Canadians Don’t Want Charles, or Anyone Else, to Be Their King

The British monarchy is a withered husk that should be put out of its misery.

King Charles, then Prince of Wales, reads the Queen's speech next to her Imperial State Crown in the House of Lords Chamber, during the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster on May 10, 2022 in London, England. (Alastair Grant - WPA Pool / Getty Images)

Despite much officially sanctioned mourning, most Canadians reacted to the death of Queen Elizabeth II with ambivalence. Muted as this response may have been, its emotional scale dwarfed anything elicited by the coronation of Charles III. Today, the British monarchy is a withered husk, the stuff of middlebrow Netflix dramas and condemnatory exposés featuring its own former members. The jig is up, even if the institution officially remains, and whatever legitimacy the institution may have once enjoyed is palpably a thing of the past.

Even before the death of the queen, Canadians’ bond with their formal head of state was less than intimate. Polled by the Dominion Institute in 2009, a full three-quarters didn’t even realize the title belonged to her to begin with, a clear reflection of the monarchy’s effective nonexistence in Canadian civic life. Over the past decade or so, public support for the maintenance of ties has waned still further, and the latest data suggests no slowing of the trend. On the eve of Charles’ coronation, a survey from the Angus Reid Institute found that a mere 28 percent of Canadians have a favorable view of him, while a full 60 percent don’t want to recognize him as king. Just over half, meanwhile, don’t want their country to remain a constitutional monarchy.

Compared to Australia or Barbados (which declared itself a republic in 2021), Canada has not hosted a strong republican current since the nineteenth century, though dissent against the monarchy has been a sporadic feature of its political landscape. Thanks to Quebec nationalism, the monarchy has tended to be less popular in French Canada, where members of the province’s national assembly have sometimes refused to take the constitutionally mandated loyalty oaths and, in 1976, premier René Lévesque protested the queen’s participation in the Montreal Olympics.

Something similar recently spread to Ontario, where indigenous members of the province’s legislature have refused to sing “God Save the Queen.” After the death of Queen Elizabeth last year, indigenous MPP Sol Mamakwa and half of his caucus colleagues from the social democratic Ontario New Democratic Party declined to participate in a mandated pledge of allegiance to her successor.

The usual rejoinder to republican sentiment in Canada is that the country’s constitutional arrangements make breaking ties with the monarchy impossible. To “open up the constitution” is to trigger memories of the divisive constitutional negotiations of the early 1980s, which ultimately prompted years of fraught debates over rights, federal and provincial jurisdiction, and national identity. Angus Reid’s polling, however, finds a resounding 88 percent of Canadians are fine with the idea of doing exactly that in the service of formally severing the country from Britain.

Such a process might be technically complicated, and any actual constitutional change would among other things have to take into account existing treaties between the British crown and indigenous people. But a popular referendum could lend it considerable weight, and the available evidence suggests that the pro-monarchy side would struggle to mount a case many would find convincing.

At least some of Canadians’ ambivalence toward the monarchy undoubtedly has to do with the figures who will now be fronting for it. If the House of Windsor had opted to buck tradition and offer up Charles and Camilla’s probable successors instead, there might, at the very least, be a bit more coronation fanfare. Regardless, the institution’s place in Canadian public life would almost certainly remain what it is today: a passive and unimportant presence that few would miss, if they even noticed it was gone to begin with.