The Republican in Rideau Hall

When Environics pollster Michael Adams asked 2,066 Canadians to name someone they admired — anyone at all, living or dead — 21 chose Queen Elizabeth II.

That’s about one per cent of respondents, which may not seem very impressive. But remember, this was an open-ended question. No suggestions were offered so all the numbers are small. Even Pierre Trudeau, the most popular Canadian (no comment) garnered only 121 votes, or six per cent of the total.

Winston Churchill got 63 votes. Jesus scored 61.

David Suzuki, was picked by 18 Canadians. Tommy Douglas got 13 votes. So did Lester Pearson. Those three all placed in the top 10 on CBC’s list of “Great Canadians.” And the Queen crushed them with her handbag.

How unfortunate for the residents of Rideau Hall.

Nominally, the governor general is the loyal representative of Her Majesty, the Queen of Canada. But I am reasonably confident that if Environics had gotten Michaëlle Jean and her vice-regal husband on the phone, the Queen’s vote total would not have risen by two.

Have a look at the governor general’s website. It’s a lavish production, stuffed with images and information, including endless photos of Madame Jean and transcripts of all Her Excellency’s speeches. There is also a prominent and extensive biography of His Excellency Jean-Daniel Lafond, C.C., who is apparently not an obscure filmmaker of dubious political orientation but rather a vastly accomplished and “seasoned observer of the world and of our times.”

What is not to be found on the website of the Queen’s representative is a single picture of the Queen. Her Majesty is mentioned. It just takes a bit of effort to find it. Allow me to be your guide.

On the home page, click on the link for the “Governor General Michaëlle Jean.”

Now look to the menu at the left-hand side. Click on “Roles and Responsibilities.”

You are now on a page graced with a picture of Madame Jean, bien sur. Stick with me. We’re almost there.

“The role of the governor general dates back nearly 400 years to 1608,” the text begins, “when Samuel de Champlain acted as the governor of New France. He established what has become the oldest continuing public office in Canada.”

Next paragraph: “Canada became a country at Confederation in 1867. Our system of government is a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy. Queen Elizabeth II is Queen of Canada and Head of State. Sworn in on September 27, 2005, the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, 27th Governor General since Confederation, represents the Crown in Canada and carries out the duties of head of State.”

Did you miss it? Go back and read it again slowly.

There! Right there in the middle! “Queen Elizabeth is Queen of Canada and Head of State.” That is the most prominent reference to Her Majesty on the website maintained by Her Majesty’s loyal representative.

The sentiment couldn’t be plainer. To those who created and approved the website, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen of Canada, is nothing more than a legal technicality the lawyers say ya gotta mention. So she’s in the fine print, along with “Must be 18 years or older to enter. No purchase necessary. Offer void in Newfoundland.”

Now have a look at Rideau Hall. In particular, note what’s not on the walls. In the official residence of the Queen’s representative, artwork abounds, but it’s a struggle to find a portrait of the Queen since Madame Jean, in one of her first official acts, ordered the removal of the large painting of the Queen and Prince Philip that had dominated the main ballroom.

A portrait of Queen Victoria remains but it takes a determined effort to find it in the unlit grotto to which it has been exiled. Other royals have vanished like the Romanovs after the revolution.

Responsibility for all this is not Madame Jean’s alone, of course. She is only the latest representative of the Queen who isn’t interested in representing the Queen.

Jeanne Sauvé once tried to order lieutenant governors to replace the traditional toast to the Queen with a toast to Her Excellency Jeanne Sauvé. Adrienne Clarkson demandedpapers presented by foreign diplomats be addressed to her and not the Queen. It was also Clarkson who removed the Queen from the governor general’s website.

And it was Clarkson — a wonderful governor general, an appalling Queen’s representative — who put a stop to a plan by then-premier Ralph Klein to have the Queen personally sign legislation creating an endowment fund when Her Majesty visited Alberta on the province’s centenary. This was unacceptable, Clarkson’s secretary wrote the premier, because “it would not be consistent with the long-standing Canadianization of our institutions.”

The idea behind all this is to ease the Queen out of the country’s consciousness and Constitution. When we have forgotten that we have a monarch, and the Queen has been rendered a constitutional dead letter, the governor general will cease to act as head of state in the Queen’s absence. She will simply be head of state.

That this would unbalance Canadian federalism by turning the governor general into the superior of the provincial lieutenant governors isn’t discussed. Nor is there any discussion of the many other constitutional implications.

In fact, nothing about it is discussed. Under cover of apathy, it’s just done.

And yet, somewhere out there, in the frozen wastes, 21 randomly selected Canadians still said the person they admired was their very own Queen. Her Majesty’s loyal representatives have already done so much, but it seems there is still more work to do.