Thursday, July 1, 2010

Happy Birthday Canada!: From Colony to Constitutional Monarchy--A Model for MENA? Saudi?

Our Queen is visiting her "home", Canada,  for 9 days from June 28 to July 6, 2010. She is to visit Halifax Nova Scotia, in celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the Canadian Navy, then Ottawa, the national capital, where she will unveil a sculpture of Canadian jazz legend Oscar Peterson, and one of herself as well as participate in Canada Day (July1) celebrations. Later stops include Winnipeg Manitoba, Waterloo Ontario and Toronto Ontario.

Queen Elizabeth II is "Our" Queen because the head of state of Canada is the Monarch of England, whose representative at the national level is the Governor General, and at the provincial level, the Lieutenant-Governors. The Prime Minister is the head of government at the national federal level, and the Premiers are the heads of the provincial governments. This is a question on the citizenship exam which many Canadians would get wrong.

Above is the Royal Standard of Canada. The Queen's official portait as Queen of Canada is below. The Biography of the Queen relates her life with particular reference to Canada.

When the Queen said on arrival that she was coming "home" to Canada, her words rang true in the sense not only of her sovereignty but of her numerous visits. Of all the English monarchs who have reigned over Canada, she is the one who has visited the most; of all the countries of the her Commonwealth, Canada is the one she has visited most often. These are recorded by Heritage Canada:

Royal Visits to Canada from 1758-1951 (From the first to prior to Queen Elizabeth II's Reign)
Royal Visits to Canada by all contemporary Royals
Visits to Canada by Her Majesty The Queen

This Visit So Far

As always, the Queen is warmly received, and the public come out to see her voluntarily. She is the most beloved among the Royals, and certainly far more than her son Prince Charles, the heir apparent. However, opinion polls show that Canada is generally lukewarm about the monarchy, and has taken little note of this visit--despite the valiant reporting efforts of the CBC. As always, too, such a visit leads some, especially among pundits to a discussion of the the place of the monarchy in contemporary Canadian life, its cost, what it says about vestiges of colonialism, how little it resonates with French Canadians, and irks the separatists among them. Most seem to question the survival of the monarchy here if and when Prince Charles becomes King. We have not yet had major rumblings of creating a republic as regularly happens in Australia (which defeated the idea in a referendum). However, it sometimes seems as if the current government is engaging in creeping republicanism, with its proposals for the Senate, and the Supreme Court (and its defiance of the rulings of the latter).

In Halifax, Nova Scotia:

In Ottawa, Ontario:

Canada From Colony to Constitutional Monarchy

Canada, from the Iroquois word kanata for village, began as a French colony first claimed by Jacques Cartier in 1534, then developed in a major way by Samuel de Champlain in the 17th century, after he founded Quebec City in 1608. He established strong ties with the Algonquin and Hurons against the Iroquois, and created the coureurs des bois, French who lived among the Indians and engaged in the fur trade, the main economic interest.  Cardinal Richelieu, the adviser to Louis XIII was responsible for the creation of a semi-feudal system of seigneuries, and for the major role the Jesuits took in the colony and in missionary activity among the indigenous Canadians. He also forbade non-Catholics to live in "New France".  In 1663 Louis XIV made New France an official royal province, and sent troops to defend it from both the English and the indigenous peoples. Jean Talon as  Intendant of France was charged with increasing the population of New France and increasing the population of settlers as opposed to absent landowners and fur traders. He increased the population by correcting the gender imbalance of a majority of men. He created the filles du roi, sending 700 women aged 15-30 to the colony. He also sent indentured servants, and revised the seigneurial system.

By the end of the 17th century, wars with the English and the Iroquois were on in earnest, and followed patterns of successes and losses, until the 1759 surrender of  French General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm to British General James Wolfe after the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. The fall of the French colony to the British was formalized in the Treaty of Paris 1763. The British had been trading in the area around Hudson's Bay since 1680 where they had outposts of the Hudson Bay Company, and forts to protect their territory. They also established themselves on the east coast, in Nova Scotia, and then took over the northern parts of New France from 1763. With increased settlement on the upper end of the St Lawrence River, the British eventually divided their colonies in Canada into Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada (Quebec).

The American Revolution had a major impact on the demographics of Upper and Lower Canada, with United Empire Loyalists flooding into Upper Canada, and the south shore of Lower Canada. They also settled the British colony of Nova Scotia, and were so numerous that a separate colony of New Brunswick was created to handle the overflow to the west of it. Among them were African American slaves who fought with the British against the rebels and  were rewarded with their freedom. They were settled primarily in Nova Scotia, near Halifax.

Both Upper and Lower Canada had separate rebellions in 1837, in Upper Canada against the oligarchy or Family Compact that ruled the province, and in Lower Canada by the French habitants against the English colonizers. One response was to create the United Province of Canada in 1841 with 2 constituents parts of a single legislature. "Equal representation" ensured that Lower Canada with its superior population remained under the aegis of the British rulers. In 1867 the British North America Act, established by Queen Victoria, created home rule for the British colonies, uniting 4 of them as provinces of the new Confederation of Canada:   Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. Thus the country of Canada was born on July 1, 1867, with Ottawa chose as its capital by Queen Victoria. A small lumber village it was deemed to be at the geographical centre of the new country as was away from the contention main towns of York (Toronto), Montreal, and Quebec.

From a colony, then provinces of Britain, Canada was now a confederation of provinces into one dominion of the British Empire. The Dominion of Canada is one of the historic names of the country, representing its political relationship to Britain. The Dominion was part of the title of Canada until the 1950's commonly, and until 1982 formally. It derives from Psalm 72:8, "He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth." (KJV). During that time Canada grew by the addition of other provinces and territories, until it was 10 provinces and 2 territories of the Dominion of Canada. It also grew increasingly independent from Britain, Partly through the efforts of Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier, in 1907, and partly through treaty negotiations following wars in which it fought as part of the Empire, most notably after its major efforts in WWI, and claims at the Peace Talks, in Paris, 1919.

Canada, and other dominions of the British Empire, pushed for greater autonomy, which was awarded by the Statute of Westminster 1931. This gave all the dominions of Britain equal legislative stature with Britain itself while preserving their status as subject to Britain, as self-governing realms of the Commonwealth, responsible for both foreign and domestic policy. India was a notable exception, remaining a colony. The idea of a commonwealth of realms was concretized shortly after Queen Elizabeth acceded to the throne, and the word dominion in her titles on coronation was replaced. She became the Queen of each of her Commonwealth realms, as well as Queen of Britain and its remaining territories.

Queen Elizabeth II, Coronation Portrait, 1952

On her Accession to the Throne in 1952, Queen Elizabeth II was officially titled:
Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas Queen, Defender of the Faith, Duchess of Edinburgh, Countess of Merioneth, Baroness Greenwich, Duke of Lancaster, Lord of Mann, Duke of Normandy, Sovereign of the Most Honourable Order of the Garter, Sovereign of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Sovereign of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Sovereign of the Most Illustrious Order of Saint Patrick, Sovereign of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George, Sovereign of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Sovereign of the Distinguished Service Order, Sovereign of the Imperial Service Order, Sovereign of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India, Sovereign of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire, Sovereign of the Order of British India, Sovereign of the Indian Order of Merit, Sovereign of the Order of Burma, Sovereign of the Royal Order of Victoria and Albert, Sovereign of the Royal Family Order of King Edward VII, Sovereign of the Order of Merit, Sovereign of the Order of the Companions of Honour, Sovereign of the Royal Victorian Order, Sovereign of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem.

After the Prime Ministers Conference of 1953,  The Queen now holds independent titles for each Commonwealth country. Her current one for Canada is: Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom, Canada and Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith; Sa Majesté Elizabeth Deux, par la grâce de Dieu Reine du Royaume-Uni, du Canada et de ses autres royaumes et territoires, Chef du Commonwealth, Défenseur de la Foi.

The Queen's role, though now largely a formality, and ceremonial, is none the less legally that of head of state, head of church, and head of the royal family. As there is no official church in Canada, Queen Elizabeth is not head of the church here, but is for Britain obviously. She is our head of state, as indicated in the opening paragraphs, and is our Royal, and her family our Royal family. As head of state she is also the head of our Armed Forces, most often represented in the person of the Governor General. Until recently "God Save the Queen" was sung every morning in schools, and still is at certain functions of certain institutions. The following Government of Canada website gives an excellent overview of the role of the Monarch and the Constitutional Monarchy in Canada: A Crown of Maples: Constitutional Monarchy in Canada

That site also explains that Canada's form of government is a parliamentary democracy based on the Westminster model, as opposed to a congressional democracy for example; and that within the context of being a constitutional monarchy, as opposed to a republic, for example. These examples are obviously in reference to the USA. A republic could have a parliamentary democracy, and a constitutional monarchy could have a congressional one.

This being a Canadian perspective the advantages of a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy over a republic with a congressional democracy are noted as: separation of the head of state and the head of government, better allowing the former to represent all citizens regardless of vote; separation of the ceremonial and governing functions whereas the President must perform both; greater accountability of the Prime Minister to the governing houses, and thus the electorate. The Prime Minister, and the Premiers of the Provinces must appear at question period in their parliaments, answer questions by the elected officials, defend their policies directly, explain themselves. This is for the public record, whether in the governmental publication the Hansard, or live on television daily, and open to reporters sitting in the parliament though not part of the questioning.

Another advantage of a parliamentary system over a congressional one, which I have seen discussed in relation to the ability of women to hold the highest governing office, is that , is that in a parliamentary system the party elects the woman has head of the party, and then the electorate votes for the party or not, giving the woman a better chance at prime ministership than at presidency--at least the way the US system is configured. This also holds true for minorities, "new Canadians" ie first generation immigrants, and others who are usually left out of the political system. Their ability to get elected locally, then work well within the party system, gives them a better opportunity of achieving greater power, and higher office than in a congressional democracy where a direct vote by a broader constituency often proves daunting to change.

Other Constitutional Monarchies

Canada is a constitutional monarchy because Britain has been one since a parliamentary revolt against King James II in 1688, whereupon the monarch's powers were curtailed by parliament. However, not all constitutional monarchies have a parliamentary democracy as a system of government, and have had and do have other forms ranging from dictatorship, to fascism, to a pseudo-democracy. A constitutional monarchy is distinguished from an absolute monarchy by whether the monarch is legally bound to adhere to the constitution of the country. A constitution may exist that is not binding on the monarch, in which case the country functions as an absolute monarchy in theory or practise. Sometimes parliament has so little real power, or elections are so "skewed" towards the monarchist party that there seems to be more a pseudo-democracy than a real one. This of course can happen with republics too, with a pseudo-democratic congress. "elected" in curiously one-sided, landslide elections of people few voted for. Some constitutional monarchies have removed even the ceremonial function of the monarch.

Most of the MENA countries listed below have at one time been a European colony, protectorate, or mandate (or various combinations of those), or  parts of  them have (and sometimes to different European countries at once or in succession). Those histories are left out, as is a lot of detail, and mainly about the legislative and judiciary branches of government, to provide a simpler overview of the general governance model and mainly of the executive branch. I have no doubt that theory and practice are distinct, as they are everywhere.

Spain is an excellent example of a country that recently (1978) transformed from a constitutional monarchy with governance by a fascist military dictatorship under Franco, to a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy under King Juan Carlos. Bhutan is an Islamic South Asian state that transformed in 2005 from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one with a parliamentary democracy, holding its first elections in 2007.

Morocco, a former French protectorate, is an example of a MENA country that is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy. Late in the reign of Hassan II, in 1992, 1996 and 1998, reforms were enacted that made this more of a reality than previously (the monarchist party used to always win the elections with a near miraculous 99% of the vote). Under Mohamed VI, in power since 1999, further reforms and the formation of government by legitimately elected opposition parties extend the legitimacy of the democratic aspect of the government. However, the constitution still gives overwhelming executive power to the King. The King who is deemed to be a descendant of the Prophet Mohamed, remains the head of both "state and mosque" which are not separate. Nonetheless, most appreciate the improvement, if not totally satisfied with the current government.

Jordan has been a constitutional monarchy since 1952, albeit one in which the King, also deemed a descendant of the Prophet Mohamed, and leader of the faithful who are in the majority in Jordan (92% Muslim, 6% Christian, 2% Druze and Bahai). As in the case of  Morocco, the powers of the parliament are gradually increasing. However, King Abdullah, did suspend parliament from 2001-2003 during which time he enacted a large number of temporary laws. Although the King holds veto power, it can be overridden by a 2/3 vote in both houses of the National Assembly. Again, a work in progress.

Kuwait is also a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy, but one with a more troubled relationship between the government and the Emir. The Emir has vast executive powers and exercises them to suspend parliament and call elections. Political parties are banned, but voting blocs and alliances form among parliamentarians. Elections have been marred by accusations of vote buying, and election of those closest to the Emir anyway. Criticism is not tolerated.

Bahrain's constitutional democracy has resulted in the electoral predominance of Islamist parties.It seems as if women's groups, liberals, and the King have taken legal steps to countermand this. The King by his appointments to the Shura Council, and other appointed positions, and the women and liberals through activist groups and individuals. Women were given the right to vote and run for election in 2002, which may have further inspired the Islamists.

The UAE is a constitutional monarchy with a presidential (congressional) system of democracy, and federated powers among the 7 distinct emirates. The Emirs are the hereditary rulers of their respective  Emirates over which they retain sovereignty. They form the Federal Supreme Council which elects the rest of the executive branch of the government, comprised of a President (head of state), Vice-president, Prime Minister (head of government), and Council of Ministers (Cabinet). Though elected, the President and Vice-President position are essentially hereditary positions.

Oman and Qatar are both absolute monarchies, one a Sultanate the other an Emirate. The Sultan of Oman is the hereditary head of state and of government. He appoints a consultative cabinet, but these are family members with little real power and in minor ministries. He appoints a consultative assembly from the 3 nominees put forward by local caucuses in each of 59 districts, vetted by the consultative council, and then forwarded to him. This is a way of giving a consultative voice to the people, and is seen as a small move toward a constitutional democracy even though political parties are illegal. Young Omanis returning from studies abroad are moving away from the more traditional tribal system that the existing governance reflects.

Qatar  was once a British protectorate, and now is an absolute monarchy. The Emir appoints a consultative assembly with advisory capacities only. In another small step towards a constitutional monarchy municipal elections are held, with universal suffrage of Qatari citizens (male and female, age 18) to elect a municipal  council members who have consultative capacity only to ministers.

Saudi Arabia is also an absolute monarchy, as most readers know. The King is both head of  state and head of government. However, he rules in consultation with senior princes, as a first among equals and final arbiter. In 1992 a law made the monarchy hereditary to the sons and grandsons of the founder of the current Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, King Abdul Aziz Al Saud; and made the Quran the constitution and law (Sharia). In 2006, a committee of key princes among the sons and grandsons, the Allegiance Institution, was created to set up a system of determining the future king by their vote for one of 3 princes nominated by the current King.

Like other "absolute" monarchs, the King must balance among different factions holding power within the Royal family, among the religious leaders, and among other prominent societal forces. A Council of Ministers  with ministerial portfolios and a prime ministerial structure is appointed by the King as his consultants. Power remains within the Royal Family, where personalities and blood alliances play an important role. In addition, the King appoints a Consultative Assembly of 150 members and a chair chosen among prominent society members and for four year terms. Municipal elections were held in 2005, where only men were eligible voters. There are some elective elements in this system, but it still relies heavily on the Royal Family, the power of the King, and those within society who are strongly allied with them.

A Modest Proposal

I don't feel it is my place to tell the nationals of any of these countries how to govern themselves, nor how their countries should evolve. I have enough problems with my own duly elected governments, and others know their own situations best. However, I have been struck that the issue of democracy regularly crops up as a theme in the English language Saudi  blogosphere. It is raised either in posts or in conversations in the comments, and most often seems to presume a USA model of a republic with a congressional democracy.

It strikes me as a more natural evolution for the monarchies within MENA to transform themselves much as other monarchies have historically, from absolute to more shared power. Of course, no monarch, however absolute, can rule in total opposition to all factions of his populace, and alliances and power dynamics are always at play. Still, a responsible devolution of powers at the instigation of the monarch, as happened most successfully in Spain, but also is happening in Morocco and Jordan, would seem to me to be a viable option.

The risk of course, is that in party politics and a popular vote, "the people" elect a government that is not desired by all but gets the vote of an activist minority, made a majority by poor voter turnout, or poor turnout by voters of other parties. This happened notably in Algeria, a former French colony, and province of France, in the December 1991 elections when the Islamist Front Islamiste de Salut (FIS) Party was about to form the government, until the military stepped in and suspended the second and final round of the presidential elections. The FIS played the democratic game better than the others: mobilizing the vote, taking voters to the polls, offering concrete material help not just promises, making direct appeals to the largest demographic--disaffected youth. When interviewed older Algerians said, "I don't get involved in politics. Only to get the French out. Since then, no." After the military takeover, the country rapidly descended into the Algerian Civil War.

So, be careful what you wish for, but I still think a gradual evolution to a genuine constitutional monarchy lead by the current monarch makes more sense than a sudden change to a republic, as some have advocated. It also seems that looking to models within MENA, and its past, as well as those of successful recently transitioned states would be a valid way to draw on positives and avoid negatives.  Looking to its own educated and insightful committed citizens, some of them activists in the blogosphere, would also be wise.

The Peace Tower and Parliament Buildings, Ottawa, Ontario

Happy Birthday Canada!

Vancouver, British Columbia

Happy Canada Day!

Niagara Falls, Ontario

What forms of government have you experienced?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
What would you add to or clarify about the summaries above?
Where should one look for models for evolution?
What is your impression of Canada's evolution?
How well does the system where you are work?
What is your attitude towards the British monarchy and its place in Canada?
Will Prince Charles as King be a hard sell?
Have you been following the Queen's visit?
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?


Qusay said...

Yes, happy birthday Canada, or happy Canada day :)

The rest... is blasphemy :) LOL

radical royalist said...

Wonderful photos of Her Majesty's home coming. Thank you for your excellent posting.

Susanne said...

What a great post! I enjoyed the pictures of the Queen's visit..or homecoming. I didn't realize all this about Canada's government and beginning though some of it is a bit familiar. It was great to get a brief history lesson. Thanks for another informative post!

Chiara said...

Qusay--thank you for the double greeting, and for the comment! Blasphemy? Hmmm, or blasphemous heresy, or heretical long as it isn't one of those "off with her head" offenses, or at least one with no opportunity for repentance and a pardon! :) Thanks again!

Radical Royalist--Welcome! Thank you for your comment and I am glad you enjoyed these. I hope you caught those in the next post as well! Do comment on any other posts of interest to you. Perhaps the ones in the category Royal Saudi/non-Saudi in the sidebar. Thanks again!

Susanne--Thank you for your comment, and I am glad you enjoyed the post and the pictures. I am happy to provide a mini-history lesson, since we all sometimes need a reminder. The Queen's visit does highlight that symbolically. I haven't heard or read the full speech yet but I thought her address to the UN was a good idea to give a little perspective from one who has reigned through so much history, and with such a wide international profile. Her visit to NYC was well spent, and well covered in the US media. Thanks again for your comment!

Anonymous said...

One of the most beautiful countries in the world...
Wonderful photos...
Love Canada


I enjoyed the post regarding confederation. I note that you left out the information about the 1866 Quebec Resolutions which was the framework for the BNA Act that was taken to London.

Also I would add that Canada does not have a true constitution in that the people of Canada have never had the privilege of agreeing (ratifying) such a document.

The Constitution Act we have is merely a set of rules made up by politicians who expect the people to live by them. A true constitution would be preferable.

None the less I enjoyed your post.


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