It is highly unusual for a government to use a throne speech to announce what it is not going to do. But there it was last week, in a section dealing with national unity: “There is no intention to change or to reduce in any way the role Her Majesty plays." The remarkable passage was the clearest indication yet that Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals realize they have been outfoxed on one of the most enduring and emotional issues in the realm—the monarchy.
The abuse started when Trudeau unveiled proposed changes in the constitution which substitute the words “Governor-General” for “Queen” (“It shall be lawful for the Governor-General ..... to make laws”). Trudeau
submits that the amendments do nothing more than formalize long-standing practice. The government revealed last summer that no less an authority than Elizabeth herself is “content” with the change in usage.
But Trudeau’s political opponents are not amused. On the eve of this week’s byelections, for example, Conservative leader Joe Clark protested that the government does not plan to refer its monarchy provisions to the Supreme Court for a ruling on their constitutionality. “The government,” Clark declared, “should stop trying to fool the people about its intentions regarding the monarchy." Trudeau shot back that Clark is “using the monarchy as a political football.”
Throughout, the key text—Bill C-60—has been little quoted. Just what does it say?
“The sovereign head of Canada is Her Majesty the Queen, who shall be styled the Queen of Canada and whose sovereignty as such shall pass to her heirs and successors...
“There shall be an officer for Canada styled the Governor-General of Canada, who shall be appointed by the Queen ... on the advice of the Council of State [cabinet] of Canada, and who shall represent the Queen in Canada and exercise for her the prerogatives, functions and authority belonging to
her in respect of Canada by the Constitution of Canada . . .
"The executive government of and over Canada shall be vested in the GovernorGeneral of Canada, on behalf and in the name of the Queen.”
The government’s opponents warn that these passages alter the style and usage of the British North America Act of 1867. The government retorts, in effect, that this is not the Canada of 1867. Letters Patent of 1947, in fact, gave Canada’s governor-general the right to “exercise all powers and authorities” of the King. Thus, while King George VI formally authorized Canada’s declarations of war against Germany and Japan in 1939 and 1941, the then-governor-general approved the peace proclamations which formally ended the war with Germany and Japan in 1951.
“We’re not trying to change anything,” Trudeau insists. “All we’re doing is saying: let’s put (the practice) in the constitution.” In an attempt to end the clamor, the government last week said it would bring in a new constitutional bill, and a senior official let it be known that Ottawa is even prepared to rewrite the wording on the role of the monarchy. The government fears that the monarchist backlash could prompt the formation of rival groups who might attack the Queen. “Then,” observes Trudeau, “we will have a fight in this country.”
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