Is it time to drop the Crown as head of state?  

by Shirley Yue Chen, News & Campus Life Associate Editor

The Coronation Procession of Charles III and Camilla
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons, Katie Chan

Canada, a constitutional monarchy, currently recognizes King Charles III as its head of state. 

On February 5th, 2024, Buckingham Palace announced that the 75-year-old monarch was diagnosed with cancer and will take a pause from public duties. Meanwhile, the first batch of Canadian coins with the king’s effigy has begun to circulate. This once again raises the question of the monarchy’s place in Canada. 

After Charles became monarch following Queen Elizabeth II’s death in September 2022, the Bloc Québécois forwarded a motion in the House of Commons to abolish the “anachronism” of the British monarchy. 

Although the motion was dismissed, over half of Canadians (52%) strongly echo this sentiment. 

Poll results regarding the future of constitutional monarchy in different Canadian provinces. 
Image source: Angus Reid Institute

Notably, people identifying as Indigenous and/or visible minorities are less likely to wish for Canada to remain a constitutional monarchy, revealing tense relations rooted in the British Crown’s legacy of colonial violence. In 2021, Indigenous protesters in Manitoba toppled the statues of Queen Victoria and Elizabeth II in response to the discovery of mass graves at a residential school site.   

General support for recognizing the king dropped from 48% after Elizabeth’s death to 40% in mid-2023. Two-thirds of Canadians oppose the motions of swearing an oath to the King, singing “God Save the King” at ceremonies, and putting Charles on their money.  

Student Opinions

The anti-monarchy trend is especially prominent among the younger population under 35. We asked students at U of T for their opinions.

An anonymous student, who is a Canadian permanent resident, has a neutral view of the monarchy’s role. They believe that the Crown does not impact Canada’s actual governance, making it not as relevant. 

“In my opinion, the monarchy serves primarily as a symbol of Canada’s historical ties to Britain.” The student states. “Printing their images on bills can be seen as a way to honor that history, reflecting a sense of tradition and continuity in Canadian society.”

Nadya Stefirta is a first-year student in Life Sciences and a Canadian citizen. She admires Queen Elizabeth as a supporter of charity work, but thinks less positively about King Charles due to his tumultuous history involving Princess Diana.  

“I do believe [the Queen] did good, but I understand if people have an issue not particularly with her, but with the [legacy of] British Empire as a whole. [Regarding Charles,] personal life aside, I don’t have any strong opinions yet as a ruler.” 

Nadya has “mixed feelings” about seeing Charles on the $20 bill, because she is unsure if he merits the position based on his hereditary privilege alone, with his reign being so recent. 

“With Viola Desmond, she made a big impact as a civil rights activist, which is why I believe she deserves to be on the $10 bill. But Charles just came into power [and] didn’t do anything impactful so far.” 

Mantoj Kaur Grewal, a fellow Canadian citizen and a third-year student in Biochemistry, shares similar doubts, since “there are more deserving people whose faces we could put on the bills.”

Regarding the monarchy’s future in Canada, Nadya is fine with keeping it as a symbolic head of state out of “a place of comfort [and] stability.” By contrast, Mantoj does not think Canada should continue as a constitutional monarchy. 

“Monarchy is a thing of the past.” Mantoj says. “We live in a democracy and Canada is a separate country [from Britain] now.” 

Both Nadya and Mantoj believe the budget that the Canadian government spends on the monarchy — more than $50 million per year — is too much. 

Nadya questions the monarch’s concrete benefits for Canadians: “I don’t know what the British monarch does for us that we need to pay that much for, when we are also having our own internal problems, like poverty and homelessness.”

Mantoj envisions better ways to spend this money: “I think this number is ridiculous, especially in times like these when inflation is high and people can’t afford living costs. There is so much more that we can invest in, [such as] health, schools, et cetera.”

Conclusion: Is Change Possible?

Barbados has removed the monarch as its head of state and officially became a republic in 2021. Many other Caribbean countries, such as Belize, Jamaica, and the Bahamas, are considering the same course of action. New Zealand also shows an inclination to depart from the monarchy. 

Even in the U.K., only 29% of respondents consider the monarchy very important — a record low according to the National Center for Social Research. Royal spending funded by taxes, like Charles’ coronation, drew criticism against the backdrop of record-high inflation and economic crisis. 

The Royal Canadian Mint unveils a coin with the effigy of King Charles III. 
Image source: John Woods/The Canadian Press

In Canada, a constitutional change requires unanimous approval from all levels of federal and provincial government, which would not be granted without “an overwhelming consensus in Canadian public opinion.” Despite growing dissenting voices, one-third of Canadians prefer to remain a constitutional monarchy. As such, getting rid of the Crown remains difficult as of now. 

For the foreseeable future, the monarch seems to be a formality that is here to stay — one that has cost Canada $58.7 million dollars from 2019-2020 alone. 

Despite the lack of legal obligation, Canada puts the King on its money because it has been a symbol and a tradition (since 1908). 

But we must continue to ask: a symbol of what? A tradition of whose? How do we reconcile a head of state rooted in heredity and imperialist histories with our democracy and multiculturalism? 

Australia has chosen an Indigenous design to replace Queen Elizabeth on its five-dollar bill. Perhaps we, too, can start with these “smaller” changes. 

We may get to the budget eventually, and then the constitution. Baby steps.

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