Canadians’ Royal Fever Doesn’t Run That Hot
Canada might welcome Prince Harry and Meghan—but the monarchy itself is looking shaky.
When the U.K.’s Prince Harry finally arrives in Canada, after much speculation and palace intrigue, there’s bound to be fanfare. Whenever a member of the royal family graces its former dominion with a visit, the hoopla brings crowds to line the streets for a chance at a flat-hand wave or a glimpse at a tiny king-to-be.
That jubilation, the white-hot royalist fervor, is so pronounced in Canada specifically because it is pretty uncommon.
The Duke of York made a jaunt through two provinces last May. The Prince of Wales took a trip to the Arctic in 2017, and made it to the capital for Canada’s 150th birthday. Queen Elizabeth II hit four cities in 2010.
Generally, the royal family has avoided more than one big visit a year. And, truthfully, that’s probably about as much as Canadian royal enthusiasm can sustain. There are good odds that Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, will discover exactly that when they settle down in Canada. In fact, that may be exactly why they’re so keen on the coldest part of the Commonwealth.
It’s hard to blame the pair for fleeing the United Kingdom for Canada. The prince’s mother died fleeing vulturous paparazzi. These days, the British tabloids have occupied themselves by publishing racist trash about his wife. Meghan has been treated as the “new element” by the flocks of royal watchers who keep a beady eye on Buckingham Palace. Fleeing the media obsession sounds like a smart bit of self-care for the young family.
The two have friends in Canada, too. Meghan is close with Jessica Mulroney, the wife of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s TV host son Ben. Integrating into the relatively tame Canadian celebrity world shouldn’t be hard.
It’s unclear whether the married couple and their infant son, Archie, will settle down in Toronto, where Meghan shot Suits and where Prince Harry hosted the Invictus games, or in the sleepier Vancouver Island, where Meghan is now with her son. Either way, there are even odds that Canadians, generally, just won’t care all that much.
For one thing, those who might otherwise be their most loyal supporters are also the ones most prone to tut-tutting change. The Monarchist League of Canada was anything but jubilant at the news of royals moving in next door.
“A friendly caution to Harry and Meghan: any public support for their desire to occupy a new, hybrid role combining their royal status with more personal freedom could disappear quickly were there to develop a feeling that, even inadvertently, they had in some way showed disrespect to The Queen, whose style is self-effacing and whose watchword is duty,” the organization wrote on Facebook last week.
The Globe and Mail, Canada’s paper of record, which generally leans royalist, even politely requested that the royals not settle there. “You are welcome to visit, but so long as you are senior royals, Canada cannot allow you to come to stay,” the paper’s editorial board wrote.
The monarchy is omnipresent in Canada, in a way. The queen is on Canada’s money; roads and highways are named for various members of the royal family past and present; and Canadians are active members of the Commonwealth, yes. But Canada has never really sustained much of an interest above and beyond that, apart from the occasional royal tour and binge-watching The Crown.
Canadian media, upon learning of the royals’ plans to decamp there, seemed more interested in probing what the news says about how the world views Canada. The Canadian media spent ample time agonizing over how the New York Times wrote the country up. (“[The move is] injecting some glamour into the sprawling, bone-chillingly cold country.”) Outright excitement, though, was in short supply.
There was some idle speculation that the prince could be appointed Canada’s governor general—the queen’s representative in Canada. That was buoyed by a poll showing such an idea was tepidly popular.
The odds of Prince Harry actually being appointed are slim to none.
“It would be pretty colonial to have him there,” said Philippe Lagassé, a preeminent scholar on the monarchy and an associate professor at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.
The custom is to have a Canadian stand-in as head of state. Appointing a member of the royal family as governor general would certainly be a step back—though not totally unprecedented in the Commonwealth. Edward VIII was made governor of the Bahamas after he abdicated the throne.
At the same time, there would be nothing particularly special about Prince Harry, should he be appointed governor general. He would still, legally, be a representative of the queen, and his ceremonial role would still be largely limited to attending state functions, providing royal assent to legislation, delivering the speech from the throne, and so on. The idea itself seems like a solution in search of a problem—as though Canada ought to be a hospitable host and give the fleeing royal something to do with his time.
But it seems there are good odds that the pair aren’t terribly interested in more ceremonial duties. To that end, they might have plenty in common with their soon-to-be compatriots—an acceptance of the monarchy as status quo, with little interest in the pomp and circumstance that surrounds it.
Legally, Canada has its own monarchy. “Her Majesty in Right of Canada is a separate and distinct entity from Her Majesty in Right of the United Kingdom,” Lagassé explained. Those two titles, of course, are currently held by the same person, Queen Elizabeth II. It seems unlikely there will ever be an independent monarch of Canada.
The title, in the United Kingdom, is forever subject to worry, panic, rage, joy, grief, fascination, and a whack of other emotions, sometimes simultaneously. In Canada, the crown elicits emotions ranging from mild discomfort to subdued happiness.
Polling data bears out Canada’s polite indifference. Queen Elizabeth II is considered fairly popular—she has, after all, been queen longer than Canada has had its own constitution—but opinion is divided on what should happen when her reign ends. Half the country want to see the monarchy abolished outright, half want to carry on. Support for republicanism is largely focused in Quebec, where there’s never been much love for the British Crown, but right around half of English Canadians say they actually oppose abolishing the monarchy. Many don’t know or care. Those numbers have edged up in recent years; the latest poll shows a slight edge in favor of republicanism.
Nearly one in three Canadians, when asked which member of the royal family they admire the most, said, simply, none.
Having the royal couple in Canada, with no particular status beyond being an exceptionally wealthy man and a talented actress, might actually feed into the country’s monarchist malaise.
“With Harry hanging around here with no legal status or citizenship, it’s a reminder that the royal family and monarchy are still fundamentally British,” Lagassé said.
What’s more, he said, “We’re at their whims.” When the prince arrives, Canada is called upon to respond—to play host. If Buckingham Palace and the U.K. Parliament decide someone else ought to rule after the queen, it’s up to them. “They consult the other realms,” Lagassé noted, but for the rest of the Commonwealth “there’s a good deal of pressure to simply go along.”
Truthfully, there wouldn’t even be much appetite in Canada to try to carry more sway in deciding who the next monarch is. When the topic came up for discussion in 2011, Ottawa opted to leave those sorts of decisions with London.
The Canadian government is now faced with a unique puzzle in how to welcome the pair without going overboard. It’s like a host deciding just how many bottles of wine and bowls of snacks signal “welcome, but I have to be up for work in the morning.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the country may be covering some of the security costs for the family, but he doesn’t seem eager to foot the bill forever. 73 percent of the public wants the couple to foot the security bill themselves.
There’s also the question of immigration: Neither Prince Harry nor Meghan is a citizen of Canada. (Neither is the queen.) As British citizens, they are generally free to live and work in Canada without much paperwork, though if they’re angling for actual settled status, they’ll need to apply like everyone else.
If they want to go that route, they’ll probably have a go at the Express Entry system, which grades would-be residents through a rubric based on everything including education, work experience, and skills in both official languages. I decided to fill out the scorecard, to see just how desirable the two would be, should they apply.
Prince Harry, with no university degree, no formal job in Canada, and no second language skills, scores—assuming he does all of his language tests and can get a job offer—about 540 points out of a possible 1,200. Meghan, on the other hand, with her double major in theater and international studies, proficiency in French, and previous work experience in Canada, is a shoo-in, with a score around 730.
Of course, the Trudeau government could decide to let the family jump the line. Doing so would dirty up the couple’s professed goal to live a more normal, less privileged life, however. It would only worsen the existing perception of Canadian immigration that the rich and powerful have their own line for citizenship.
All told, there’s not likely to be much royal mania in Canada for the incoming family. They may suit them just fine. In fact, it may be exactly what they’re looking for.
Justin Ling is a journalist based in Toronto.