When David E. Smith, author of “The Invisible Crown: The First Principle of Canadian Government,” is called on to describe how the monarchy works in Canada, he loves invoking Danish physicist Niels Bohr, one of the fathers of the mind-boggling theory behind quantum mechanics.
“I was reading something about him and at one point Bohr says to somebody ‘if you’re not puzzled by quantum mechanics you will never understand it,’” says Smith, an Officer of the Order of Canada and political scientist. “This is true of constitutional monarchy – if you’re not puzzled by it you cannot understand it.”
He laughs, but as Queen Elizabeth II turns 90 this week, talk inevitably turns to the relevance of the aging monarchy and how much it costs Canadians.
A recent survey by Angus Reid found that 64 per cent of Canadians support continuing to recognize the queen, while only 46 per cent support recognizing her son Prince Charles as king.
“The queen is the personification of the state; our whole parliamentary democracy is fused onto this idea of us as a constitutional monarchy,” says Nathan Tidridge, a high school teacher awarded the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal for his ten years spent educating Canadians on the role of the Crown.
“Everything from the relationship between the provinces to the federal government to how laws are made to our court system and – something that’s really coming to the forefront – our treaty relationships with first nations are all attached to the Crown,” he says. “It’s really fundamental to the whole Canadian state.”
And all this for the cost of a Tim Horton’s coffee: according to The Monarchist League of Canada’s most recent study for the 2011 to 2012 year, pegging the routine price at $1.63 per Canadian. (The league didn’t respond to requests for an update.)
On a macro scale it costs Canadians $56,878,538.
“The Governor General and the Lieutenant Governor’s and their households are paid for out of government coffers to perform their roles,” says Tidridge.
According to the financial summary of the Governor General’s office for 2014 to 2015, supporting the appointed body and associated internal services and expenditures cost $20.86 million. There was also $22.06 million in additional support from organizations like the Department of National Defence, the RCMP, the National Capital Commission – which focuses on preserving official residences – as well as Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada among other federal departments.
That doesn’t include one-off costs like hosting the Queen and the Royal Family, minting special coins in honour of the Queen or printing special edition stamps.
Case in point, the historic Diamond Jubilee Celebrations in Canada cost about $7.5 million and the royal homecoming visit from Prince William and the Duchess of Cornwall Kate Middleton cost taxpayers just over $649,000.
“If you compared the presidency of the United States with how the Crown costs Canadians, the presidency is far more expensive in maintaining things like the White House and helicopters and all those sorts of things,” says Tidridge. “They’re all necessary tools of state in a constitutional monarchy.”
Smith agrees, pointing out that Canadians have a tendency to overlook the pervasive role the monarchy has in Canada.
“It normally works well and we don’t pay much attention,” he says. That is, until something like former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s appeal to former Governor General Michaëlle Jean to prorogue and dissolve parliament after the opposition Liberal and New Democratic parties formed a coalition with the support of the Bloc Québécois party and threatened to vote non-confidence in the sitting minority government.
“That’s another level which doesn’t have much visibility but comes up periodically in a rather dramatic way,” he adds. “If you start saying we want to change things then you’ve really got to understand what the status quo is – governments are appointed by the Crown, they’re not elected.”