Having reigned supreme for 60 years is a cause for celebration, I suppose. All those gruelling years of accepting homage, living in palaces and commanding obedience from uncountable commoners across the globe who reside in the 16 Commonwealth realms of Britain would be a hard task indeed. I wonder how she does it.
Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee celebrations have brought on many critical points of view and my sarcasm perhaps stems from the arguments of the anti-monarchists (in Canada) who cannot fathom why a modern, diverse and economically successful nation like Canada still endures a ‘foreign’ monarch as its head of state.
It is understandable why the custom of hereditary monarchy — which still presides in Canada — irks modern political sensibilities of Canadians. It was in 1947 when the right to be called ‘Canadians’ instead of ‘British subjects’ was earned by the people of Canada when the Canadian Citizenship Act was established. Then in 1965, Canada`s 14th prime minister, Lester B. Pearson — the most influential Canadian and mastermind behind all the welfare policies that define Canada — re-designed the national flag to remove the Union Jack and introduce the maple leaf as Canada`s national symbol. These were tall strides at the time and were not acts of rebellion but an assertion of Canada’s self-sufficiency and economic and political stability. Despite these little independences, the British monarch continued as Canada’s head of state.
Even though anti-monarchists have vociferously argued, Canada has never vigorously pursued a cessation from the monarchy like Australia has and Canadians in general have learnt to accept the members of the house of Windsor — some bear it with a glum face, some are indifferent and then there are some (a diminishing number) who indulge in hero-worshipping their royal highnesses.
Last year, during Kate and William’s visit to Canada which followed their nuptial celebrations, all the pro and anti-monarchy arguments were revisited and columnists had many comments to make. Jefferey Simpson wrote in the Globe and Mail that the monarchy in Canada results from, “a historical hangover from which Canada can’t extricate itself. To do so would require a constitutional amendment supported by the federal government and all 10 provinces — a theoretical possibility but a practical impossibility.”
With a grin or a frown then, Canadians continue to tolerate their British sovereign and each new Canadian swearing in at the citizenship ceremony is initiated into this acceptance when he/she affirms to be faithful and to bear true allegiance to her Majesty and her heirs and successors.
So last week when the jubilee celebrations were being held in London, including the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant where the Queen travelled up the Thames leading a flotilla of 1,000 vessels, Canada held its own celebrations.
The events in Canada were more diverse in their celebratory representations as the multicultural mix added its own flavour here. There were numerous community events including the signature ‘tea parties’ held to celebrate the British monarch’s favourite repast of the day. Menu offerings included multiple rounds of Earl Grey, strawberries and cream, and rhubarb pie as well as unique items like whale and reindeer meat (served at a sold-out tea party in a small city in Manitoba called Flin Flon). Hotels served jubilee-themed brunch on Sunday with one hotel even hosting a canine costume party with dogs dressed as their ‘favourite’ monarch.
With our Conservative Prime Minister being extremely pro-monarchist the federal government had set aside a considerable budget for the celebrations, to the chagrin of the ‘antis’. The official government website itself announced that it would invest “$7.5m to increase public awareness and encourage Canadians from coast to coast to organise celebrations”. $2m of this $7.5-m diamond jubilee programme was allocated for local celebrations for various activities ranging from souvenirs being designed and distributed to putting up commemorative sculptures. It was the Harper government’s idea to boost Canada’s ties with the monarchy. Though what Canada would gain from bolstering these ties is a bit ambiguous.
For my part, I`m not quite sure whether I`m a pro- or an anti-monarchist. Historical perspective dictates that I should hate the British because they enslaved us, took away our human rights and all that bunkum. But deep down I`m actually quite appreciative of their presence in our part of the world because they left us with a developed infrastructure which we are utilising to this day — the Clifton Bridge and the Native Jetty Bridge on which Port Grand is built and where Karachiites are now promenading, are just some examples that come to mind. I hope I`m never asked to cast a vote on the issue or never come face to face with her Majesty as I will be quite at sea whether to curtsy or turn my face!