Enough with the royal treatment

July 15, 2009

Guelph Mercury, 7/15/09GG

What a funny little colony this is.

Earlier this month, a breathless Canadian Press reporter stated in complete seriousness that a spokesperson for Stephen Harper insists “the prime minister did not pocket a communal wafer given to him at a funeral.” She was referring to the, er, uproar, over a video that allegedly shows the prime minister slipping a wafer in his jacket after accepting it from a Catholic priest during a funeral for former governor general Romeo LeBlanc.

Wafergate is about as big as it gets when it comes to non-monetary scandals north of the border. There’s no Argentinian mistresses here, thank you very much. We’ve got our hands full with these dang wafers.

But the wafer nonsense distracts from the bigger story hidden in that Leblanc funeral in a New Brunswick church: why were we having a big state sendoff for a man who represents an institution that means less and less to Canadians?

This is not to take away from Leblanc’s contributions to Canada as an Acadian member of Parliament. He served his country and deserves to be honoured in death. But you can bet many among the thousands of dignitaries who crammed into tiny Memramcook were there simply because he had been the Queen’s representative, the Governor General, an institution that is revered publicly, but increasingly questioned in private.

And that’s precisely the problem. A poll conducted on Canada Day by the Strategic Council showed barely 30 per cent of Canadians feel any connection to the Governor General, or the Queen. A full 65 per cent of us think our ties to the British monarchy should die once the Queen passes away.

I’d bet $10 that even fewer of us could explain what the Governor General actually does, or why we have one. Tom Freda, national director of Citizens for a Canadian Republic, thinks he knows: “The Governor General has literary awards and cuts ribbons and plants trees and travels to Nunavut and eats seal meat.”

Freda was speaking in a recent report in Maclean’s magazine that shows keeping the Queen a part of Canada is costing us more and more. We’re now paying more to support the monarchy per capita than even the British are. The cost has more than doubled in the past decade alone.

Sure, it’s still relatively small change: $1.53 from each of us. But that’s more than $50 million for 2007, the year most recent figures are available. Think that money could be spent elsewhere? How about doing away with this highly ceremonial Governor General and our band of provincial lieutenants, and creating a new, efficient and modern institution for our head of state, for Canadians and by Canadians?

Part of Canadians’ growing distaste for the monarchy might have something to do with the circus the Royal Family has become. After the Queen, what do we get? For one, we get Prince Harry — a dysfunctional celebrity figure no more important to our country than Paris Hilton or Mel Gibson.

Behold his majesty: he’s the one who likes showing up at parties in a Nazi uniform, calling fellow soldiers a “Paki” and others a “raghead.” That’s our boy. The third in line to be king of Canada. Turns out, he’s just another 24-year-old tool.

So before we bow down, it’s worth asking: Is that the kind of guy we want on our coins?

Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based freelance writer. His column appears Wednesdays. He can be reached at greg_mercer@hotmail.com, and past columns can be read at gregmercer.ca.

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