It’s entirely predictable, whenever the question of inviting the Queen to Quebec arises, how quickly the media round up the usual suspects to denounce even the possibility, let alone the prospect.
Thus, on whether she should be invited to take part in the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City next year, the first people called for comment were the Societe St. Jean Baptiste de Montreal and the Quebec Sovereignty Council.
Well, of course, they didn’t think it was a good idea, even though she hasn’t even been invited yet.
"You can be sure that people will demonstrate in protest," warned Mario Beaulieu, vice- president of the SSJB. "We are celebrating the foundation of New France, not its conquest. The monarchy remains a symbol of imperialism and colonialism. Her presence will not be welcomed."
Riots, imperialism and colonialism all in the same quote. That’s a pretty good day’s work.
Not to be out-quoted, former trade union leader Gerald Larose, head of the sovereignty council, noted that "Canada wasn’t founded in 1608, what was founded in 1608 was the Quebec nation."
He went on, in last Saturday’s Globe and Mail : "It would be indecent to recycle history in this way... Moreover the monarchy is the most despicable, appalling, anti-democratic, imperial, colonial symbol against which all social and individual rights were obtained through the course of history."
So there. Evidently, Larose never learned in school about the Quebec Act of 1774, under which King George III, though quite mad in other ways, wisely allowed Quebecers to retain their language and religion. It was the beginning of the Canadian constitutional experience that was reflected nearly a century later in the asymmetrical arrangements under the British North America Act.
When The Gazette’s Elizabeth Thompson and other reporters caught up with Gilles Duceppe in the lobby of the House on Monday, he evidently felt obliged to weigh in on this thorny constitutional question.
"She has enough matters to settle at home, starting with her grandson," said Duceppe, referring to Prince William’s recent breakup with girlfriend Kate Middleton. "That’s enough for Madame."
Something’s happened to Duceppe since he started slipping in the polls. He used to have better judgment, and more class, than that.
Inviting the Queen to Quebec next year, Duceppe added, would be "an affront to Quebecers. On the one hand it is archaic to have a queen. For the Queen of Canada to be the Queen of England is already fairly harebrained. Secondly, I think she has strictly no business to be there. It is an outmoded, archaic symbol."
That might be, but the role of the crown in the Canadian constitutional framework dates from the Quebec Act, to the BNA Act, to the Constitution Act of 1982, which repatriated the Constitution from Westminster with an entrenched Charter of Rights.
Signed by "Madame," in fact, 25 years ago yesterday. Without Quebec’s assent, of course, though that can hardly be blamed on her.
However, there were some more dignified comments, including those by the mayor of Quebec City, the head of the 400th anniversary organizing committee, and the Charest government, through the minister of intergovernmental affairs, Benoit Pelletier, suggesting she would be more than welcome in her capacity as Queen of Canada.
While the Queen would never impose herself, neither would she be intimidated by the prospect of protesters. The Globe invoked this possibility in its story by referring to the infamous "samedi de la matraque" police riot in 1964, adding erroneously that she hadn’t been back to Quebec since.
In fact she was invited by the Mulroney and Bourassa governments for a visit in October 1987, her first to the provincial capital in 23 years (though she had opened the Olympics in Montreal in 1976). She visited a small town near Quebec, spoke almost entirely in French at a lunch hosted by Quebec at the National Assembly, and again at a dinner hosted by the federal government at the Chateau Frontenac.
All of the above occurred without any incident, and without a sign of any protester. She used the occasion of her dinner speech to issue a strong endorsement of the Meech Lake Accord, much stronger than the general remarks written for her by the Prime Minister’s Office (by me). "Even the Queen herself is forced to say the accord is a good thing," Pierre Trudeau later complained in testimony to the Senate.
Nonsense. No one puts words in her mouth. She knew what she wanted to say, and said it.
If invited to Quebec City next year, she will undoubtedly accept. Whatever one thinks of the monarchy, she understands her role, and has been playing it very well for more than half a century.