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Lagassé: Should Canada cut ties with the monarchy and become a republic?

By: /
11 June, 2012
By: Philippe Lagassé
Assistant professor of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa

Despite what is often claimed, moving toward a republic does not represent a necessary or inevitable step in the evolution of Canadian government and statehood.

Whether Canada should remain a constitutional monarchy or become a republic is largely a question of personal preference and of the relative merits of two differing notions of state sovereignty.

But if Canadians choose to opt for a republican option, they should be fully aware of what such a change entails and what they will need to do to bring it about.

The Crown serves as Canada’s concept of the state and the executive branch at both the federal and provincial levels of government. It is also embedded in the constitution, is part of Parliament and the provincial legislatures, and any change to the Crown or its vast powers will require significant constitutional amendments, if not an entirely new constitutional framework that provides a new conception of the state and the three branches of government at the federal and provincial levels.

Nearly all federal and provincial statutes will probably need to be amended to accommodate the removal of the Crown.

Crown powers that provide the executive with discretionary authority over various affairs of state and government will need to be examined and eventually placed on a statutory footing.

Treaties with First Nations will either need to be reopened or accommodated under a republican framework.

Our system of responsible government will need to be recast in republican terms, as will the fundamental relationships between the Crown, the civil service, the armed forces, the police, state corporations, and the judiciary.

None of this is impossible, of course. But nor will it be easy or straightforward.

Establishing a Canadian republic involves far, far more than declaring that we no longer want to be a monarchy or that the Governor General should be head of state. It will entail a detailed rethinking and reconfiguration of the Canadian constitution, Canada’s political institutions, statutes and executive prerogatives, the relationship between the state and First Nations, and many other elements of our current state, government, and society that we take for granted.

Those who want a Canadian republic had better get to work on a plausible alternative now if they think the change is immanent or preordained.

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