July 12, 2020

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Time to make the May-long Canadian

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/5/2010 (3704 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Did you know the May 24 holiday is a two-for-one deal?

Victoria Day is not only a memorial to the long-dead British monarch, it's also the official birthday of the current queen or king in England. Our big summer kick-off is a double-bill. Trouble is, it's a Canadian holiday with no Canadian to cheer for -- like watching an all-U.S.A. Stanley Cup final year after year after year. Some double-bill.

It's time we convert this holiday to honour someone or something that embraces the country as exuberantly as we greet this annual coming-out.

Let's get things straight. Queen Victoria was British. She never set foot in this country. She's credited with selecting Ottawa as capital of the Province of Canada (before there was a Dominion). But it was the Fathers of Confederation at Charlottetown who chose Ottawa as capital for the new union, not Queen Victoria.

Now there's a gang the holiday could be named for: Founders' Day! Even at their 1864 meetings, they knew the value of liquor as social lubricant, setting a fine precedent for the May long weekend.

May 24 also marks the official birthday of the sovereign reigning over Canada. Since 1952, that's been a lovely lady, Elizabeth. The problem is, it's an awfully long reach from the United Kingdom to the United Provinces.

And while there's affection on both sides for the other, her birth is no reason to create a national holiday here.

Like her predecessors, she wasn't born in this country, doesn't live here and doesn't share our citizenship. She drops in now and then, but she is foremost the Queen of the UK, according to her official Canadian title. Canada comes in second, and that's not good enough.

When she visits Parliament Hill on Canada Day in just over a month, federal rules dictate the Maple Leaf flag be lowered from the Peace Tower because her personal flag takes precedence. That's not good enough for this grand nation.

At the Vancouver Olympics, we battled hard to put our flag on top. In Ottawa, bureaucrats insist we take it down. It's an insult to demote the symbol of our country any time, much less on the First of July in the capital.

Another flag faux-pas: Federal buildings are reminded to fly the Union Jack on Monday. Pardon me, but if we're celebrating the birth of the queen of Canada, why are federal facilities flying the flag of a foreign country?

As the Monarchist League points out, the office of the sovereign of Canada is distinct from that of the United Kingdom. The UK marks her birth in June. Do they fly the Canadian flag that day? No, but it would make as much sense.

British monarchs have bumped Canadians off our coins for over 140 years. Incredibly, a Canadian has never graced the front of a Canadian coin. That's not good enough. This glorious country should be celebrating its own people on coins. Even tiny Jamaica, a monarchy under the same queen, manages to honour national heroes on its pocket change.

It's not Elizabeth's fault, it's Ottawa's, for forcing people to swear allegiance to her and her heirs if they want to become Canadian. With fingers crossed behind their backs, newcomers speak an oath that has their lips betray their hearts. On a day they ought to be proud of their allegiance to Canada and the Constitution, Ottawa deflects that to a person sitting in an English palace. That's not good enough.

Overseas monarchy has insinuated itself into Canadian life, in part because we've moved excruciatingly slowly in forging an independent country from a colony. We have gained legislative autonomy (1931), citizenship (1947), a flag (1965), and Constitution (1982).

We can now prepare for the next and ultimate step: ending our reliance on Buckingham Palace to supply us a head of state. Michael Ignatieff's recent suggestion the governor general be chosen with input from the people could move us in that direction.

The GG could well become our head of state, legitimized by a process we have yet to invent. It's a path openly supported by Citizens for a Canadian Republic, and quietly by others, to ensure Elizabeth II is the last British monarch to reign over Canada.

Indeed, if we don't begin charting the options, our May holiday will mark the birth of King Charles, by default. We can change that without stirring constitutional angst. A holiday to honour overseas royalty is a vestige of a 19th-century country we no longer recognize as our own.

Quebec is ahead on this score, having renamed it Patriots' Day in 2003 to honour those who fought for democracy in the 1837 Rebellion. Other provinces could follow suit and rechristen the day so that, when fireworks burst in the late Mays of the future, they won't be for a foreign queen or king. They'll be for us. And that will be good enough.

Wayne Adam is a Toronto writer.


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