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Bloc Quebecois to force vote on severing Canada's ties with monarchy

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Whether or not there are other issues of higher priority, federal MPs will have to vote individually on a Bloc Québécois motion calling on the Trudeau government to take steps to sever Canada's ties with the British monarchy.

On their first opposition day of the parliamentary session on Tuesday, the Bloc will force their fellow MPs to reflect on the fact that in the 21st century they still have to go through the "bizarre exercise" of reciting an oath of allegiance to "a foreign king who is also a religious leader" in order to be able to sit in the House of Commons, said leader, Yves-François Blanchet.

"Why don't we make an agreement -- the provinces, the federal government -- and then take it out of the constitution of what should be a democratic republic," he said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Blanchet, however, is under no illusions and admits he expects a defeat in the vote since he said the federal government does not want to open up the constitution -- an obligatory step in breaking ties with the Crown and which requires the approval of the ten provinces, the House of Commons and the Senate -- for fear that each one will draw up its list of demands and that the door will then be difficult to close.

"REAL" PRIORITIES

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was quick to close the door on any constitutional changes last week in the wake of Parti Québécois and Québec solidaire MNAs refusing to take the mandatory oath of allegiance to King Charles III in the provincial legislature.

"There is not one Quebecer who wants the constitution reopened," Trudeau told reporters, explaining that Quebecers want their government to address the cost of living, jobs and climate change.

Canadian Heritage Minister and Quebec lieutenant Pablo Rodriguez added during heated exchanges in the Commons last Thursday that the Liberals want to fight for "the real priorities of all Quebecers."

He did not answer Blanchet's question about whether his loyalty is "to Charles III or to the people."

The other opposition parties are no more enthusiastic about changing the oath of allegiance, which is a much simpler process than turning the country into a republic.

For the Conservatives, Quebec lieutenant Pierre Paul-Hus indicated last week that his party was not keen on changing the oaths at the federal level.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said he was "open to the discussion," but that his priority was to help the average person cope with the rising cost of living.

HE'S THE HEAD OF STATE

To MPs who feel that there are other things to worry about and that the time of the Commons could be better spent, the Bloc leader replied that this is a fundamental issue, that you can "walk and chew gum at the same time" and that it costs Ottawa $70 million each year to maintain the constitutional monarchy, funds that could be used for social housing, to help seniors and for the energy transition.

"When we say, 'It's not important', it's the head of state. When we go to an election, we vote for who is going to lead us, so we assume it's important," he said. "There are tens of thousands of people in each county who will vote. It must be important. And yet, we admit that the real leader at the end of the line is a gentleman in London who is not interested in us at all."

According to Blanchet, a failure in Tuesday's vote would nevertheless show Quebecers that they are living "in an outdated Canadian institution," and they could conclude that "this country is not like us."

Voters will "take note" of their MP's decision and will take it into account when making a choice in the next election, he said.

In this regard, the Bloc leader noted a difference between Quebecers and other Canadians.

"Whether you are a federalist, a nationalist or a sovereignist, the fact remains that we know very well in Quebec that we were conquered by England, (...) whereas in Canada as a whole, we are the conquerors, we are the ones who beat the French in 1760. It's a long way from home, but it leaves a mark," said Blanchet.

RUBBERSTAMPING

"Does Charles III have power in Canada? In practice, not at all," said constitutional law professor Patrick Taillon.

Taillon explained that the King is the head of state and the head of the army. It is, therefore, in his name that power is exercised in the country. For a law to be passed, it needs royal sanction. In other words, a law becomes law because the King wants it to.

However, the reality is that the Governor General, who represents the King and grants royal assent, has come to do some "rubberstamping" over time, he explained.

Canadian history is shaped by constitutional conventions that have become politically binding over the years and have resulted in the monarchy losing power in this country.

"The conventions ensure that the King does not take any action in Canada unless Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asks him to do so. And in practice, the only thing Justin Trudeau asks him to do is once in a while is to appoint a new governor general," he explained.

But abolishing the monarchy and turning Canada into a republic is not that complex, Taillon argued. He said the easy way would be to cut the cord that makes the governor general a representative of the King.

The process of appointing the governor general could be "Canadianised" by giving it to the House of Commons, both houses of parliament or the premiers.

Taillon also described the "complicated" method of bringing "many people together, including the provinces," to determine whether they want a two-headed executive, a head of government and a head of state as in a parliamentary system, or whether and what type of presidential system they would prefer, where one person holds both offices.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Oct. 24, 2022. 

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