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August 22, 2011

Harper: It's time Canada shed all its royal baggage

Decades ago when I was a grade school student in Ajax, we were forced every morning to sing God Save the Queen while standing at attention in front of the Union Jack. Then, in unison, we would pledge allegiance to the Queen of England.

It was serious business and it was straight down to the principal’s office for anyone who refused to sing that foreign anthem, salute that foreign flag, or swear loyalty to that foreign monarch.

Even to us young kids, this ritual was a daily reminder that Canada was a still basically a colony of Great Britain.

But within a few years Canada had its own flag, its own official anthem — and a new sense that we were a modern, vibrant and independent nation, confident enough in ourselves and our future to toss aside outdated symbols of British colonialism.

I felt a bit prouder to be a Canadian with each move to distance ourselves from Britain.

Today, though, I am saddened as a Canadian to see Ottawa, in a blatant and unnecessary move to curry favour with a few military veterans and the tiny band of monarchists who blissfully cavort about as if we are still ruled by the Queen of England, put the word “Royal” back into the official name of our air force and navy.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay claimed this week that he was merely correcting a 43-year-old “mistake” when he decided to reinstate the “Royal” to the Canadian navy and air force.

While veterans’ groups cheer the decision to restore the pre-1968 names Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal Canadian Navy, the move in fact reinforces the image of Canada as a colony bowing and scraping to our masters in London.

In the 21st century, such a decision is regressive and outrageous.

With this move, the Stephen Harper government is taking us back to a time that has long since ended, a time when Canada was part of the British Empire and when all parts of the country, except Quebec, was dominated by Anglo society.

It’s a curious move because there was no groundswell of support for it. Barely 6,000 people had signed a long-standing online petition to restore the name “Royal.”

Indeed, all the bully talk about how service men and women still feel embarrassed, discouraged and a loss of pride because the word “Royal” was dropped in 1968 is hogwash. The fact is not single person in the armed forces today ever served in the military when the name “Royal” was attached to the air force and navy.

Clearly, Harper is enamoured with the monarchy. Maybe he agreed to the move after spending too much time with Wills and Kate during their recent tour of the colonies. Maybe he just doesn’t care if he is insensitive to the millions of Canadians from Asia, Africa and elsewhere who have no historic ties to England.

Or maybe he doesn’t give a damn — post-election — if he shoves the word “Royal” down the throats of French Quebecers, who still recall the controversy in the mid-1950s over the naming of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in downtown Montreal. Hundreds of thousands of protesters at that time demanded a French name for the hotel. When CN president Donald Gordon refused to budge, they burned him in effigy.

If Harper is serious about moving Canada forward in the 21st century, he should reduce — not increase — the archaic links to our colonial past.

Sadly, Canada still clings to many vestiges of an era that ended long ago.

Examples abound, including Victoria Day, which honours a long-dead Queen who never even visited Canada and whom not even the British honour with a national holiday.

Also, we still have a “Queen of Canada,” Queen Elizabeth’s face is on all our coins, new Canadians are forced to pledge or affirm allegiance to the British monarch and the Queen’s representative to Canada still reads the “Throne Speech” opening each session of Parliament.

But maybe there’s no stopping Harper in his love of royals.

Up next: Reinstating “Royal Mail” instead of Canada Post?

Bob Hepburn writes for Record news services.

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Dotan Rousso. Holds a Ph.D. in Law—a former criminal prosecutor in Israel. Currently working as a college professor in Canada.

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