Stephen Harper once vowed that by the time he was finished with Canada, we wouldn’t know the place. Now ruling with a majority government, he’s well on his way to fulfilling that promise.
The decision to restore “Royal” title to the Canadian Armed Forces, giving the Air Force and the Navy these regal appellations, speaks to Harper’s monarchial and traditionalist views, all to be expected from a conventionally conservative politician of his brand.
According to Defence Minister Peter McKay, designating the branches of the forces as the Royal Canadian Navy, the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian Army is a matter of restoring military pride. The titles were abandoned when the Canadian forces were merged under Prime Minister Pearson back in the 1960s.
If you have a romantic view of the courage of British heroes, such as Lord Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar, then I guess you might like to see Canada reverting to such colonial nomenclature.
But it smacks of the kind of mentality expressed by Arthur Meighan, the Conservative leader of the Opposition back in 1922, when Winston Churchill, as First lord of the Admiralty, said the Dominions might be called on to support Britain in its tiff with Turkey over a place called Chanak.
Canada’s Parliament was not in session at the time. Prime Minister Mackenzie King balked, saying he wouldn’t give aid without Parliament’s approval, but the issue wasn’t important enough to justify its recall.
Arthur Meighan thought differently.
“When Britain’s message came, then Canada should have said, ‘Ready, aye ready, we stand by you,’” Meighan declared. In fact, he was echoing a slogan of a former Liberal PM, Wilfrid Laurier. But Meighan got stuck with the colonialist tag and never lived it down.
The man who engineered the merger of the Forces, Paul Hellyer, Defence minister under Pearson, says Harper’s decision shows a colonial attitude. And he points out it’s going to cost millions even to do the “cosmetic changes” required by the re-naming.
Stephen Harper’s enthusiasm for royalty was highly visible during the recent tour of Prince William and his new bride, so none of this should be very surprising. And bored as Canadians are with the whole royal thing, it’s unlikely there’s going to be much public reaction, one way or the other.
A quick survey of online reader comments on the Toronto Star website bears this out.
Of course, there are those who served proudly in the Canadian military and welcome the re-astablishment of the historic tie. Others are not so sure.
“I Didn’t Know the Monarchy System of Absolute, Birthright Rule was still so popular in Canada. This is the 21st century. What exactly does this say about us as an independent country? It’s bad enough the Queen has the final say in our political system, now we’re back to waging war in her name, rather than our own?” wrote one reader.
Polls taken over the years show a pretty consistent disinterest among Canadians. According to Wikipedia, in an October 2009 poll by Angus Reid, only a minority 27% of Canadians preferred Canada to remain a monarchy. The plurality 35% of Canadians prefer Canada to have an elected head of state. When asked who they would prefer as a monarch after Queen Elizabeth II, the plurality 37% of Canadians responded by saying there should be no monarch after her.
Guess what? I predict the split will be about the same in 2029!