British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called for an end to the discriminatory laws of royal succession last week. Then, almost as quickly, his government killed a private member’s bill that would have started the process, claiming it was not the “appropriate vehicle.” After Friday’s decision, Brown—who publicly decried the precedence of male heirs and the ban on royals marrying Catholics, which dates back to the 1701 Act of Settlement—was accused of peddling “spin” to boost his popularity. Still, with any such action requiring approval from all 16 countries where the Queen is head of state, he says he’ll raise it at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in November.
The PMO did not respond to questions from Maclean’s regarding Stephen Harper’s position on the issue. But Simon Fraser University professor Andrew Heard suspects “the Canadian government would readily agree” to changing laws that “run counter to modern democratic values.” Some experts, though, warn that in countries where the Queen is little more than a figurehead, the succession question could ignite debate about the relevance of the monarchy. The issue is, in fact, attracting attention in Australia, where voters narrowly rejected a proposal to become a republic in 1999.
But in Canada, it’s done little to stoke the fires of anti-monarchist sentiment. A 2007 Angus Reid poll did find that 53 per cent of Canadians support cutting ties with the monarchy. But few people are openly agitating for that; as Heard says, “there is very little depth of emotion involved.” The ambivalence, says University of Toronto professor Sidney Aster, stems from the changing demographics of the population: “Hardly anyone in this country gives bugger all about the monarchy.” But that doesn’t mean some anti-monarchists aren’t hopeful. Says Tom Freda, national director of Citizens for a Canadian Republic: “The whole issue of the monarchy is a house of cards. All it’s going to take is a little more attention and it’s going to come tumbling down.”