Legacy of Crown on display as MPs pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth in House of Commons

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OTTAWA — The tacit debate over the legacy of the Crown and Canada's future relationship with the monarchy began Thursday in the House of Commons as members of Parliament paid tribute to the late Queen Elizabeth.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reminded the House of the enduring importance of the Crown as politicians of all political stripes rose in tribute to the queen during a special sitting of the House in recognition of her death last week.

"In our constitutional monarchy, the Crown's functions in our government are to be a bedrock for our Constitution and to transcend the daily political debates," Trudeau said in his address.

"The stability of our overarching democratic institutions gives Canadians assurance and peace of mind so we can all focus on the issues that matter the most, like taking care of people, of our economy, of our communities and of our planet."

The prime minister lauded the queen for her dedication to Canada, and reminded fellow MPs that the country came of age under her reign.

The queen signed Canada's Constitution Act in 1982, ushering in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"These pillars of our democracy help uphold the stability of our country and keep us free," Trudeau said.

Pierre Poilievre, in his first remarks as leader of the Conservatives, echoed the prime minister's sentiments.

"The separation of symbolic authority from political power allows partisan politics to be contested fearlessly without threatening the enduring constitutional order," Poilivre said. "Parties and politicians come and go, the Crown endures."

Both leaders earned standing ovations from all parties in the House except for the Bloc Québécois. While other MPs were on their feet, Bloc members refrained from applause.

The relationship between Quebec and the Crown is "thorny and cruel," Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet said in his remarks. He offered condolences in French to those grieving the queen's passing, but urged parliamentarians to reflect on the role of the Crown in Canada.

There was no applause for Blanchet when he told the House his party would take no further part in the special session of Parliament. His members filed out after a moment of silence once the leaders' speeches were over.

"Let's arrive in the 21st century and see that any power — which is supposedly based on divine right, which has so much influence, and is so terribly expensive — might be considered as something of the past," Blanchet told reporters outside the House after his speech.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh acknowledged there will be time for that discussion later, and that many nations have already begun to reckon with their relationship to the monarchy.

In his speech in the House, Singh spoke about the work King Charles has ahead of him to repair the wounds of the past.

"Loss of language and culture, violence and war are the legacies of a colonial past," he said. "I believe the new King has an opportunity and a responsibility to do what he can to right the wrongs of the past."

MPs are slated to give speeches in the House to recognize the queen's legacy in Canada throughout the day, and might continue on Friday morning.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 15, 2022.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press