‘This bill is a sham’

A bit late, the royal succession bill might get a debate in the Senate

Despite the concerns raised by constitutional scholars, the House of Commons passed the royal succession bill on Monday morning at all stages with no debate. As the bill heads for debate in the Senate, it will receive deliberation, committee study and even a bit of opposition.

“This bill is a sham. It appears, once the constitutional lawyers work through the logic, that the bill has no effect whatsoever, and in fact is meaningless,” says Progressive Conservative senator Elaine McCoy. “It is another example of this government’s disdain for our institutions, and the fundamental lack of knowledge of our constitutional realities in Canada. At best it’s sloppy; at worst, it’s disdain.”

McCoy believes the bill will do nothing to change the rules of succession for the Canadian Crown—a separate entity from the British Crown (see Philippe Lagassé’s explanation for the details). But McCoy doesn’t believe a proper bill would require a constitutional amendment (and thus the unanimous consent of the provinces), an opinion shared by Liberal Senator Serge Joyal, who chaired the committee that dealt with the drafting of Section 41 of the Constitution.

Joyal, the Liberal party’s critic on the bill in the Senate, says the rules of succession are a matter of importance and need to be debated. “Maybe [MPs] are under the impression that it’s not that serious, that there are other matters that are more pressing and urgent and they don’t want to use their time to do that,” Joyal says. “Fortunately, we have in the Senate an opportunity to do that, and I think we should do it. The Crown is a very important institution in Canada—those changes are very meaningful.”

Joyal believes that the laws of succession in Canada are covered under the preamble of our constitution, which states that it’s a constitution similar in principle to the constitution of the United Kingdom, and therefore their laws of succession become part of our constitutional law. “If they change their constitutional law, where they are the master of the initiative, that would have an impact in Canada, and if we consent to that, then of course we made it for ourselves to be bound by those changes,” Joyal says. “That’s essentially the initiative that we’re following now.”

Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, who participated in the Commonwealth conference in Perth when the changes were agreed to among the leaders of the 16 countries for whom Queen Elizabeth II serves as head of state, believes the current bill is a rational expression of the consultative principle agreed to between the realms.

“This respects the right of the Dominions not to have things that affect our constitution done without our consent,” Segal says. “The fact that the realms now gets an opportunity to pass a bill to consent to that I think speaks to the best traditions of the Commonwealth.”

Segal doesn’t see a problem in simply assenting to British legislation. “The Crown of Canada is a separate corporate entity, but the Canadian Crown has established for a very long time that Her Majesty the Queen and her heirs, dependents, and successors are the core premise of the Canadian Crown,” Segal says. “If the British had passed the legislation through their House and said that’s how we’re going to pick our monarch and that’s how it is for the rest of you guys, that would have concerned me.”

Segal says that because the bill will pass the Canadian Parliament, it shows that Canada had the chance to differ or disagree and chose not to of its own free will.

As the debate moves forward, McCoy hopes to express her concern that the bill is flawed. “Someone has taken the 1936 precedent when the King abdicated and applied it in 2013,” McCoy says. “Unfortunately, 1982 happened in the meantime, so that precedent is invalid now.”

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