Why it is ‘virtually impossible’ to abolish the monarchy in Canada

Queen Elizabeth II’s passing has reignited a longstanding debate in Canada. Canadians are wondering whether it makes sense for the country to be tied to the monarchy this day in age.

A 2022 poll by the Angus Reid Institute shows at least 51% of Canadians want to sever ties with the monarchy. Support for the monarchy in Canada has been declining steadily over the last decade.

But Canada’s Constitutional framework makes it incredibly difficult to sever ties with the monarchy. In fact, some experts say it’s basically “impossible” to abolish the monarchy in Canada.

Video by Shibani Gokhale

Video Transcript

- We've been hearing a lot of talk about Canada's ties to the monarchy and the royal family. A 2022 poll conducted by the Angus Reid Institute shows at least 51% of Canadians want to abolish the monarchy in Canada. And this poll was taken prior to Queen Elizabeth's death. Her passing has reignited the longstanding debate. Canadians are asking, does it even make sense for Canada to be tied to the monarchy this day and age?

Many say no. It's time to cut the ties. But how do you cut ties with the monarchy? By amending the Constitution. Seems easy, right? It's not that easy. In fact, it's almost impossible. Why is that? Let's dive into it.

The simple answer is the law. The more complicated answer is the Constitution was designed in such a way that it would be practically impossible to abolish the monarchy in Canada. Canada would need approval from the House of Commons and the Senate, as well as a unanimous consent of all 10 provinces to amend the Constitution and then abolish the monarchy. The approval from the three territories is not required since they don't have independent governing powers, but their opinion would be considered as part of a general consensus.

Normally, you need the consent of the Senate, House of Commons, and seven provinces to amend the Constitution. But to make significant changes, especially related to the monarchy, you need all 10. The last time the federal government and all 10 provinces agreed on one thing, it was on the Charlottetown Accord in 1992. That was 30 years ago.

- It's virtually impossible to abolish the monarchy in Canada because of the rule of unanimity. And that's not likely to change any time soon. You're going to need a deep and broad consensus across the country in order to move in this direction, and that deep and broad consensus, seems to me, does not yet exist.

- Plus, a move of this magnitude would probably require a public referendum. That means every single Canadian will get to have a say in whether it's time to abolish the monarchy. The Angus Reid poll from April 2022 shows that 24% Canadians are still unsure of their stance, and 26% actually support continuation of the monarchy. Now, it's not a legal requirement to conduct a referendum, and nor will the results be legally binding. But it is unlikely that our politicians will want to move ahead without the official approval of the majority.

- When you're engaging in significant constitutional reform and, you know, an amendment that requires unanimity by its-- on its own would suggest that it's significant that a referendum is required, but it's not legally or constitutionally mandated.

- Now, you might say, hey, Barbados did it. They abolished the monarchy. So why not Canada? Here's the thing, though. They never held a nationwide referendum, and they did not need unanimity at the scale that Canada would if we wanted to pursue this.

- Barbados, they avoided that risk by running an election campaign on the promise of abolition. And so once the government was elected, the prime minister could then take steps to fulfill that election promise. And that's how that was done.

- Australia, on the other hand, conducted a national referendum on the issue of abolition of the monarchy, and it failed.

- So the Australian public, though approving of moving towards abolition, didn't approve of the scheme that was devised to replace it. And this is why nailing down these kinds of details about what functions a head of state who is not a member of a family that is part of this hereditary monarchy, right-- nailing down these details is very important.

- And the details, that's where it gets sticky. Before you can even ask the House of Commons, the Senate, the provinces, and the people of Canada, we need to have a plan. While the monarch is only a nominal head of Canada, he does perform some important constitutional functions in the country, and these have to do with the prorogation and dissolution of the parliament, identifying the prime minister, who is then invited to form government, et cetera. These aren't even actually performed by the monarch. They are undertaken by the governor-general, who is the king's delegate in the country. So if we went ahead with cutting ties with the monarchy, we would need to find a replacement.

- We would require either somebody to serve in this capacity in lieu of the king and his delegates, the governor-general. So some president, some figurehead.

- This is exactly what Barbados did. They nominated a president in lieu of the king, who is now a largely symbolic figure in their democracy.

- Today, the crown is just an archaic institution. It only serves, as I said, constitutionally speaking, those few functions which some other institution could perform, right? It's not inconceivable that somebody else could do those things.

- We haven't even touched upon the time that all of this could take just to come up with a replacement plan and all approvals.

- Proposals to amend or resolutions to amend the Constitution that require unanimity don't have a due date on them, and that's because it's harder to cobble together unanimous consent. So if a resolution were to pass out of a legislative assembly, it could be sitting kind of on the table forever.

- You heard that right. Forever. This is how the Constitution was designed.

- And so The Crown will continue on into perpetuity, which was precisely the design.

- So is it possible for Canada to cut ties with the monarchy? Yes. Is it easy and will it happen any time soon? No. After all that, what's your take? Do you think it's time for Canada to say "so long" to the royals?