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In Canada, Queen Elizabeth was part of the fabric of our lives
Long did she reign. At 96, after more than 70 years as Queen of Canada, we can’t say it wasn’t wholly expected.
Still, as with the loss of a parent or grandparent, we think they’ll go on forever because the alternative feels unbearable. The end of the second Elizabethan era will catch us out in moments of unguarded emotion. It will hit us harder than we may expect. It will feel hard to believe.
It has left my dad in tears. My father, who grew up steeped in the new era of an independent, post-colonial India. A country that fought to kick out the king and all he represented. A country that suffered indescribable death and trauma as a result of Crown-implemented partition in 1947. And yet there she had been, someone who — albeit from a distance — had travelled with him the entirety of my father’s life. And now she is gone.
It is a small example of how much Elizabeth II was part of the fabric of all our lives. Almost four generations have known no other monarch. On our currency. On the titles of almost everything government-related. In the words of our national anthems. We’ve watched her grow older and frailer, particularly in the last year. We felt her loss when the Duke of Edinburgh, her husband of 73 years, died last year. We saluted her stoicism in laying him to rest, virtually alone, under strict COVID rules. Many of us marvelled at a lifetime of indefatigable execution of her duties.
In April, at the time of her birthday, we at the Angus Reid Institute commissioned a national survey that underscores the affection people felt for her. More than two-thirds viewed her favourably, rising to almost 80 per cent among women over the age of 55. Half told us they would be “sad” when she died, including almost 30 per cent who believed they’d feel “very sad.”
Many of us will grieve. Grief takes its own time. Thus, there are those who would say it’s too soon to start talking about, or even thinking about, the implications for the future of the monarchy as a Canadian institution. Jarring as it may be, however, the future is here. Charles is our King now. Camilla is Queen Consort. It is an ascendance 67 per cent of Canadians opposed in the case of Charles and 76 per cent opposed in the case of his second wife (the woman who followed Diana, Princess of Wales)
Fully half of those surveyed believe the royal family reflects outdated values and is irrelevant to them. These sentiments are more intensified among younger generations who have increasingly grown up without cultural or family ties to Great Britain. Those whose parents came from former colonies carry mixed feelings. Conversations about the legacies of colonialism — either here in Canada with residential schools, or abroad — take on a more critical tone. To say nothing of how Quebecers see it all.
It does not help when the remaining members of the immediate royal family represent a mix of feuding celebrities and settlers of lawsuits over accusations of sexual assault. These are the royals who will be on display when Elizabeth is laid to rest later this month. Inconvenient symbols of the fact that she is gone forever, and they are what follows.
Currently, Canada is a constitutional monarchy. The House of Windsor is our house. Whether people of this country are excited by or supportive of it — and they are not, really — this will not change in the short term. Canadians think their country should not continue with this institution for generations to come, by a ratio of two-to-one (51 per cent versus 26 per cent). But find me a politician willing to take on the constitutional overhaul required for Canada to repatriate its head of state.
For now, we remember her. We miss her. The smiles. The hats. The bags. The symbol. The woman. Let us sit with these memories and feel the warmth of them.
Then let us think about what comes next.
Shachi Kurl is President of the Angus Reid Institute, a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research foundation.