Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, it is with great pride that I join parliamentary colleagues today in paying tribute to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
We have heard some very fine tributes, some anecdotes and memories of the enormous span of what has occurred in the time of her reign, moments of great affection which we relate to this particular queen as well to the system of government in which we have a head of state who resides in another country.
It certainly is the case that the notion of being a constitutional monarchy is found with disfavour among many of my friends and colleagues, and I will include among them many in my own party. There is a sense that this is somehow an anachronism. However, I would like to stand today not just to pay tribute to Her Majesty the Queen, but to point out the many ways in which this system of government, of constitutional monarchy, makes sense for Canada.
I first want to pay tribute to Her Majesty the Queen, the person. What an extraordinary life. The hon. Minister of Immigration did a wonderful job in refreshing our minds as to what happened to a young princess, the various blows in history that were so very personal to this one little girl, first the death of her grandfather and then the abdication of her uncle from the throne which put her in direct line to becoming the Queen of England and of all of the realm and Commonwealth. They were extraordinary times and she never failed to rise to the occasion.
Tragically then there was the death of her father, King George VI. For most of us, the loss of a parent is a time for deep grieving and we need to be alone to cope and deal with a moment of great personal grief. I cannot begin to imagine how difficult it would have been for a young woman to realize that, with the loss of her father, personal grieving was something that duty would not allow. She stepped into the role of sovereign within moments of her father’s death.
Her Majesty the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh as well as her children, and the Prince of Wales who has been a prominent global environmentalist, and the ways in which they have conducted themselves have been examples to us all of duty over personal desires or momentary digressions. They have consistently applied themselves to the task, but particularly in the case of Her Majesty the Queen.
I have had occasion to meet with various members of the royal family, although I have never been so fortunate as to meet Her Majesty. However, because we were sharing anecdotes earlier, I recall one story. It is with respect to a friend of mine who at that time worked for a member of Parliament and was somehow put in a position on the royal tour of 1996 of looking after the two young princes. Will and Harry were young boys and their parents were busy with official duties, and lacking for anything to try to entertain them. It happened quite out of the blue that my friend suddenly had to look after the two little boys. To me this brings together the notion of the personal and the role as the symbol of our country. He decided that it might be entertaining for the young princes to see our brand new toonie. He pulled one out of his pocket and said, “You see, boys, this is our new coin. There’s a polar bear on our coin.” They were fascinated by it. They took it from him and they looked at it and said, “Oh yes, it’s a polar bear.” Then they turned it over and said, “Oh, and it’s granny on the back.” Then they asked if they could. I thought how dear was that for these little boys that their grandmother was on the coins of the realm, literally.
As we celebrate this Diamond Jubilee, so many stories are being shared through the media with respect to the sense of great affection and the role she plays as matriarch of a family that has gone through and endured tremendous stresses, while at the same time being our symbol.
Why does that make any sense in a modern country? Constitutional monarchy does something quite wonderful.
In the United States, where the notion of constitutional monarchy in 1776 was rejected and rebelled against King George III, members will notice that with the elected officials in the United States, the president and so on, the public clamours for royalty. Therefore, there is this notion of the first lady, the first family, the first dog, the family dogs of every president of the United States. I can recall the names of family dogs of presidents of the United States going back to F.D.R.’s dog Fala and who can forget Checkers, or L.B.J. and his beagles.
This is an unhealthy fascination with people who are, like all of us parliamentarians, mere mortal elected officials. We come and we go. Our duty should be to our country and to serve in Parliament. It confuses things altogether to have so much pomp and ceremony surrounding an elected official, such as a president or a member of Parliament who holds the title of leader of their party and hence becomes a prime minister.
It is very healthy that we do not turn a prime minister into a royal. In order to avoid that natural human temptation, we need the monarchy. We need to know that there is a royal family, and we are not electing it. We need to keep those roles separate and a constitutional monarchy allows us to do that. It allows us recognize that we in Parliament, built on the Westminster parliamentary system, although I have to admit we are slipping on that point, should recognize that our prime minister is merely first among equals and the head of state is Her Majesty the Queen, ruling over all of the Commonwealth.
There is another important relationship, and I am grateful to my friend, the hon. leader of the Liberal Party, for mentioning it. Canadians need to think about, particularly those who do not see a role for a monarchy in our modern era, that the most direct relationship that exists between Canada’s first nation peoples and those of us who are descendant from the colonizers is directly through Her Majesty the Queen and the royal family.
I want to enter into the record some quotes about this.
Lord Denning, one of my favourite erudite and wonderful writers from the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, back in 1982 made this comment about the relationship between Canada’s first nations and the Crown. He wrote, “No Parliament shall do anything to lessen the worth of these guarantees”. He speaks of the guarantees of rights of indigenous peoples in Canada through their relationship to the Crown. He said, “They should be honoured by the Crown in respect of Canada as the sun rises and the rivers flow. That promise must never be broken”. Lord Denning was very respected jurist from the High Court of the United Kingdom.
I also want to share some thoughts from the current national leader of the Assembly of First Nations. National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo has spoken of these relationships very recently. In fact, these words were on the occasion of the May visit between the Assembly of First Nations leadership and Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall. I will quote National Chief Atleo. He said:
I would like to thank the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall for spending time with First Nations leaders today as we have an historical relationship with the Imperial Crown pre-dating the existence of Canada. The meeting focused on the enduring relationship between First Nations and the Crown based on Treaties and noting the upcoming 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation of 1763 in October 2013, and how renewing the relationship must be the basis of our work today to achieve fundamental change for First Nations in Canada.
Canada, as a successor state, has not honoured the spirit and intent of Treaties and the Chiefs made sure to remind them of previous assurances provided by Queen Elizabeth when she affirmed the Treaties in an address on July 5, 1973 to the Chiefs in Alberta, stating “You may be assured that my Government of Canada recognizes the importance of full compliance with the spirit of your Treaties”.
It is this relationship which is quite fundamental. We often talk about Canada as being founded by two nations, primarily England and France, but I agree with John Ralston Saul, that it is a fairer country because we are founded more on three pillars than two. We are more a stool than an unbalanced twosome. We are because of first nations’ founding position in this country of ours. I think we must respect the fact that first nations’ rights go beyond inherent treaty rights. Indigenous rights go beyond what is in treaties and they are primarily recognized through a very direct and personal relationship.
The ancestors of our current Queen signed promises and commitments to first nations people in Canada, and that treaty relationship of Crown to indigenous peoples is one that continues and must continue.
On this 60th anniversary of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, I join with all my friends in Parliament in saying, in a very personal way, that we have been so very fortunate to have such a dedicated, such an exemplary, such a hard-working and wonderful monarch who so truly loves all of the Commonwealth and has clearly shown her affection for Canada through so many visits. On this her Diamond Jubilee, we have all been honoured.
I thank the current Privy Council for making the decision to create a special medal and to allow each one of us as parliamentarians to work with our local communities to find those people who have done so much work in their community that they can be recognized with a Diamond Jubilee Medal.
This brings us all together, and as other members have said, the fact is the Queen is beyond partisanship, beyond rancour, plays no role in our domestic politics but sets an example. When we all take our oath as members of Parliament, we swear one thing only, and that is our allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen. We do this again today as we recognize, celebrate and commend an extraordinary woman on 60 years on the throne.
Long may she reign. Long live the Queen.