Home > History, Politics > Ready, aye ready! We’re a colony again

Ready, aye ready! We’re a colony again

Stephen Harper once vowed that by the time he was finished with Canada, we wouldn’t know the place. Now ruling with a majority government, he’s well on his way to fulfilling that promise.

The decision to restore “Royal” title to the Canadian Armed Forces, giving the Air Force and the Navy these regal appellations, speaks to Harper’s monarchial and traditionalist views, all to be expected from a conventionally conservative politician of his brand.

According to Defence Minister Peter McKay, designating the branches of the forces as the Royal Canadian Navy, the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian Army is a matter of restoring military pride. The titles were abandoned when the Canadian forces were merged under Prime Minister Pearson back in the 1960s.

If you have a romantic view of the courage of British heroes, such as Lord Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar, then I guess you might like to see Canada reverting to such colonial nomenclature.

But it smacks of the kind of mentality expressed by Arthur Meighan, the Conservative leader of the Opposition back in 1922, when Winston Churchill, as First lord of the Admiralty, said the Dominions might be called on to support Britain in its tiff with Turkey over a place called Chanak.

Canada’s Parliament was not in session at the time. Prime Minister Mackenzie King balked, saying he wouldn’t give aid without Parliament’s approval, but the issue wasn’t important enough to justify its  recall.

Arthur Meighan thought differently.

  “When Britain’s message came, then Canada should have said, ‘Ready, aye ready, we stand by you,'” Meighan declared. In fact, he was echoing a slogan of a former Liberal PM, Wilfrid Laurier. But Meighan  got stuck with the colonialist tag and never lived it down.

The man who engineered the merger of the Forces, Paul Hellyer, Defence minister under Pearson, says Harper’s decision shows a colonial attitude. And he points out it’s going to cost millions even to do the “cosmetic changes” required by the re-naming.

Stephen Harper’s enthusiasm for royalty was highly visible during the recent tour of Prince William and his new bride, so none of this should be very surprising. And bored as Canadians are with the whole royal thing, it’s unlikely there’s going to be much public reaction, one way or the other.

A quick survey of online reader comments on the Toronto Star website bears this out.

Of course, there are those who served proudly in the Canadian military and welcome the re-astablishment of the historic tie. Others are not so sure.

“I Didn’t Know the Monarchy System of Absolute, Birthright Rule was still so popular in Canada. This is the 21st century. What exactly does this say about us as an independent country? It’s bad enough the Queen has the final say in our political system, now we’re back to waging war in her name, rather than our own?” wrote one reader.

Polls taken over the years show a pretty consistent disinterest among Canadians. According to Wikipedia, in an October 2009 poll by Angus Reid, only a minority 27% of Canadians preferred Canada to remain a monarchy. The plurality 35% of Canadians prefer Canada to have an elected head of state. When asked who they would prefer as a monarch after Queen Elizabeth II, the plurality 37% of Canadians responded by saying there should be no monarch after her.

Guess what? I predict the split will be about the same in 2029!

 

 

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  1. N Armstrong
    April 24, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    Hello,

    I hope that you will consider this a friendly rebuttal to your argument, and to be utterly transparent, I am a reserve officer in the RCN.

    Back in 1931 the Statute of Westminster was passed by the UK granting full autonomy to Canada. We are not and cannot ever be colony of Britain again, and I am surprised by the amount of insecurity we seem to espouse whenever something like returning the “Royal” designation to the Navy and Air Force brings out. The fact is that Canada is a Constitutional Monarchy, a system that despite its anachronisms, seems to work surprisingly well. It should also be recognised that while the Queen has authority, she has no real power in our system; and as queen, is also a Canadian.

    If colonialism is a concern Canadians worry about, then our defence policy of “the Americans will look after us” should worry people a great deal more. That is a truly colonial manner of thinking and behaving. To quote Paul Hellyer rather undermines any arguments opposed to reinstating the “Royal” given the huge cost of his unification in the first place, which involved not just changing letterheads as in this case, but scrapping and replacing tens of thousands of uniforms and insignia. His agenda was undertaken in a clandestine and not entirely honest manner and caused a huge amount of despondency and damage to morale, while Mr. Harper’s change has been very positive and boosted moral. I joined the Navy long after unification in the1980’s and I can assure you that even in 2010, unification was still despised and restoration of the name and customs of the navy longed for.

    Civilians have a hard time understanding the importance of custom and tradition in the military. It’s very easy to “poo-poo” something one doesn’t understand and places no value on. While no supporter of Mr. Harper’s politics, I support his restoration of the Royal Canadian Navy’s name and, unlike Mr. Hellyer’s work, he has made a very positive change to the Canadian Forces at very little cost.

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