Quebec sovereigntists urge Canada to cut ties to British monarchy

Symbolic parliamentary motion stands little chance of success but renews debate around the role of the British crown in Canada.

RCMP officers on horseback during a ceremony in Ottawa after the death of Queen Elizabeth II
Royal Canadian Mounted Police take part in a parade in commemoration of the death of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II in Ottawa, Canada, September 19, 2022 [File: Patrick Doyle/Reuters]

Quebec sovereigntists have called on Canada to cut ties with the British monarchy, which the head of the Bloc Quebecois party described as a costly and “archaic” symbol.

The party’s symbolic motion, debated in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Tuesday, comes amid a renewed debate in Commonwealth realms around the role of the British crown following the recent death of Queen Elizabeth II.

Canada is a constitutional monarchy and its ceremonial “head of state” is now King Charles III.

“We think we need to dispose of [ties to the British monarchy] easily, quickly, without making a fuss. It’s an anachronism. It’s a coat of paint in a living room that is starting to fade in the corners,” Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said during a news conference before the debate.

A vote is expected on Wednesday on the measure, which is unlikely to pass.

Canada also requires much more to cut ties with the British crown; such a decision needs the approval of both houses of parliament, as well as the consent of all the Canadian provinces, CBC News reported.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the Bloc’s effort on Tuesday, telling the House of Commons that the political party was ignoring more pressing issues, including inflation and rising costs of living.

“Canadians are concerned by the issues they are facing, whether that’s climate change, global instability or the cost of living. And that’s what we choose to discuss,” Trudeau said. “They [the Bloc] want to reopen the constitution; we will remain focused on the concerns of Canadians.”

Queen Elizabeth II’s death last month prompted an outpouring of condolences, including from Trudeau, who described the longtime monarch – and Canada’s longest-reigning sovereign – as “a constant presence” in the lives of Canadians.

“Today, a page has not only been turned, but a chapter in our shared history has drawn to a close. I know Her Majesty’s service to Canada and Canadians will forever remain an important part of our country’s history,” Trudeau said in a statement on September 8.

An Ipsos poll released just days later showed that Canadians were divided over the monarchy’s future role in the country, however, with 58 percent saying they wanted Trudeau to hold a referendum on the matter – up five percentage points since Queen Elizabeth II’s death.

More than half of respondents (54 percent) said they agreed that Canada should “end its formal ties to the British monarchy” in the aftermath of her death, compared with 46 percent who disagreed.

Quebec, a predominantly French-speaking province, had the highest percentage of people who agreed to cut ties with the crown, at 79 percent, the poll found.

Meanwhile, more than a dozen legislators in Quebec, which held elections in early October, have refused to take an oath to King Charles III that is required to enter the provincial legislature, local media reported. “I am sincerely uncomfortable with pledging an allegiance to a foreign king,” Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, leader of the provincial Parti Quebecois, recently said.

While some Commonwealth realms said they had no immediate plans to remove the British crown as head of state following the queen’s passing, others have seen an increased debate around whether to ditch the monarchy, especially in the Caribbean.

The prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda said in September that the island nation planned to hold a referendum on the matter in the next three years. That follows in the footsteps of Barbados, which in November renounced the queen to become a republic.

Brooke Newman, an associate professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University, told Al Jazeera last month that she believed Queen Elizabeth II’s death would accelerate that push.

“Now that she is gone, there is much less of a sentimental attachment to the institution of the monarchy, and then even less so to the person of Charles III,” Newman said.

Source: Al Jazeera