth built over time on the travails of “ordinary subjects” as is the case with wealthy persons and families throughout history even to this day, has not much going for it other than photo ops and speeches written for them by more ‘ordinary’ persons who “know their place” and thus conform to the way things are. Cannot, for one, think of anything that the Windsor bunch does that is “necessary”, but that is really anathema in this little world of neoliberal agendae from all and varied.

  9. The only true claimant to the British throne is the House of Stuart of Scotland. The present occupants are from the House of Saxe-Colberg & Gothia. Germans.

    I refuse to recognize the pretender, Elizabeth. Mary Stuart was murdered by Elizabeth Tudor, whose family stole the throne from the Plantagenets.

  10. The sooner we’re rid of this embarrassing symbol of undeserved wealth, ostentatious waste and inherited, illegitimate political power, the better off we’ll all be. Would trade every royal who has ever existed to live in an actually egalitarian society. Would also love to not have the news cycle interrupted for a week every time one of these over-indulged celebutards breeds, dies, or passes gas.

  11. Implementing a new Head of State is more trouble than it would be worth. Thanks to Canada’s flawed repatriation of its Constitution, any changes (such as moving past the Monarchy) would likely spiral the country into a dark hole of distraction, conflict and disunity as various provinces and groups try to jockey for positioning on other constitutional issues. Pierre Trudeau’s legacies “haunt us still” like a demon of the undead that will never go away. Canada already has enough problems with regressive federal policies taking the country back to the low economic growth, high inflation, escalting debt and regional discontent of the 1970’s and 1980’s.

  12. This blog probably not the place for offering a take on history but here’s quick 2C worth

    Just Me’s reference to Elizabeth Tudor’s family stealing the throne ties in with Scotty On Denman’s reference to the discovery of Richard 111rds body. Henry Tudor returned from France to the land of his birth and defeated Richard 111rds army during which the later was killed, and later buried under what became a parking lot. Henry became king and brought to an end the thirty two years long civil war known as the war of the roses. Other than the German occupation of the Channel Islands during the second world war this was the last successful invasion of Britain. Mary Stuart was the great grand daughter of Henry Tudor. She was a grandchild of Henry V111 who having had six wives possibly had many grandchildren.

    Back to the commonwealth. It originated during the decline of the British empire. The colonial system was based on Britain importing cheap resources from its’ colonies and selling the products of industrialized Britain the colonies, e.g. clothing, textiles, machinery, locomotives, ships, guns and munitions…etc. With independence former colonies joined the Commonwealth, which could be considered a multi state marketing agreement primarily benefitting the interests of British capitalism. Patterns of world trade change and the Commonwealth has become mostly outdated. The royal family seems an anachronism, little more than fodder for celebrity gossip. They remain useful to politicians as a convenient source of distraction

  13. Whoops. Got it wrong about Mary Stuart. She was a great niece of Henry V111. My apologies to readers for the error.

    This is a timely coincidence. An education focused on critical thinking may have precluded later mistaken recall of the family trees of long deceased royalty.

    1. I’m not going to argue with you about this. The Tudors and the Stuarts are dead to me. DJC

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