The passing of Queen Elizabeth at the age of 96 marks the end of an era for Canada.
The longest reigning monarch in British history witnessed the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, the expansion of Canada's social programs in the 1960s, referendums in Quebec in 1980 and 1995, free trade agreements with the United States and the rise to power, a few decades away from the Trudeaus, father and son.
In 1982, she signs the proclamation repatriating the Constitution, ending the role of the British Parliament in the affairs of Canada.
Queen Elizabeth and US President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the inauguration of the St. Lawrence Seaway in June 1959.
(National Archives of Canada)
During his long reign, Canada became markedly less Anglophone and Anglophile. Almost half of Canadians were of British descent when she took the throne in 1952, but that number fell to a third in 2016 and continues to decline.
In the 1950s, high school students across English Canada waved the Union Jack, sang the Royal Anthem (God Save the Queen), recited the Our Father and cheered the corps of cadets dressed in British khakis. Elizabeth saw the Union Flag replaced by the Maple Leaf in 1965, and the royal anthem by O Canada in 1980. .
In the space of seven decades, Elizabeth managed to go from being an embodiment of tradition to being a warmly loved, but not particularly important, figure in the lives of Canadians. She remained personally popular in Canada, even though she spent a relatively short time (about 200 days) in the country during visits which have taken place on average every three years.
His devotion to his task as monarch is viewed favorably, as is the lack of scandal in his personal life. She won the sympathy of Canadians mostly as an individual, rather than the hereditary head of an institution, while acting as a living link to Canada's time as an Empire colony. British.
Queen Elizabeth II smiles at Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau during a reception at Montreal City Hall, July 17, 1976. The Queen will open the Olympics later in the afternoon.
The Canadian Press/Wally Hayes
Charles is less popular
A survey of his performance, conducted in 2020, revealed that eight in ten Canadians felt the Queen had done a good job in her role as monarch.
Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, standing, in London in October 2015.
(Chris Jackson/Pool Photo via AP)
But the poll also found that half of Canadians agree the country should end official ties with the monarchy after Elizabeth's reign ends.
And a more recent poll, conducted in 2021, found that only one Canadians in five want Prince Charles to become king, while only one in three want Prince William to ascend the throne.
Elizabeth's successors — Charles, whose time as king given his age (73 years) will be relatively short, and William, who will follow — assume office at a different time in Canadian history.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their children Prince George and Princess Charlotte board a seaplane as they prepare to leave Victoria, British Columbia, on a royal tour in 2016.
The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward
Charles assumes the role of head of state of a Canada almost unrecognizable from what it was in 1952 in terms of the role of religion in the lives of its citizens, the diversity of its people and its geopolitical relationships.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been cautiously tight-lipped about the future of the monarchy. In March 2021, he said :
If people want to talk later about constitutional change and changing our system of government, that's fine. They can have these conversations.
With a minority government, he might be reluctant to spend political capital on constitutional reform.
On the other hand, prime ministers are opportunists. The transition to a new monarch — an event that has not happened in the lifetime of the vast majority of Canadians — is an opportunity to gauge the mood of the population and review existing arrangements.
The constitutional record holds particular appeal for politicians looking to create or cement a legacy. Pierre Trudeau's decisive triumph was the patriation of the Constitution, a few years after its iconic pirouette behind the queen's back in 1977 at a G7 summit.
Pierre Trudeau pirouettes behind Queen Elizabeth II during a May 1977 photocall at Buckingham Palace in London.
The Canadian Press/Doug Ball
Elizabeth's great achievement, aided by genes that have allowed her to live extraordinarily long and healthy lives, has been to keep discussions about the future of the monarchy at bay in Australia, New Zealand and the other former British colonies where she was head of state. His death will make it possible to launch the debate and the deliberation.
As Canadians mourn the passing of the Queen, they should also reflect on the relevance and meaning of the monarchy in a nation coming to terms with its colonial past and finding its place on a complex global stage.
Image credit: Shutterstock / Norma G. Chambers / The Queen visiting Canada in 2005.