A wedding gift for Kate and William




A wedding gift for Kate and William

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Amid all the hoopla of the royal wedding, there’s been another quietly  important monarchy story in the news lately, though you can be excused for having missed it.

Since rising to the office of deputy prime minister in Britain’s present Conservative-Liberal coalition government, Liberal Democratic Party leader Nicholas Clegg has been pushing for a number of progressive reforms to the United Kingdom’s well-aged system of government. Chief amongst these will be a referendum next week on changing the British electoral system from it’s current “first-past-the-post” model to a rank-based system, like what they use in Australia — which looks doomed to fail — and a proposed reform to the British monarchy’s 300-year-old Act of Succession. The latter looks doomed to fail as well, though in this case it’s no fault of the Brits.

The proposed changes are innocuous enough. Under the terms of the current Succession Act, daughters of the monarch, regardless of age, cannot ascend to the throne unless they have no brothers. This is part of the reason queens tend to be much rarer than kings in the UK; the rules are purposely structured to make this an incredibly difficult outcome. Elizabeth only became queen, for instance, because her parents only had a comparatively small royal offspring of two children, both girls. Victoria, similarly, was an only child. Clegg’s reforms would bring the British monarchy in line with the standards of most other European royal families, and allow the oldest child, period, of any royal couple to be first-in-line to the throne, regardless of gender.

Seeing as how a change at this point wouldn’t affect the pecking order of any current royals — heirs to the throne number one and two, Prince Charles and Prince William, are both eldest children — one would expect a sensible 21st Century reform like this to sail through. But alas, nothing with the monarchy is ever simple.

Under the terms of the Westminster Statute of 1931, which guaranteed the practical legislative independence of the former British “dominions” from the UK parliament, any changes to the institution of the British monarchy must “require the assent [...] of the Parliaments of all the Dominions as of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.” Though we no longer use the term today, Canada remains one of the dominions in question, and can thus unilaterally veto any reforms to the monarchy we feel like. Which is exactly what Prime Minister Harper is evidently willing to do, in this instance.

Though no one can doubt his country’s progressive commitment to gender equality, the prime minister of Canada has evidently decided that putting any monarchy-related issue to the floor of the House of Commons is simply not worth the broader debate on the usefulness of the institution that would inevitably follow. Said Harper, “I don’t think Canadians want to open a debate on the monarchy or constitutional matters at this time. That’s our position. I just don’t see that as a priority for Canadians right now at all.”

The monarchy is not popular in Canada. Every poll take on the issue, no matter how phrased, confirms this. The monarchy is not even terribly popular in the Conservative Party or the Harper cabinet, despite much official mythology that argues otherwise. Yet the extreme cowardice of the Canadian political class guarantees that the Canadian people will never be permitted to even debate the merits of the Crown, presumably for no reason other than such a debate might be unwieldy, and thus hard for the Ottawa set to control. This is the same reason we don’t debate a whole host of other serious issues in this country, like health care, abortion, or the death penalty: not because the entire collective Canadian populace unanimously agrees on one position (though this is sometimes absurdly declared), but simply because it’s a lot easier for our rulers if we just operate on the assumption that we do.

So Canada looks incredibly reactionary in the eyes of Britain, and William and Kate are guaranteed that if they have a first-born daughter, she has a very good chance of being shunned out of the royal sweepstakes. This is the sort of damage Canada is willing to inflict simply to avoid publicly discussing something we’ve all long ago started discussing anyway.

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^ 27 Comments...

  1. Gray

    There is something about this which I think belies why we've seen /three/ parties shoot to prominence in the space of 20 years, not to mention a few substantial failed launches (Hurtig's National Party, for example): I think the voters have gotten irritated enough at the "Ottawa set", as you call it, to throw the two largest parties into the perpetual wilderness. The PCs more or less got annihilated (and were most assuredly the junior partner in the merger with the Alliance), and now the Liberals look set to join them. In the interim, the NDP has shot up, we saw the Reform/Alliance show, and the Bloc also showed up (and now appears to be on the way out itself).

    I can't think of any other "stable" democracy save France and Italy that has gone through this sort of political upheaval, spread out though it has been…and in France, it's because the right-wing parties tended to be personalist creations of the leaders to some extent, while in Italy it was because of a corruption scandal on an almost unimaginable scale anywhere else. I'm wondering…if the Liberals and NDP really do melt down, how long will it be until /another/ protest party emerges and displaces one of the major parties in one region or another?

  2. Kwyjor

    Buster Sword
    Moai Head
    Bottled Fairy
    Ocarina
    Bommerang
    Three Instruments of the Sirens
    Heart Container
    Jiggy
    Pokeball

    And the clock, Maneki Neko, suit of armor, and easter egg are probably just miscellaneous.

    [One of the toasters really ought to have wings. Oh well.]

    What did I miss?

  3. Svan

    Are people falling out of the monarchy really that worrying? I mean like really whats the argument, that it is some sort of violation of equal protections that women have a disadvantage inside the bloated archaic cocoon of old world opulence? I feel like its an issue of not seeing the forest for the trees. Royalty are the single largest recipients of welfare, that entire social class is a farcical entitlement program.

    Now if this were a strategic perspective of someone saying "Well, I can only kill one thing today. Sexism in the monarchy or the monarchy itself…" Well then of course you might want to put the cause on detour for a bit, but if the fallout of this is that women will continue to be subordinated to an inferior position within their own ganfalloon then I think the public impact of that kind blatant discrimination would depend almost solely on the importance of that institution. Which is minimal to nonexistent.

    This is not to say that I don't think the reform should be done. By all means pass it. If someone wants to block reform they need to explain how it is okay as a ideology to openly subordinate women to disadvantaged positions on the basis that they are women. Government's are too busy to debate this? Where is the debate? Obviously there are going to be hecklers like me making unreasonable demands, but its should be true in this civilized age that no one is going to get a following arguing that the current system has any sort of plausible premise other than errant sexism.

  4. SES

    "The monarchy is not even terribly popular in the Conservative Party or the Harper cabinet, despite much official mythology that argues otherwise."

    It's pretty fun, though, to see members of the Monarchist League gush over every single thing the Harper government does related to the monarchy, usually while bashing the Liberals for not having had a total purge of every single republican in the party. Did you know that Michael Ignatieff's press secretary is a republican!?

  5. jjmccullough

    Ahh yes actually I did originally plan to make one of the toasters flying. Damnit.

    You're right about everything else. Very impressive!

  6. jjmccullough

    What's quite absurd is that James Moore, Harper's heritage minister and guy in charge of Canada-royal relations is a republican. But yes, the mythology about this being "the most monarchist government since Diefenbaker" marches on.

    Every prime minister in Canadian history has been a "monarchist" in the sense that, yes, they've not challenged the system and have written nice introductions for federally-produced "the Monarchy and YOU" pamphlets or whatever. But it's equally true that every recent prime minister has also been something of a closet republican, at least in the sense of not seriously caring about the Crown, and just hoping that if they never talk about it, no one will ask them to.

  7. JDM

    I'm sorry JJ, but you keep getting this one wrong… there is NOTHING proportional OR European about the Alternative Vote system which will go to referendum in the UK on May 5th. It is the same system used in Australia, which only means voters will rank their options, and canidates are eliminated (and their votes transferred) until there one candidate has won more than 50% of the vote – the basis is still single-seat ridings. This system does not make for proportionality (nor does it aim for it), and no country in Europe uses this system or has ever used it.

  8. Gray

    Yeah…AV or IRV (very similar voting systems) are not PR. Minor party vote preferences almost invariably end up going to one of the major party candidates unless you have a strong independent candidate. The objective in the UK was to ensure that you'd have less nasty vote splitting (such as some MPs in Scotland being elected on about 35% of the vote)…and in Canada, you'd have a similar objective. But it tends to result in a variant on a two party dominant system (remember, the Liberals and Nationals in Australia are for all intents and purposes one party) just the same as FPTP, and can in fact actually lock out third parties a hair more effectively: There are a few cases where a minor-party or independent candidate took the most first preference votes only to find that the major party which got squeezed out listed preferences for the other major party first.

    Consider a random election where the first preferences are NDP 40%, Liberal 30%, Tory 25%, Other 5%. The Tories overwhelmingly transfer their preferences to the Liberals over the NDP, and you can easily end up with Liberal 52/NDP 48 at the end of the day. Likewise, if the Liberals effectively coordinated an anti-NDP preference campaign (or the NDP an anti-Liberal campaign), it could lead to some /very/ zany results.

  9. Aspire 1682wlmi Battery

    Off with the royal parasites heads!they not even british family are old german scum!wake up media turning you into slaves! I.R. A get them!

  10. SES

    Also, there are a small number who are oddly enamored with Iggy because of his ancestry. I think they think that since he has noble roots in Russia, he'll somehow be automatically very monarchist.

  11. jjmccullough

    Fair enough! I've edited the news post.

  12. Jon

    I really don't see how those results are zany at all. It's basically an instant run-off election and ensures that the candidate who wins has the support of a majority of the people in his district.

    How would it make more sense for an NDP candidate to represent a riding where 60% (or 52% in your scenario) are against having him as the rep? If people want to organize to ensure one candidate doesn't win, then that's only fair. Sounds like democracy to me..

  13. Jon

    Wow, are you a monarchist posing as a republican?

  14. Guest

    Consider where you get the term 'Anglo-Saxon' from.

  15. SES

    He actually has 3 British grandparents. (And the non-British one was pretty much stateless with quite a few British connections, albeit probably more German connections, especially because of the men his sisters married.)

  16. monarchyfreecanada

    For the monarchy views of all the parties, check this out:
    http://www.canadian-republic.ca/voters_guide_2011

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  19. Gray

    Jon,
    They're zany because, at least on a theoretical level, they don't quite follow a clear line of ideology in terms of voter preference.

    With that said, the biggest fallacy with IRV (at least, that which does not allow folks to exhaust their vote without ranking all candidates) that I can think of is this: What if I would rather simply not have an MP than have one of the top two who finish? Take the 1991 Louisiana Gubernatorial Election (the infamous one with "the Lizard and the Wizard"). Under IRV, close to 100% of the votes for the 4th place candidate (Clyde Holloway) would've had to go to the third place candidate (Buddy Roemer, the politically weak incumbent) to stop Duke ("the Wizard", an ex-KKK Grand Wizard) from taking the number two slot. Most of the "other" votes were for a couple no-name Democrats…I'd assume those would accumulate to Edwin Edwards ("the Lizard", a corruption-plagued ex-Governor).

    So, let's consider that you're checking off your ballot under IRV. You put all of the other candidates above Edwards and Duke (there were ten in total), but you come down to preference options 11 and 12. Can either be said to genuinely have your support? Louisiana isn't the only situation I can think of like this, either…in the UK, assuming IRV (or AV), it is entirely possible to imagine matchups like that (some seats where the BNP was doing pretty well). Again, not IRV, but do look at France in 2002 (Chirac vs. LePen)…or just look at Quebec for anyone not a social democrat.

    If IRV does anything, it easily gives rise to a fallacy that the elected representatives have a mandate from the people when some of them are easily straggling into office on double-digit preferences of people voting for "anyone but X" at some point. In the example I gave…no matter what the end result, it's pretty obvious that the voters are casting a clothespin vote, yet the winner can claim a majority.

    Of course, if you allow for folks to exhaust their vote, that allows for all sorts of embarrassing situations (I ran into this sort of thing in undergrad…the Freshman class regularly had about 14 candidates for offices, and you can imagine how many people actually preffed all 14 of them…this occasionally led to elections with 40% of ballots exhausted by the time you hit the top two) that politicians wouldn't want to risk coming to pass (let alone allowing enough exhausted ballots/NOTA votes to force a new election in that seat). After all, why let people say they don't want you under any circumstances when you can simply force them to vote for you sooner or later?

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