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September 02

Do I Look Like a Serf?
by Colin James Haslett

The Queen came to town last weekend, and Canada’s deputy Prime Minister Mr Manley got himself into some hot water. It seems that he had the temerity to suggest that maybe Canada doesn’t really need a monarch any more. And even worse than merely suggesting such a thing he made his suggestion at this most (in)appropriate of times, when he knew the media would pick up on it like a starving dog on a dead rat. The man is a politician, and without a doubt he was perfectly aware of the controversy he would stir up and the effect his timing would have on it, and I don’t think his ulterior motives should be too difficult to deduce given Mr. Chretien’s upcoming retirement. None of this challenges the inherent validity of his statements, and I’d be willing to go one step further. Not only does Canada no longer have any need for a monarch but Canada should be in a hurry to divest itself of its monarch.

I have a very good friend who is a staunch monarchist, at least as firm in his beliefs as I am in my own anti-monarchism. He makes arguments about tradition. I counter with other wonderful traditions like slavery, indentured servitude and taxation without representation. He says that the queen is a rallying point for Canadian culture, a symbol that we can use to identify ourselves as Canadian. I point out our flag, which no longer has a Union Jack on it, our social safety net, which is admittedly full of holes but still does a better job than most other nations, and our charming refusal to call back bacon anything but back bacon. He opines that Elizabeth II is a sweet old lady who makes people smile and feel happy when she visits us. I suggest that this county has tens of thousands of sweet old ladies who make people smile when they visit, and their names are Grandma. It’s just that most of them don’t get the attention they deserve and none of them get to travel around the county in first class on the taxpayers’ dime.

I know that a lot of people who oppose the monarchy do so on fiscal grounds, and many oppose it from a nationalistic standpoint. My own opposition is based on a simple democratic principal – equality. In a democratic society every member of that society is considered equally worthy, by virtue of simply being a member of that society, to have a voice in deciding how that society functions. In a democratic republic this is put into practice by giving every citizen the vote, to do with as they please. Politicians, police officers, business owners, retirees, homemakers, soldiers, office and factory workers, teachers, welfare recipients, actors, CEOs, even convicted felons in prison get a vote and every vote counts exactly the same. Use it or not, every one of them gets the same vote in the next election. And, once again, every one of them gets the exact same vote because they are equal in the eyes of their society.

Not so in a monarchy. In a monarchy a single individual is deemed to be the ultimate moral authority for the entire society. This person has total power over the functions of law, trade, taxes, diplomacy, etc for the whole of the society. True, in practice a monarch would have advisors and subordinates but the ultimate authority belongs to this one individual. Sometimes this individual has attained such a position through conquest, sometimes by leading a revolution, sometimes by order of the church, but in general this individual is deemed morally superior to everybody else in that society just for being born. And for some reason I find the idea that someone can be born morally superior to anybody else very disturbing.

I do believe that an individual’s physical and mental potentials are determined by heredity. Whether or not a person achieves those potentials is another matter entirely: genes for particular characteristics can be stymied by environmental factors. However, I am perfectly willing to admit that if somebody is faster or stronger or smarter than me then their advantages may be a result of nothing more than the accident of their birth. But none of these sorts of advantages, in and of themselves, make one individual morally superior to another, let alone the mere presence of their potential. Simply put, morality is not hereditary.

I’m also not so naïve as to believe that every individual in any society is in fact morally equal. I could rattle off quite a list of people whom I consider morally inferior to myself without too much difficulty but they’re also the kind of people who’d likely sue me for libel and slander and malicious honesty, so I won’t. And in all humility I could come up with a fairly good list of my moral betters but I wouldn’t want to make any of you blush, so I won’t. My criteria, the general criteria I believe, for determining someone’s moral standing are the actions they’ve taken in the course of their life. How much weight I give to particular types of actions will undoubtedly be different from the weight other people might give them, but it should be easy to see that just being born can not be given any moral weight at all. It should also be easy to see that nobody can be given any credit for the actions taken by other people, at least not those actions taken before their own birth which, obviously, they could not have had any hand in. So once again morality is not hereditary.

But a monarchy functions on the fundamental supposition that morality is hereditary. Monarchy functions on the basis of an ethical falsehood. As long as Canada has a queen or king as its head of state then the people of Canada live under a monarchy and the foundation of our government is morally unsound. How can we demand parliamentary or senate reform, how can we demand political accountability when the head of our government is accountable to no one, when our system of government is inherently unethical?

In practical terms Queen Elizabeth is a figurehead. I realize that she appoints Governor Generals who, in her name, sign into law pretty much whatever parliament and the senate tell them to sign into law. The likelihood that she would ever pull rank and prevent a bill being passed into law is pretty much non-existent. But my point isn’t that she would but that she can. She can because Canadians acquiesce to her inherent claim of moral superiority by accepting a government headed by someone who supposedly was born into that position. How anybody can not find this distasteful is beyond me. Canada needs to end its monarchy and shift its form of government to one that represents the ideals of equality that its constitution puts forth, for if we will not discriminate on the basis of sex, race, religion, age or what have you how can we discriminate on the basis of bloodline. Canada needs to live up to its promise of a democracy by moving its government out of the middle ages and into the modern age. Monarchies may have been just dandy in medieval Europe, but this isn’t medieval Europe. I’m a Canadian citizen, with a voice equal to that of each and every one of my fellow Canadian citizens, not a serf.

© Colin Haslett October 2002

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Editor's note: All opinions in Hackwriters are the writer's own and not necessarily reflective of the magazine. We welcome diverse views on public issues.

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