The national and local chairs of the Monarchist League of Canada have proposed that the City of Hamilton rename the planned Gore Park pedestrian plaza as the "Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Promenade".
The letter is dated February 17, 2012 and I first heard about it on March 9. I haven't written about it until now because I've been struggling to articulate why I don't like it.
I have no great love of the crown, but I recognize and accept that Canada is a democratic constitutional monarchy. I don't mind that the city's central crossroads is at King and James, I'm happy to sit in Gore Park under the watchful gaze of Queen Victoria ("A Model Wife And Mother"), and I generally esteem our cultural heritage - it's one of the reasons I live in an older neighbourhood in the lower city.
Canada is a Commonwealth country and we have inherited Britain's political system - monarchy included. So why does the idea of renaming the Gore Park Promenade after Queen Elizabeth II bother me?
At the risk of oversimplifying a thousand years of political history, I would argue that we have actually inherited two distinct political traditions from Britain, including the dynamic tension that runs between them.
The first political tradition is the monarchy, characterized by the family inheritance of absolute power and a perceived divine right to rule a country's subjects and govern their lives.
The second tradition is the parliamentary tradition: the long process of setting limits and constraints on the arbitrary power of the crown over the general public, and of displacing that arbitrary authority with broader individual liberty and expanded democratic self-governance.
For centuries, dating back to the signing of the Magna Carta in 1225, citizens have sought to protect themselves against the abuses of power that naturally inhere in monarchs who would claim arbitrary authority over their subjects.
At its core, the Magna Carta asserted the idea that the power of the crown is not absolute: the king's will could be overturned by a committee of nobles, and subjects had a right of due process against arbitrary detention.
This helped to articulate the common law right of habeas corpus, which preceded the Magna Carta in Anglo-Saxon tradition and serves to this day as a foundation of the rule of law.
Since that time, through an innumerable succession of legal and political decisions, power has gradually shifted from the king's edict to the body of common law, the writs and decisions of judges, and the passing of statutes by parliament.
The latter started out as a council of advisers to the crown but evolved into a law-making body of its own as the nobles came to recognize that the king could not govern effectively without the consent of those who had the power to collect taxes and maintain order.
Starting in the 1300s, the Parliament has been composed of two Houses that gradually took the shape of the appointed House of Lords and the elected House of Commons.
Today, the House of Commons proposes, debates and passes new bills, and the House of Lords (called the Senate in Canada) serves to review and reconsider those bills before they receive royal assent and become law.
Britain is not special in its political history of a long struggle between monarchy and liberty; but unlike many other countries, the British conflict was resolved through a gradual roll-back of the crown's power to its current ceremonial role, rather than the more dramatic overturning of "L'État, c'est moi" via revolution.
The British monarchy was disrupted and interrupted at times by revolutionary jostling - including the English Civil War, in which the matter of divine right came to a head, and the Glorious Revolution, in which it was finally broken - and the restoration of the monarchy after each of these episodes was generally accompanied by further concessions of privilege.
So the political tradition we inherit from Britain is a long conflict between Roundheads and Cavaliers, between parliamentarians and royalists, between the commonwealth and the crown, between democracy and divine right.
All the things I love about our political traditions come from the parliamentary strand: the enshrinement of individual liberties, the expansion of democracy, the nuanced, battle-tested rules, customs and traditions of the Westminster system.
All of these have served to close a box around the crown - a steadily shrinking box as the monarch's authority, power and relevance is reduced to mere ceremony.
Frankly, the proposal to name the Gore Park Promenade after the Queen's jubilee reminds me of the Federal Government renaming Canada's Maritime Command and Air Command as the Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force, respectively, 43 years after "Royal" was dropped from their names.
It's the worst kind of pandering: the same government that is systematically undermining and subverting our Parliamentary traditions has the audacity to drape regal symbolism over the country's institutions.
If we needed another reminder of the Crown's irrelevance to Canadian governance, we need only recall former Governor General Michaelle Jean - the Queen's representative in Canada - meekly granting Prime Minister Stephen Harper permission to shut down a two-week-old legislative session rather than face a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons.
So much for the reserve powers of the head of state to forestall a constitutional crisis.
The monarchy is no longer a going concern. It is an historical artifact of the long struggle between the broad public interest and the narrow interest of the privileged few. I don't mind the things we already have that are named after the crown, but I don't see what purpose is served to name new things after it.
When picking traditions to commemorate, we should emphasize the traditions and movements that have expanded our civil liberty, not the forces that have historically worked to restrict it.
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