Is the Queen quitting overseas visits, including Canada?

Prince Charles will take her place at the Commonwealth leaders conference, but don’t expect his mother to halt travel altogether
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth leaves St Paul’s Cathedral after a thanksgiving service to mark her Diamond Jubilee in central London June 5, 2012. Four days of nationwide celebrations during which millions of people have turned out to mark Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee conclude on Tuesday with a church service and carriage procession through central London. REUTERS/Andrew Winning (BRITAIN - Tags: ROYALS ENTERTAINMENT SOCIETY ANNIVERSARY)
David Davies/AP

She’s visited her northern realm 23 times, including her last visit in 2010. But in a clear sign that Queen Elizabeth II is seriously scaling down overseas visits, she’s bowed out of the Commonwealth leaders conference scheduled for November in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo.

“I can confirm that the Queen will be represented by the Prince of Wales,” a palace spokesman told the media today. “The reason is that we are reviewing the amount of long-haul travel that is taken by the Queen.” They are also dropping strong hints that long-distance foreign visits are a thing of the past, which is bad news to realms such as Australia and New Zealand.

For the Queen, who is deeply committed to the Commonwealth, not to attend the conference is a sign that she’s finally heeding her advisers and easing up on a schedule that would exhaust someone half her age. She’s now 87 and though she undertook 425 engagements last year, all were in Britain. During 2012, the royal household hit upon a clever idea: she and Philip stayed in Britain while the rest of the Windsors were sent to the Commonwealth to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee.

Instead of Elizabeth II, her son and heir, Prince Charles, will attend the conference, another step in a gradual transition for the Prince of Wales, who turns 65 on Nov. 14, towards the throne. Just search the Court Circular to see his workload, which topped 590 engagements last year. The Queen has been spending more time at her beloved Windsor Castle, often greeting foreign leaders there instead of the more formal Buckingham Palace.  It’s a trend that is likely to accelerate in future years.

But don’t say the “A” word, for she isn’t going to give up the throne. She isn’t Beatrix of the Netherlands. Elizabeth made a vow to serve for life. She reiterated that promise last year to Parliament: ” I have been privileged to witness some of that history and, with the support of my family, rededicate myself to the service of our great country and its people now and in the years to come.”

So will she come back to Canada? Yes.

We’re a seven-to-eight-hour flight away, not the 22-to-24 hours that Australia is. In a move that augers well for the future, Prince Philip, who turns 92 in June, popped into Toronto for a 24-hour visit to see the Royal Canadian Regiment late last month.

Whenever the Queen comes back, one this is guaranteed: the crowds will be huge, even larger than those seen during the 2010 tour. Because it could be the last time we see the Queen of Canada in her northern realm.