It’s the television series everyone is talking about — and no, I’m not referring to White Lotus. With the first three episodes of Harry & Meghan out on Netflix and the other three set to drop next week, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have succeeded in attracting enormous amounts of attention on both sides of the Atlantic.
In the process, they’re raising renewed questions about the relevance of the monarchy and whether it’s fit for purpose in the 21st century — questions that deserve an answer here in Canada as well.
That’s not what British tabloids, which come under particularly intense scrutiny in the documentary, are focused on right now. Instead, they’re busy accusing the couple of everything from attacking the late Queen’s legacy to trying to bring down the monarchy itself — just about anything, it seems, in order to feed the insatiable demand in Great Britain for royal gossip and commentary. As The Guardian’s media editor Jim Waterson noted: “Within two hours of the release of the first episodes, the top 12 stories on MailOnline were all about the couple, complete with pictures, gifs, and screengrabs. The Sun managed seven stories about the couple online within the first two hours.”
Mercifully, the interest in the once-royal couple is far less intense here in Canada. But while it might be tempting for most of us to dismiss this as yet more drama from an institution that seems to specialize in it, the future of the monarchy is something in which we have a vested interest. And Quebec, whether anyone likes it or not, is forcing the question.
At the outset of the recent sitting of the National Assembly, 14 elected members — 11 from the opposition Québec solidaire party and three from the Parti Québécois — refused to swear the oath to King Charles. Eventually, the Québec solidaire MNAs agreed to stand down, but only so they could advance a bill making the oath optional. "It is, I think, a relic from the past," Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, a co-spokesperson for Québec solidaire, said in early December. "There is strong support in Quebec to modernize our institutions, to make sure that the representatives of the people are not forced in 2022 to swear an oath to a foreign king."
He was right. Just a few days later, the Quebec National Assembly passed a bill that allows MNAs to opt out of swearing an oath to the King, and while constitutional scholars aren’t clear about whether that will actually pass legal muster the issue seems all but settled in Quebec’s court of public opinion. According to an Ipsos poll conducted after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, 79 per cent of Quebecers think it’s time for their country to cut ties with the Crown.
The real question is whether the rest of Canada is willing to follow Quebec down this path. Removing the oath from the Constitution or abolishing the monarchy outright would require unanimous support from all 10 provinces, and Canadian politicians have become understandably wary of any talk of constitutional change after the twin fiascos of Meech Lake and Charlottetown. With our politics more polarized than ever, it’s hard to imagine we could achieve the kind of consensus required to do something on this front — or that our elected officials would have the appetite for it.
As Leyland Cecco and Betty Ann Adam wrote in The Guardian back in September, “Any political leader looking to abolish the monarchy would need to stomach significant disorder and confusion, as well as a wave of competing visions for a reformed constitution.”
They would also have to initiate new negotiations with Indigenous Peoples, who signed their original treaties with the Crown. New treaties would almost certainly have to be signed, ones that would compel Canada to honour its commitments to reconciliation and reckon with the cost of its past failures on that front.
Netflix's 'Harry & Meghan' is raising renewed questions about the relevance of the monarchy and whether it’s fit for purpose in the 21st century — questions that deserve an answer here in Canada as well, writes columnist @maxfawcett. #opinion
This is pretty clearly not a job for the current prime minister, whose reserves of political capital are vanishingly thin right now. Instead, it would require a different voice, one with a new perspective and an undrawn account. Yes, it would be risky, and yes, it could distract from more pressing economic and social concerns of the day.
But in a country where we seem more alienated and distant from each other than ever, maybe this is exactly the sort of national exercise we need. Our ability to address economic and social concerns is informed, at least in part, by a sense of collective will and well-being, and those have both been badly eroded in recent years. Taking a hard look at who we are and how we want to present ourselves to the world would help us redefine our identity, re-establish our shared priorities and redetermine the course we want to chart in the years and decades ahead. Just like Harry and Meghan, in other words.