How the Monarchy Works

How Our Canadian Monarchy Works Within the Constitution

You’ve probably played or watched a soccer or hockey game. To make sure that the players obey the rules of the sport so that both teams have a chance to win, there is always a referee – someone who doesn’t take sides but assures fair play and makes the difficult calls about penalties and off-sides. In many ways, The Queen’s role today is similar to that of a referee or umpire. Thus, we call our way of government “constitutional” monarchy.

Centuries ago, kings and queens were “absolute” monarchs: they ruled, and their personal word was law. This did not always seem fair to their people! Think back to when you were younger. A parent sometimes told you “Go to bed,” or “No, you can’t go out.” Probably you wanted to keep watching television, go to a movie or hang out at the park. But your folks’ word was “law.” However, you gradually grew up, and your parents slowly gave you more freedom. And they probably reminded you that with more freedom comes more responsibility.

In much the same way, as society evolved and wanted more freedom, and to have elected persons take on the responsibility of governing, many countries chose to become “constitutional” monarchies. This term means that the monarch’s first duty is to maintain the laws which elected members of a parliament have passed.

So the monarch now became not a ruler giving orders, but more like a referee, acting to preserve the rule of law, within the rules of the Constitution – a basic law which lays out how a country is governed. Just like the rules of baseball or lacrosse. The monarch cannot simply say “my way or the highway!” The ref can’t decide “I like Stephanie, so she can high-stick.” What could easily happen to a game played without a referee?

To symbolize our free and inclusive way of life in Canada’s democracy – which many throughout the world envy – our Queen or her representative must officially open each session of Parliament or a provincial legislature; and nothing approved by Parliament or a provincial legislature becomes law until it has received The Royal Assent. This is another way of making sure that “the rules of the game” (in this case, of our Constitution) are followed.

Canada’s Monarchy is important because it guarantees responsible government in our country. “Responsible government” means that a Prime Minister (or Premier, in the provinces) and cabinet only hold office so long as they have the support of the House of Commons or legislature, whose members the people have elected.

In this way, a Prime Minister or premier can never become a dictator, who says, “I am so popular that there is no need to have an election. The people love me. I will stay in office for the good of the country.” This, together with phony elections, actually happens in many countries around the world. The Crown would not permit this to occur in Canada, and would either cause an election to be held or the Prime Minister to be replaced.

Can you think why it would be dangerous for even an elected leader to hold all a country’s power?

So you might think of the Monarch and her vice-regal representatives acting as an Epi-Pen in our knapsack or school office, or a fire extinguisher or in our home, school or place of work. Most of us will never need to use these devices. But we’re very glad they are there! Their presence reminds us all of our responsibility for safety in respect of allergies and fire.

In the same way, these “reserve” powers of the Crown are seldom used; but the fact that they exist is a reminder to our leaders that Canada’s democracy expects them to play by the rules!

Here is a more detailed explanation of Constitutional monarchy suitable for older students.

Here is the text of the most important part of Canada’s written Constitution, The Constitution Acts 1867-1982

Why a Monarchy for Canada?

Some of the reasons Canada is a monarchy are as follows:

  • It reflects our history: First Nations, then French and British settlers, all brought to Canada their experience of a chief or of royal authority.
  • It works well for Canada. Canadians chose twice to be a monarchy. The first time was in 1867, when the new country of Canada was formed. The second occurred in 1981, when a revised Constitution, basic law, was adopted.
  • It helps to show we are an independent nation and yet it reflects our character by sharing our monarch with 15 other diverse countries in the Commonwealth such as Jamaica, New Zealand, Australia, Papua New Guinea and Belize.
  • It promotes a stable political process, where the results of an election determine who will govern, not a violent act such as war or revolution.
  • It reminds Canadians of our special identity and way of life. This is important because of the huge influence of our friendly but much larger neighbour, the USA. So we have to work that little bit harder to appreciate our own institutions, in the same way as we have to work extra hard to obtain the best grades we can, to contribute to the team or the drama club or to find a good college, university or job.
  • The monarch promotes Canadian concerns such as tolerance, playing by the rules, protecting the environment and giving service to the community. This shows a commitment to the country that is not selfish, and not linked to any political party.
  • It makes clear the important but different roles of the monarch (the head of our nation who represents the things we all agree about) and the prime minister (the elected head of our government) whose policies we can argue about, and whose government we can re-elect – or not – about every four years.

Here is a series of brief points as to why Canada is a monarchy rather than a republic such as the United States. They are mainly written for older students.

An interesting feature of our form of government is that not all the rules are written down, but some are based on what is called conventions – a word which means something that everyone agrees is the normal and right thing to do.

Examples of conventions in our ordinary lives? There are no laws that say you must say please and thank you, watch your language around your younger siblings, avoid chewing food with your mouth wide open or stand up when the National Anthem is played at an assembly or sports event. But they are the small important acts which help to define a civilized society.

Can you think of some conventions that pretty well everyone follows at your school or in your family?

Canada’s Next Three Monarchs: Charles, William, George

One remarkable thing about our system of government is that, in a fast-changing world, we know the identity of our next three Kings: Charles, Prince of Wales, our Queen and Prince Philip’s oldest child; William, Duke of Cambridge, who is Charles and the late Diana’s eldest son and our Queen’s eldest grandson; and George, formally known as Prince George of Cambridge, who is the first child of William and Catherine.

Prince Charles

Find a biography of the Prince of Wales here.

Charles is respected throughout the world for his active mind and pursuit of many projects to make the earth and its people a better, more sustainable and more tolerant place to live. As Prince of Wales and heir to the Throne, Charles is in a special position to share his views with Canadians and other Commonwealth citizens on matters affecting us all. They are occasionally controversial, sometimes very much ahead of their time. Once King, the strict neutrality the monarch must maintain, along with his broader responsibilities, may limit the amount of time and advocacy that Charles is now able to undertake. One area of particular success for the Prince is in what you could call “the green sector” – concern for environment, sustainable development and conservation. Here are links to some of Charles’s special concerns in this area. The Campaign for Wool is of special interest to Canadians, as Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall made it one focus of their most recent homecoming to Canada in 2014. Do you or your family members own any woollen clothing or craft objects? Or themselves create clothing or crafts made of wool?

The Prince’s School for Traditional Arts focuses on a variety of crafts reflecting the Aboriginal traditions of painting, ceramics, architecture, geometry and contextual studies.

Supporting rural communities and the family farm is another concern of the Prince of Wales, which you can read about here.

You can read about some the Prince of Wales’ specifically-Canadian interests on his Canadian Charities’ website here.

Here you can read about some of the other interests of our future King.

On this website you can read about the many causes throughout the Commonwealth which are supported by The Prince’s Trust.

Which of the Prince of Wales’ concerns, whether specifically Canadian or Commonwealth-based, particularly interest you?

Here is a link to the life and interests of Charles’ wife, the Duchess of Cornwall (Camilla) Did you know that Camilla’s great-great-great Grandfather was Prime Minister of Ontario prior to Confederation? He built the famous Dundurn Castle in Hamilton. Charles and Camilla visited this historic house on their first Canadian Homecoming as a couple in 2009.

Charles is not alone in the Canadian Royal Family in feeling a concern for the Environment. His father, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, has long had many involvements in this area, in addition to his other interests and, of course, his main focus on being The Queen’s principal supporter throughout her Reign. A brief overview of some of his causes may be found here and here.

Prince William

Prince William’s biography is here.
An outline of the activities and interests of William and his wife Catharine (the Duchess of Cambridge) appears here.
Here is a summary of William and Catherine’s memorable first visit to Canada as a married couple – where over a million Canadians greeted them on Parliament Hill and at the Calgary Stampede.

Millions of Canadians got up early and held breakfast parties to watch with family and neighbours the television coverage of William and Catharine’s Wedding on April 29, 2011. As in our own families, a marriage is a time of great happiness, excitement and celebration, this Royal Wedding brought joy to billions of people around the world. You might like to discuss with your teacher and classmates why this was so.

Prince George

At age one, we can simply enjoy watching George confidently take his first steps, and seeing him playing with other toddlers while visiting Australia and New Zealand with his parents in 2014. These are the sort of happy stages of development that every newborn brings to our own families.

However, even if he is way too young to realize it, George is already on the road to making important sacrifices for Canada and the rest of the Commonwealth.

First, his parents will frequently have to travel without him during their Royal tours and duties, just as many of our parents sometimes have to focus on their offices and careers, keep late hours and travel away from home. Second, unlike all of us who can choose what career we wish to pursue, and even change our minds several times, George doesn’t have that choice. His destiny is a life of service as a working member of our Royal Family, and eventually as our King. You might discuss with your teacher and classmates what are the advantages and burdens of such a commitment.


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  The Monarchist League of Canada
PO Box 1057
Lakeshore West PO
Oakville, Ontario L6K 0B2

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