Long May She Reign Over Us
When she was born, Great Britain was still an Empire which saw the Union Jack fly as far away as Africa, India and Jamaica. The right to vote did not exist for women in such nations as France, Spain and Italy. In Germany, a madman who would unleash horrors that still haunt humanity to this day was only a little known convict playing on the marginal fringes of politics. The Prime Minister of Britain was a Tory called Stanley Baldwin, in Canada it was a Liberal who went by Mackenzie King. Years later, when she ascended to the throne, the occupant of 10 Downing Street would be a man named Winston Churchill.
The person I am referring to is Her Majesty, Elizabeth the Second, the Queen of Canada amongst her many other titles. Quite recently she celebrated her ninety birthday, and holds the honour of being the longest serving Monarch to ever sit upon the throne of the emerald isles known as Great Britain. During that glorious, long reign she has served with duty and fortitude and indeed not a single remarkable blemish or cause for reproach. Given the current acrimonious and at times juvenile state of politics south of the border, I imagine there are not a small number of Americans staring enviously across the Atlantic and wondering forlornly if perhaps their reaction to the Tea Tax was a tad bit overdone and ill thought out. Indeed it is a testament to her that even the most diehard and fanatical republicans within the existing commonwealth concede that even the faintest prospect of abolition of the Crown will only be possible after the sad and mournful day when Her Majesty finally passes from this world to the next. I imagine that would be Cromwells will be disappointed if they are pinning their hopes on Prince Charles; aside from the Prince of Wales being rather unfairly besmirched for the rather common sin these days of having a bad first marriage what will doubtlessly be a massive outpouring of grief and royal nostalgia when the day finally comes that Charles III finally ascends to the throne when combined with the immense popularity of his son William, the Duke of Cambridge, all but ensures there will be little threat to the continuation of the line of Windsor for many generations to come.
Despite the momentousness of the occasion, though, if one had blinked the entire affair would have been missed. There was an obligatory press released by the Prime Minister, accompanied by a few social media posts from various other public figures. This, along with a scant few flowery articles in some of the major newspapers was all that marked the start of the ninth decade of our Sovereign and Queen. What should by all rights have been a day of joyous celebration was instead merely one as any other. The truly depressing part is that it is not even that surprising.
It is not as though here in Canada the state of the Monarchy is in any immediate danger. Recent polls (which always seem to be commissioned on occasions such as this) show that a strong plurality of Canadians support the preservation of the status quo. Sadly though, the sense one gets from parsing these numbers is that this support lies heavily upon a somewhat disinterested resignation from much of the population; the general sentiment held by most people that it would simply be too much bother and fuss to ditch the whole thing when overall it has no tangible effect upon their day to day lives. As unfortunate as this state of affairs is, it is really not that surprising either. Indeed, Canadians benign indifference to the Monarchy is one that has been very deliberately engineered over the decades. For all that the varied incarnations of the Tories have consistently been stalwart champions of the Crown from the earliest days of Sir John A MacDonald to the most recent administration of Stephen J Harper, the majority of Canada’s modern history has seen the Liberal Party hold the reins of power. While their ironic conservative aversion to controversy has left the Liberals disinclined to ever openly pick up the mantle of republicanism, their base of support in Quebec has also nixed any hope of them ever fully embracing the all too British institution of the Crown. Instead we have had a rather insufferable compromise where our various Liberal prime ministers have simply ignored the monarchy altogether while promoting what they see as an authentically “Canadian” identity that in concrete terms has amounted to little more than platitudes, relativism and empty gestures.
The sad result of this is that most Canadians live their entire lives totally ignorant of the true history and heritage of their own country; a heritage that stretches back to Alfred the Great who first began unifying the various Kingdoms of what would become England to repel pagan pirates and plunderers who plagued the island’s shores. The Queen is vessel of that heritage; the living embodiment of Burke’s covenant of blood and custom between generations past, present and future; a covenant that inspired hundreds of thousands of Canadian young men and boys to cross the Atlantic Ocean to fight for King and Country in the mud of the Somme and Passendale and Vimmy Ridge, the hills of Sicily and Monte Cassino, and the beaches of Normandy; a covenant that rallied the first sparse settlements of colonists from Britain and loyalists from America to unite with the Lower Canadien Quebecois to repel invasion by America in the War of 1812. It is not that we have forgotten who we are, but rather than far too many of us never learned to begin with.
An identity and history is ultimately the guiding force of a people. It is the safety line keeping us tethered in a tumultuous sea by illuminating the way forward via recognizing the path taken by those that came before. When cut lose from it, man is left adrift and lost in a great nothingness of empty platitudes and rootless cosmopolitan relativism. Indeed, it is not much of a stretch to suppose that much of the rampant depression and sadness of modern life, despite the plethora of materialistic pleasures that are available to us as never become, comes from a unconscious recognition of the sheer emptiness of it all underneath the glitzy façade. In our case the tether has not so much been cut as deliberately forgotten and we are left the poorer for it. So in defiance I say (belatedly) a “Happy Birthday” to Her Majesty, the Queen, and hope she may long reign over us for at least another ninety years!