Prime Minister Stephen Harper may have been accused of borrowing from Australia in this year’s “Throne Speech” but the Canadian Government certainly isn’t following Australia’s lead on a push towards a republic.
The discrepancy between the two country’s republican movements is puzzling. Despite Canada’s official bilingualism, multicultural society and its relatively high profile in international affairs, Canada’s republican movement remains plagued by heightened levels of fear and traditionalism.
Republicanism is political taboo in Ottawa’s halls of Parliament. Although various members of the centre-left Chretien and Trudeau governments flirted with the idea of abandoning its anachronistic system, the Republican Movement has managed to move backwards over the last number of years.
The controversy generated by the pro-republican views of one of the Canadian Liberal Party’s high profile candidates is indicative of this slide.
Ross Rebagliati (a gold medallist for snowboarding at Nagano) came under fierce criticism in February for articulating his preference for a republic. His position was highlighted in an interview with the Toronto based Globe and Mail (February 17, 2010) where he remarked it was “time for Canada to stand alone ... it boils down to Canadians wanting to be Canadians and not have another country ... set the standard or path for Canada”.
The governing Conservative Party’s response to this position was telling.
Not content with providing a simple critique of Rebagliati’s position, the Harper Government turned to political point scoring. In response to earlier comments made by Rebagliati, the Conservative Party released a pernicious memo to its supporters claiming that the young candidate was not “high on the monarchy” (a reference to a faulty Olympic drug test which gave Rebagliati a positive reading for marijuana). More significantly, the Conservatives sought to gain political traction by attempting to tie the Opposition’s broader platform to Rebagliati’s perspective.
This sort of strategy and calculation gives a tangible insight into how the notion of republicanism has become riddled with negative connotations in English speaking Canada and the stigma republicanism carries.
It is also a strategy that stands in stark contrast to how the debate is carried out in Australia.
While Australia has a formidable pro-monarchy movement, in 2010 a Labor or Coalition candidate would not be admonished for revealing their preference for a republic. Events such as the 1998 Constitutional Convention and the continued constructive debate between the monarchist and republican movements point to a much greater level of political maturity.
Levels of fear and acrimony surrounding the issue are also not as blatant within Australia. Unlike Canada, the mixture of views within the two major political parties in Australia renders it unfeasible for either party to launch a party-based scare campaign similar to one initiated by the Conservatives.
After all, it was not that long ago that Australia had a Prime Minister and Opposition Leader who were both staunch Republicans.
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