Canada may have a royal baby problem

Royal baby memorabilia for sale in Bishop's Stortford, England. Photo: Peter Herring

Royal baby memorabilia for sale in Bishop’s Stortford, England. Photo: Peter Herring

Those who have no use for the House of Windsor should look away now! For the curious, or the fixated, read on.

As anyone not living under a rock knows, “the royal baby” is due sometime in July. Betting on nearly every imaginable detail is in full swing.  The media stake out around the hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge is expected to give birth has already begun.

The National Post reports that some bored journalists have taken to interviewing each other. As of last Wednesday, anyway “…the British are interviewing the Americans, the Japanese interviewed the Canadian, and the Canadian interviewed the Germans.”

The Duchess has expressed an intent to try have a natural delivery, which some observers hope will reduce the rate of unnecessary Caesarian births in the United Kingdom.

This child – girl or boy – will be 3rd in line for the throne. After the reign of Elizabeth II, next up is her eldest son Charles, followed by his eldest son William. Everyone else in that line after the baby is born drops down in place, as can be seen on this chart from the New York Times.

This particular monarchy is also the titular head of state for a total of 16 countries, including Canada. Those nations have agreed to changing the succession rules. But some legal experts say Canada, at least, has yet to enact that change properly.

The bill introduced last January to make the change (“C-53“) did pass. But some experts say it is insufficient to the task. At least one province has already formally stated the passage of that bill should not be considered a precedent to skip provincial consultation in other issues that pertain to the constitution.

Without wandering too deeply into the legal weeds, the gist of that argument goes like this: if Canada is a stand-alone, independent country (and it is) then Canada must change the rules of succession on its own, within its own legal structure. It’s not enough to say “Whatever Mother England decides is OK by us”, not without diminishing Canada’s national sovereignty.

Is this change a constitutional issue, or not?

Here’s the nub of the matter, according to this CBC article:

…section 41 (a) of Canada’s Constitution, patriated in 1982, says that an amendment in relation to the office of “the Queen, the Governor General and the Lieutenant Governor of a province” can be made only where authorized by “resolutions of the Senate and House of Commons and of the legislative assembly of each province.”

So does that mean reforming the rules about who can be king or queen requires unanimous consent from Canada’s provincial capitals?

University of Ottawa Associate Professor of Public and International Affairs Philippe Laglassé explores the issue in laborious detail in this Ottawa Citizen July 5th op-ed. by After examinining different aspects of the arguments, in summary he says:

Regardless, there would be a clear benefit if the courts tell Parliament that it must enact substantive legislation to alter the rules of succession in Canadian law: the judiciary would be signalling that Canada has a legally distinct Crown and sovereign, and that the Canadian state is wholly sovereign and independent as a result.

Indeed, court challenges have begun. It’s hard to guess if this will be ignored, or go all the way to Canada’s Supreme Court for a ruling.

The whole matter may sound like just so much hair-splitting. Also (happily!) the legal questions need not be settled before the royal baby is born!

But law, legislation and constitutions are funny that way – the devil is in the details and the details do matter.

Alas! The scope of this post may prove frustrating. Those who want all the baby and family news don’t care about legal nit-picking. The few legal or constitutional buffs who have made it this far probably feel the subject has not been properly outlined.

Suffice it to say, changing the rules of succession can actually be fairly complicated.

Apart from all that, best wishes to the parents-to-be for a healthy child – of either gender!

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4 Comments on “Canada may have a royal baby problem”

  1. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I don’t know why anyone would want a titular head of state, and I’m surprised I’m even allowed to write that in a family friendly blog. Yes, you warned me in the first sentence to look away immediately, still I don’t get why you keep those parasites hanging around.

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  2. The Original Larry says:

    Theorectically, having an hereditary monarch as Head of State provides protection for the people, the constitution and the state by putting “control” beyond the reach of grubby, self-serving politicians. Putting limits, however theoretical, on politicians is not a bad idea.

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  3. The Original Larry says:

    Speaking of grubby, self-serving politicians, why nothing here about the Obama administration’s repudiation of the ACA in the name of mid-term election results? Could it be grubby, self-serving politics?

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  4. Lucy Martin says:

    Actually, it is easy to argue that a non-political head of state has some useful merit.

    In the case of Canada, at least, it serves as a national symbol with longevity that most can follow or support – in contrast to the political faction in power (which is almost bound to behave in a really partisan manner in this parliamentary model).

    Since parties can win control with as little as thirty-something percent of actual votes, close to 2/3rds of the population may dislike their political leader at a given time. It’s far easier to cheer for an above-the-fray symbol than some detestable political hack – of any party!

    It seems to me a main stumbling block in efforts to drop the British monarchy from the head-of-state role in countries like Australia and Canada is the lack of a clear replacement for that purpose.

    The U.S. sort of finesses the problem by having the three branches of government act as checks and balances and using the office of the president as the symbol of the nation. Americans do speak of “respecting the office” even while disliking the holder of that office. (Though many would say that practice is under acrimonious assault too.)

    There is wide-spread approval of the current monarch. Despite the occasional antics of her relatives, Queen Elizabeth II has done a brilliant job: intelligent, reliable and totally dedicated.

    After her reign ends, I’d guess the model will come up for closer review.

    It sure looks like Australia may go republic first, once that country manages to invent some new head-of-state symbol.

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