Editor’s Note: Andrew Cohen is a columnist with Postmedia News, based in Toronto. His latest book is “Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours that Made History” (Signal/Random House). The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Stung by the tabloids, alienated from family and weary of royal responsibility, Harry and Meghan have come to Canada to start a new life. They seek privacy, security and, perhaps, a new identity.
In this big, empty dominion, they are likely to find it. Most Canadians are comfortable conferring anonymity on those who crave it, beginning with themselves, a successful but modest people who, it has been said, hide their light under a bushel.
When the royal couple announced their plans to choose Canada, Canadians largely reacted with characteristic understatement. It had long been rumored that the couple favored the country where they vacationed at Christmas (Vancouver Island) and Meghan lived as an actress (Toronto).
If social media and legacy media are any reflection, Canadians welcome the couple. In a country of 37 million that admits between 300,000 and 400,000 immigrants and refugees a year — among the most open borders in the world — why worry about two more?
Some rhapsodized–like Toronto novelist Anne T. Donahue, who wrote that she felt good that the royals chose Canada in search of “a happy ending” to their “fairy tale.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “You’re among friends, and always welcome here.” Tim Horton’s, the iconic, unexciting coffee chain, jokingly offered the couple free coffee for life.
But when the New York Times tweeted that Harry and Meghan would bring “some razzle-dazzle to the sprawling, bone-chillingly cold country,” Canadians reacted coolly.
They said the statement was condescending — the kind of stereotype that Canadians have long endured. It’s one thing for Canadians to play down ourselves, but another for Americans to tell us that we need the royals to give us glamour.
There is some debate about larger questions, such as who should pay for the couple’s security. If Canadian taxpayers are stuck with the bill, any goodwill may slip away. While we embrace universal health care and social welfare, we can be miserly. Our annual contributions to international developmental assistance, for example, are well below other leading developed nations. For one of the world’s wealthiest nations, it is embarrassing.
Moreover, some think that the royals, in their new capacity, don’t belong here. The Globe and Mail, a national newspaper, declared that Trudeau should “advise the Queen, in no uncertain terms, that a Royal Prince moving to Canada is not on. It breaks with tradition, and it doesn’t accord with how Canada’s monarchy works in 2020.”
The editorial argues that the monarchy has lasted in Canada since it became a country in 1867 because it is virtually invisible. In fact, Elizabeth II is Queen of Canada – a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system – though she has spent almost none of her reign here. Harry changes that, even in his diminished role as a part-time royal, and that could upset the balance.
But look at it another way: If Harry’s presence forces Canadians to have a much-needed debate over the monarchy that they have refused to have, wonderful. And if it leads Canada, as a progressive democracy, to free itself of this anachronism, brilliant.
The indifference around the royal couple’s plans reflects how Canadians see the monarchy, with a mix of detachment, reserve and insouciance. By and large, they don’t much care, and they are not motivated to do much about it.
At almost 153 years old, Canada still has a neo-colonial complex. It wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century that Canada established its own citizenship (no longer British subjects), its own national anthem (not “God Save the Queen”), its own national flag (without the Union Jack) and its own high court (not the Privy Council in London).
Most important, it took Canada until 1982 to bring home its founding constitution from Westminster, so that it can be amended without British approval.
Now it is time for us to take the final step toward full nationhood and dissolve our ties with Mother England. As Harry and Meghan have decided to make a break with crown, it is time that we do, too.