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Debate between monarchists and republicans in Canada has been taking place since before the country's Confederation in 1867, though it has rarely been of significance since the rebellions of 1837. Open support for republicanism only came from the Patriotes in the early 19th century, the Red River Métis in 1869, and minor actions by the Fenians throughout the 1800s. However, paralleling the changes in constitutional law that saw the creation of a legally distinct Canadian monarchy shared with the other Commonwealth realms, the emergence in the 1960s of Quebec nationalism, and the evolution of Canadian nationalism, the cultural role and relevance of the monarchy altered and was sometimes questioned in certain circles, while continuing to receive support in others.

It has been estimated that only 0.6% of the population is actively engaged in any debate about a republic.

The debate

In the early 1800s, reform-minded groups began to form in the British colonies in Canada; from them rose William Lyon Mackenzie, who, along with Louis-Joseph Papineau, was the first prominent proponent of a republican Canada. Their causes were countered by the Lieutenant Governors and Executive Council members at the time, as well as a majority of the colonists, who did not espouse a break with the Crown, and the rebellions ultimately failed.

Debates over the monarchy and its place in Canada also took place through the 1960s and 1970s, following the rise of Quebec nationalism. Republican options were discussed following the sovereigntist Parti Québécois' (PQ) election to power in Quebec, but only specifically in relation to the province. However, the non-Quebecker attendees at the 1968 Constitutional Conference agreed that the monarchy had worked well and was not a matter for discussion. Even prominent calls for a republic, such as those issued by the Toronto Star editorial board in the centennial year of Confederation, did not inspire action amongst the wider populace.

The Cabinet in June 1978 put forward the constitutional amendment Bill C-60, that, amongst other changes, potentially affected the sovereign's role as head of state by vesting executive authority in the Governor General, and renaming the position as First Canadian. Some academics, such as Edward McWhinney, supported these proposals, though they were opposed by others, like Senator Eugene Forsey, who said that the government had managed to "[stir] up a hornet's nest with a short stick." From that year's First Ministers' conference in Regina, Saskatchewanmarker, the provincial premiers (including that of Quebec) issued a statement against what they saw as a unilateral attempt by the federal government to push through alterations to the monarchy, and expressed their opposition to "constitutional changes that substitute for the Queen as ultimate authority a Governor General whose appointment and dismissal would be solely the pleasure of the federal cabinet" a message that was reiterated at the conclusion of the 1979 meeting, and echoed in newspaper editorials. Decades later, David Smith stated that the federal government at the time had "misperceived the complexity of the Crown [and] failed... to recognize its federalist dimension."

After his press secretary, Peter Donolo, in 1998 unaccountably announced through a media story that the Prime Minister's Office was considering the abolition of the monarchy as a millennium project, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien stated that he was open to a public debate, but never pursued the matter and expressed concerns about resulting divisions, saying that he "already had enough trouble on [his] hands with the separatists of Quebec, and didn't want to take on the monarchists in the rest of Canada, too."

Other media at the time noted that, though there was "no longer any strong idea behind the Canadian monarchy and its representative," in the absence of which "there can be no pulse in common between the people and their constitution," there simply was no debate about any republic amongst the general populace, with discussion limited to a political and journalistic few. An inadequate number of willing participants was pointed to as a reason for this phenomenon which was seen as a manifestation of what Carolyn Tuohy had called Canada's "institutionalized ambivalence" as well as a lack of alternate model to be discussed, with no method put forward by which the powers of the Crown could be soundly transferred to a president, no definitive solution to where Canadian sovereignty would be placed should the sovereign be removed from Canada, nor any means by which the constitutionally required consent of all 11 parliaments (one federal and 10 provincial) could be achieved. It was also theorised that Canadians had a growing sense of distrust for politicians (which is what a president would be), more pressing issues to deal with, and no appetite for nationally divisive constitutional change. Political scholar David Smith expressed his thoughts on how the Canadian monarchy had benefited from this dearth of discussion, feeling that monarchist arguments in favour of the Crown, despite their strong legal and logical foundations, were actually counter-productive, serving only to further distance average Canadians from their Crown, which they perceived mostly through the filter of mass media.

Former Minister of the Crown John Manley expressed republican sentiment in 2001 and 2002; these opinions were supported by Donolo, but were rebuked by other Cabinet members, a former prime minister, and the Leader of the Opposition, as well as a number of prominent journalists.

Lawrence Martin called for Canada to become a republic in order to re-brand the nation and better its standings in the international market, he cited Swedenmarker a constitutional monarchy as an example to be followed.

Debate on the monarchy was seen through the 2000s in other Canadian media, generally at times of national significance, such as Canada Day and Victoria Day, or during a royal tour.

In 2007, Quebec's Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs, Benoît Pelletier, expressed his opinion that it was "not impossible that we might have to reconsider the role of the monarch, the lieutenant governor, and the governor general... I'm not saying that the monarchy must be abolished, but it will take some thought, especially on its usefulness and relevance. Then, some weeks later, Quebec sovereignty again collided with the monarchy, when Quebec separatists threatened to mount demonstrations should the Queen be in attendance at the ceremonies for the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City; Mario Beaulieu, Vice-President of the Société Saint-Jean Baptiste announced that the Elizabeth's presence would be a catalyst for action, saying: "You can be sure that people will demonstrate in protest... We are celebrating the foundation of New France, not its conquest. The monarchy remains a symbol of imperialism and colonialism. Her presence will not be welcomed", and Gérald Larose, president of the Quebec Sovereignty Council, stated that the monarchy was "the most despicable, appalling, anti-democratic, imperial, colonial symbol against which all social and individuals rights were obtained through the course of history." Despite these threats, the provincial government still desired the Queen's attendance, but the sovereign's federal ministers decided to advise that she stay away. Pelletier again spoke out: "this controversy would be provoked by a minority of people, and we can't be at the mercy of [those] who still have their gaze turned towards 1760," while the Mayor of Quebec City, Régis Labeaume (who was himself a former separatist), stated that he saw the Queen's presence as a potential bonus, and even theorised on having either Prince William or Prince Harry invited. In the end, while France's head of state attended the fête, Canada's did not, and was instead represented by her viceroy.


When constitutional amendments were being considered in the 1960s, the role of the monarchy was not strenuously questioned, as it was deemed to be "no great priority in the present round of constitutional changes." This statement was reflected in the four opinion polls conducted in 1970, which showed that the monarchy was favoured by two thirds of those questioned. The Canadian Institute of Public Opinion asked nationally: "Do you think Canada should continue to pay allegiance to The Queen, or do you think we should become a republic with an elected president?" To this, 50% opted for retention of the status quo, 33% favoured a republic, and the remainder declined to answer. Further, the answers differed by region: in Quebec, 46% wished for a republic as against 23% for monarchy, while in Ontario the monarchy was favoured well above the national average, and support was even higher in the western provinces. Older persons (over 50 years) were the strongest advocates for the monarchy than any other age group, although those in their 20s also gave their preference for the Crown. Similarly, another poll that year revealed that in Canada, exclusive of Quebec, the monarchy was of no issue to 37% of the populace, and a further 41% rated themselves as loyalists, although many of the older responders "recognised that youth had different ideas which might have an effect in the future."

Through the 1990s, Angus Reid Strategies orchestrated two national polls on the monarchy, one in 1993 and the other three years following. Both asked the question: "Thinking about the monarchy's role here in Canada, all things considered, do you think Canada should preserve its formal constitutional connection with the monarchy, or should Canada move to abolish its formal constitutional connection with the monarchy?" The responses in 1993 were 51% supporting and 42% opposing abolition, and in 1996 were 47% supporting and 44% opposing removal of the Crown. Monarchists found the wording of the question in these polls to have been the least biased of any survey taken on the subject of the monarchy from 1993 onwards. Republicans, however, felt the question's wording had influenced the results, with "preserve" indicating the safe status quo, and "abolish" sounding more violent. Another poll by Pollara in 1997 asked: "As you may know, Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain is also Queen of Canada, our official head of state. Do you favour or oppose abolishing the monarchy when the present Queen dies and having a Canadian head of state, or does it really make no difference to you?" The results were 41% favouring abolition, 18% opposing, and 39% not caring. While monarchists and republicans agreed that the wording was weighted, each thought so for different reasons; monarchists felt the Queen was made to appear as un-Canadian, wile republicans felt it was made too easy for respondents to offer a neutral response. Then, in 1999, Gallup surveyed Canadians, asking them: "Do you believe Canada should have a monarch as its head of state, or should Canada discontinue its ties with the monarchy?" 48% said the monarchy should continue, 43% said it should discontinue, and 9% offered no opinion. Republicans were disappointed with this question, stating that the alternative presented should have been "a Canadian citizen" or continued "ties with the monarchy", the exact type of wording monarchists felt skewed later polls.

A poll conducted by EKOS Research Associates in 2002 showed that support for the abolition of the monarchy was declining, yet also highlighted a number of contradictions in public opinion. 48% of respondents agreed and 35% disagreed with the statement: "instead of a British monarch, we should have a Canadian citizen as our head of state." Yet, at the same time, 43% disagreed and 41% agreed to the same statement worded slightly differently: "it's time to abolish the monarchy in Canada," results that differed from those found in 1996, when 27% disagreed and 47% agreed. Monarchists suggested that the confusion may have been due to the skewed question that referred to a "British monarch" as Canada's head of state, unreflective of the reality that for Canada the sovereign served distinctly as the monarch of Canada. Indeed, only 5% of those surveyed were even aware that the Queen was in fact Canada's head of state, with 69% thinking it was the prime minister, and 9% believing it was the governor general. Still, 55% agreed that the monarchy kept Canada distinct from the United States, while 33% disagreed.

Ipsos-Reid also took a poll in 2002, and found that 79% of Canadians supported "the constitutional monarchy as Canada's form of government where we elect governments whose leader becomes Prime Minister," and a further 62% believed the monarchy helped to define Canada's identity. At the same time, however, 48% of Canadians said that "the constitutional monarchy is outmoded and would prefer a republican system of government with an elected head of state, like in the United States," and 65% believed that the royals were simply celebrities who should not have any formal role in Canada. The same poll found that 58% of the population felt that "the issue of the monarchy and the form of Canada's government isn't important to them and if the system is working OK why go through all the fuss to change it?"

Two other firms conducted polls on the monarchy in 2002: Léger Marketing's showed that 50% said yes and 43% said no to the statement: "Elizabeth II is currently the Queen of Canada. Do you (yes or no) want Canada to maintain the monarchy?" Also, a majority (56%) answered in the affirmative and 39% negatively to the question: "In your opinion, should we replace the head of Queen Elizabeth II on the Canadian dollar by those of people who have influenced Canadian history?" Monarchists were wary of the latter question's assumption that Queen Elizabeth had somehow not been influential in Canadian history, while republicans felt that the first question led respondents to answer in favour of the monarchy because the words "maintain the monarchy" implied safety and the status quo. The survey taken by COMPAS, as commissioned by the National Post/Global Television media outlet, showed that 63% of Canadians "believe the monarchy should retain or strengthen its role in Canada," while 12% felt moderately that the monarchy should be abolished, and 18% felt strongly about the same. 69% agreed with the statement: "the government accepts the Monarchy but doesn't give it much thought."

In 2005, The Strategic Counsel polled Canadians for The Globe and Mail, asking: "When you think of the Governor General of Canada, do you regard this position as very important, somewhat important, not very important, or not at all important to Canada?", to which a net 57% felt the viceroy was important, and 39% expressed the opposite opinion. To the question: "Under the Canadian Constitution, Queen Elizabeth holds the position of Head of State. The Governor General is the Queen's representative in Canada. Do you support or oppose that the British monarchy remain the Head of State in Canada?", the results were split with an identical 47% opposing and supporting, and 9% undecided. That same year, Rogers Media and Maclean's commissioned Pollara to mount a poll, which revealed that 46% supported and 37% opposed the question: "Do you support or oppose Canada replacing the British Monarch as Canadian Head of State?" This survey was deemed by monarchists as skewed for two reasons: It mentioned the "British monarch" rather than the "Queen of Canada", and it was conducted after the announcement of Prince Charles's marriage to Camilla Parker Bowles an announcement that was unpopular, even with some monarchists. Then, in 2007, Angus Reid Strategies took an online survey of 1,032 Canadians, asking the question: "Under the terms of the Canadian Constitution, Queen Elizabeth II holds the position of Canada's head of state. Would you support or oppose Canada ending its formal ties to the British monarchy?" Net supporters totalled 53%, 12% were unsure, and 35% expressed opposition. When asked the same question but also to consider Prince Charles as king, support for ending the monarchy was tallied at 55%, with 13% unsure, and 31% opposed. Monarchists perceived four flaws with this poll: the question referred to "formal ties", implying that the monarchy was both perfunctory and restraining; the reference to the Canadian monarchy as the "British monarchy" implied the institution was foreign; and the entire question was worded to favour a response that was negative towards the Crown, only a negative response to the question bringing a favourable result for the monarchy. Confusion was also expressed over the results of a third question in the poll that asked respondents: "Thinking about the future King of the United Kingdom and Canada, which of these options would you prefer?" with the three options being: Prince Charles succeeding Elizabeth II, Prince William succeeding Elizabeth II, or "neither, there should be no monarch after Queen Elizabeth II." The results were 20% and 35% for the first two options, respectfully, and 29% for the neither option, contradicting the 55% support for ending the monarchy.

The company conducted another poll in 2008, which revealed that 55% of respondents supported ending "formal ties" with the "British monarchy". This figure rose to 58% when respondents were asked to consider the prospect of Prince Charles as our head of state. This poll also, however, revealed the same discrepancy as that which emerged in the poll Angus Reid had taken the previous year, where only 32% said there should be no monarch following Elizabeth II. Further, just 25% of those aged between 18 and 34 strongly supported abolition of the Crown, with the result rising only 2% when considering Charles as king. Angus Reid composed the question as it did despite an earlier request from the Chairman of the Monarchist League of Canada to the Director of Global Studies for Angus Reid Strategies, asking that future surveys not use wording freighted with British bias.

Reader's Digest in 2009 commissioned Harris-Decima to conduct a survey that found Queen Elizabeth II to be the person second-most trusted by Canadians, following behind David Suzuki.

The fact that many Canadians continue to not completely understand exactly what a head of state is, or the true nature of the Canadian monarch's role, can cause problems in drawing concrete conclusions from poll results. For instance, Michael Valpy pointed out in The Globe and Mail that the prevailing mood towards the monarchy suggested that there was no great need seen for changing the system; that, in and around 2002, polls showed that younger Canadians demonstrated majority support for the monarchy; and that, in general, Canadians took the attitude that if the institution works, don't fix it. On the other hand, Citizens for a Canadian Republic interpreted the results of the four polls conducted in 2002 as showing a majority of Canadians supporting the ending of the monarchy in three, and support divided equally for both camps in one.

According to an October 2009 poll commissioned by "Canadian Friends of the Royal Family" and conducted by the Navigator firm, more than 60% of Canadians felt that constitutional monarchy was an outdated form of government. At the same time, polls also found that nearly 60% approved of Prince Charles becoming king, and showed only 53% desiring a severance of "ties" to the monarchy, 49% agreeing the country should be a republic with an elected head of state.

See also


  1. {{Citation| last=O'Neill| first=Juliet| title=The fight for the Republic of Canada| newspaper=The Ottawa Citizen| date=2 October 2002| url={1f3ef50e-2a74-401b-883e-ad27a04b271a}| accessdate=16 February 2009}}
  1. {{Citation| last=O'Neill| first=Juliet| title=The fight for the Republic of Canada| newspaper=The Ottawa Citizen| date=2 October 2002| url={1f3ef50e-2a74-401b-883e-ad27a04b271a}| accessdate=16 February 2009}}


  1. {{Citation| last=O'Neill| first=Juliet| title=The fight for the Republic of Canada| newspaper=The Ottawa Citizen| date=2 October 2002| url={1f3ef50e-2a74-401b-883e-ad27a04b271a}| accessdate=16 February 2009}}

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