No Queen at the fête? Good

Québec 2008 - La Reine d'Angleterre au 400e ?

So the Queen will not be invited. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has decided that Quebec City will celebrate the 400th anniversary of its founding without Her Majesty. Right decision or wrong-headed slight?
La Presse broke the story on Sunday based on Access to Information documents. Joël-Denis Bellavance wrote: "Fearing polemics between sover-
eigntists and federalists, the Harper government resisted pressures from the Government of Quebec, the City of Quebec and from its own officials, who all wanted to invite Queen Elizabeth II to the festivities celebrating the 400th anniversary of the founding of the capital next year. And that, despite the fact that Ottawa insists on giving the event a national significance."
How far we have come in the past 100 years. When Quebec celebrated its third centenary, a guest of honour was the Prince of Wales, the future George V. As University of Montreal historian Jacques Rouillard recalled that event, the prince received heartfelt eulogies from Georges Garneau, the mayor of Quebec, and Adélard Turgeon, a cabinet minister representing the Quebec government. Prof. Rouillard said: "These politicians reflected the widely dominant attitude at a time when the people had a high regard for the monarchy and British institutions because they had made possible the democratic system of government, a degree of political autonomy for Quebec, and the preservation and development of French Canada."
So why the radical turnaround in attitudes toward the monarchy? A century ago, Canada was still, constitutionally, a colony of the United Kingdom. But during the peace treaty negotiations after the First World War, with the 1931 Statute of Westminster and the 1982 patriation of the Constitution, Canada acquired full independence. And yet, implanted in the Constitution, is a vestige of colonialism: the role of the British monarch as Canada's head of state.
For most French Canadians, that is a symbolic affront, the recall of a painful past conquest, a display of the inability of Canadians to liquidate the last remaining institution of colonialism and to accept the country as fully adult, fully independent, fully itself.
A cross-country poll by Léger Marketing in 2002 probed attitudes toward the monarchy. In Quebec, only 29 per cent favoured its retention and 65 per cent were opposed. Should the Queen be replaced on the Canadian dollar by other historical figures? Yes, replied 76 per cent of Quebeckers and 78 per cent of francophones across the country. Should the positions of Governor-General and Lieutenant-Governor be abolished? Yes, said 64 per cent of Quebeckers and 66 per cent of francophones across Canada.
A memory from my childhood in Montreal in the 1940s: My family had good friends, the Labbés. Every May 24, Madame Labbé would send a son out on the balcony with a Union Jack to spit on it. Most French Canadians do not feel that strongly. But, all my life, I observed resistance to celebrating "the Queen's birthday." In my youth, we called May 24 "la fête de Dollard," after a hero of New France. In 2002, the Bernard Landry government passed a decree making the third Monday in May "la Journée nationale des patriotes," in honour of the rebels of 1837. And a Léger poll this past May found 74 per cent of Quebeckers backed the name change.
Symbols have immense power. The defeat of the "distinct society" clause of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords was taken as a grievous refusal to recognize Quebec's identity. The recognition of the "Québécois" as a nation did much to cure that wound.
The celebration of the founding of Quebec, beginning next month, as the symbol of the very founding of Canada, and hence an event for all Canadians to celebrate as part of their national identity, will make an important contribution toward nation building, toward the construction of a more consensual Canada. The Queen, had she come, would have brought too many ghosts from the past. She is not needed at the family feast.

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