Brian James MacKenzie Caldwell drove 100 miles from Brampton to attend. Another man arrived from Flesherton—160 miles away. And some 300 citizens of Peterborough, Ontario— stout monarchists all—braved a light drizzle to appear at the first meeting of C.O.W. (Crown or What), a local pressure group convinced that the Liberal government’s constitutional proposals are “a diabolical plot” to scuttle Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
“Make no mistake,” warned Bruce Knapp, C.O.W.’s founder and a former warrant officer in H.M. Royal Army Ordnance Corps. “We are at a dangerous crossroads in Canadian history.” To repeated bursts of applause, Knapp told an elderly, largely female audience: “It is time to tell this self-appointed court jester, Mr. Trudeau, who flaunts his respect for her office on every possible occasion, to keep his hands off the Crown.”
The conclave, one of the first public assemblies on Ottawa’s controversial constitutional package, seemed to agree. They bought 55-cent bumper stickers scripted: THE QUEEN YES, KING PIERRE NO! They paid 35 cents each to send Her Majesty a cable, begging her not to cede royal powers and prerogatives, “hitherto our shield against ambitious politicians.” And they dispatched another message to the joint House-Senate committee on the constitution (which this week begins writing its own recommendations for amendments) protesting “any federal attempt to usurp royal powers.”
In fact, Knapp, 60 (a seventh-generation Canadian descended from United Empire Loyalists) and a great many other monarchists believe Bill C-60 is nothing less than a blueprint for turning Canada’s constitutional monarchy into a republic. “If this bill becomes law,” says Peterborough insurance executive Ken Dalrymple, “we shall be a republic in all but name—and by stealth, not by choice.”
Other critics of the bill take a more temperate view, but there is little doubt the constitutional proposals are swimming in turbulent waters. The Senate is disenamored of the plan to turn the upper chamber into a House of Federation, with half its members appointed by the provinces. Indeed, the question of whether Parliament may unilaterally effect that change has now been referred to the Supreme Court of Canada—a move that renders unrealistic Trudeau’s July 1,1979, deadline for legislating Phase 1 of the reform package.
Ontario and the West are wary of the suggested expansion of the Supreme Court, since it would give Quebec four of 11 seats. What happens to the Senate and the high court, of course, will crucially affect Phase 2—the division of federal-provincial powers, perhaps the most contentious field of constitutional debate. The provinces have not been kind to Bill C-60 and they’ll get more target practice late this month in Ottawa at a meeting of first ministers.
Trudeau, under attack on the economy and the plunging dollar (see page 46) and facing critical byelections Oct. 16, is said to be willing to compromise on any point in the bill—except minority language rights. But that proposal, too, divided the House-Senate committee, as it divided Peterborough’s town hall monarchists. Canada has been trying for 51 years to patriate the British North America Act and reform it. The present climate strongly suggests that the process will not soon be at an end.
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