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Jerry Amernic: Enough of the royals

Commentary

I finish work at the end of another day and join my wife in the living room where she is watching  The Young and The Restless. I ask how much more is there to endure. Why anyone watches this drivel is beyond me. I just don’t get it, but then I don’t buy lottery tickets either and it must be like this with the British monarchy.

I say British because it certainly isn’t mine. I’m a second-generation Canadian with grandparents from Poland, Belarus, and Romania. My wife is Macedonian and born in Greece. What all this means is that neither of us has a drop of English blood—not to mention French or Indigenous blood—in our veins. Take note, Ottawa, because an ever-increasing proportion of the Canadian mosaic fits that mold. You’re behind the times and as current as Jurassic Park.

The British monarchy is an archaic institution that should be relegated to a museum so visitors can see how things were but no longer are. I believe it has supporters for the same reason people watch The Young and The Restless—a remedy against boredom—but then what is as boring as the Royal Family? They bring to mind a play of Shakespeare’s. Much Ado About Nothing.

Back in 1931, none other than Bertrand Russell said: “The greatest field for snobbery in my own country is the British Monarchy which succeeds in doing more harm than most English people suppose.” Russell went on to add: “All this trouble arises from the practice of paying deference to a man for reasons which do not imply any superior abilities on his part. This practice is therefore regrettable, and the United States is fortunate in being officially free from it.”Mortals and Others https://www.amazon.ca/Mortals-Others-Bertrand-Russell/dp/0415473519

Our American friends have their own problems too numerous to mention but keeping their head of state in a foreign country isn’t one of them. I see the British monarchy as an obstacle to our growing up and leaving the parental house so we can make our own way. It may not be the biggest obstacle because a huge majority of Canadians don’t give a damn about it but suffer just the same because it’s there. It’s like the common cold.

This isn’t to say we don’t owe the Brits a lot. We do. For all its ills there are far worse forms of government than the parliamentary system. So why not just say thank you but it’s time to move on? We did that with the British North America Act in 1867.“The British North America Act received Royal Assent on 29th March 1867 and went into effect 1st July 1867. The Act united the three separate territories of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick into a single dominion called Canada.” https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/evolutionofparliament/legislativescrutiny/parliament-and-empire/collections1/parliament-and-canada/british-north-america-act-1867/#:~:text=The%20British%20North%20America%20Act,a%20single%20dominion%20called%20Canada. We did that with the flag in 1965 and with the repatriation of the Constitution in 1982 and lest we forget when the Dominion Bureau of Statistics became Statistics Canada.

Look at demographics. In 1871 all but 13.4 percent of the Canadian population was of English or French stock. In 1921 a majority of Canadians were still of British ancestry—55.4 percent. Go another fifty years to 1971 and that had dropped to 44.6 percent. What it is today I have no idea because the 2021 census apparently doesn’t track such things, but only a fool would think the number is increasing. The truth is it’s going the other way, along with Canadians of French ancestry.

I’ve heard the arguments for retaining the monarchy, none of which holds water. A leading contender is that republicanism leads to extremism and fascism. Really? What was the French Revolution about, or for that matter the Russian Revolution? Or the American War of Independence which was determined to get rid of everything to do with Empire. History is full of people not enthralled with monarchy. At least in Sweden and Norway their royal families are Swedes and Norwegians, but not here. Alas, there is no royal family more embarrassing than the one in London.

Absolving ourselves from the institution does not relegate us to a life of immorality and debauchery, and since we’re talking about that, there are members of this Royal Family who have distinguished themselves as poster children for that option. Is there a solution? Yes. Remain in the British Commonwealth but ditch the monarchy. Other nations have done it. Why can’t we?

Many years ago I did a magazine piece about the status of the monarchy in Canada. I took in a speech by Sir John Biggs-Davison, British Member of Parliament for Epping Forest—the same constituency Winston Churchill once represented—and he said: “Monarchy sets limits to the pretensions of politicians with their ever-present tendency to be corrupted.”

No argument about the corruption of politicians, but since when are royals exempt? How about Elizabeth’s uncle Edward VIII who relinquished the Crown after a year as King, sympathized with Nazis, and even met Hitler after leaving Buckingham Palace?Were Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson Nazi Sympathizers? https://www.biography.com/news/edward-viii-wallis-simpson-nazi-sympathizers-hitler Never mind the long litany of humiliations by royals in more recent times. Young Harry spotted partying with a swastika armband. Prince Andrew’s connections to the late Jeffrey Epstein of pedophile fame.Prince Andrew Faces Fresh Legal Pressure Over His Friendship With Jeffrey Epstein https://www.thedailybeast.com/prince-andrew-faces-fresh-legal-pressure-over-his-friendship-with-jeffrey-epstein And not long ago Oprah’s insights about the royals being less than ecstatic with a Duchess of Sussex who is a woman of colour. Indeed, there is a great deal in the Royal Family less than exemplary.

I have no ill feelings towards Elizabeth II who has been Queen since before I was born. But did this woman make it on her own? Does she lead a family that could be construed as the world’s leading welfare case? Are her best days behind her?

I don’t mean to be cruel but news coverage of her Platinum Jubilee celebrations earlier this month—not just on CBC, but all networks—I found nauseating. Are Canadians really enamoured with this? Are we indebted to the Queen and her 70 years on the throne? I’m not. My friends aren’t. No one I talk to is. Not a soul.

So where are the masses who go ga-ga with the Queen and all her merriment? They must exist because the feds think they’re everywhere and so do the TV networks and we all know the media can’t be wrong. Wait a minute. Could it be those same folks who watch The Young and The Restless? Now there’s a thought. Is it true? Well then, God save—er, help us.

J.L. Granatstein: HMCS Uganda: The Royal Canadian Navy ship that voted itself out of a war

Commentary

Conscription was the most divisive issue in Canada during the Second World War. In 1942, the Mackenzie King governmentWilliam Lyon Mackenzie King https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/william-lyon-mackenzie-king held a plebiscite asking Canadians to release it from its promises not to impose conscription for overseas service.Canadian conscription plebiscite, 1942 https://military-history.fandom.com/wiki/Canadian_conscription_plebiscite,_1942 The nation agreed although an angry Quebec voted 72.9 percent no. In November 1944, shortages of infantry reinforcements overseas forced King to order 16,000 conscripted home defence soldiers to Europe; again Quebec was furious. Five months later with the war in Europe clearly drawing to an end and with a federal election to be held in June, the King Cabinet again considered conscription.

This time, the subject was whether to send conscripts to fight against Japan. The Progressive Conservative leader in the House of Commons, Gordon Graydon, had said in December 1944 that this was his party’s policy, and many Tories wanted this to be a major plank in the coming election. Aware of this, the prime minister and his ministers thrashed through the question, some ministers favouring compulsory service for the Pacific War.

But Mackenzie King would have none of this: “I took strongly the position that to create a conscription issue over Japan before a general election would be just suicidal and absolutely wrong…. It was finally decided… in light of the discussion, [to make] clear that whatever was done for the Japanese war would be on a voluntary basis….” This decision was communicated to the House of Commons on April 4, and King added this: “The men to make up whatever military force is to be employed against Japan will be chosen from those who elect to serve in the Pacific theatre.” In addition, volunteers were to get 30 days leave in Canada. 

The difficulty was soon evident. The Royal Navy had transferred HMCS Uganda to the Royal Canadian Navy in October 1944Transfer to Canada https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Uganda_(66) and, without its name Canadianized, the ship was soon despatched to serve in the British Pacific Fleet in the war against Japan. All members of the Royal Canadian Navy were volunteers, including the 907 officers and ratings serving aboard the 8700-ton cruiser. Did Uganda’s crew now need to elect to continue to serve in the Pacific theatre? In Parliament, the Navy minister, Angus L. Macdonald, responded to a query by saying “I should think very sympathetic consideration would be given [to] any man on the Uganda who, having put in a year of service on that ship, and the European war being over, wished to return to civilian life. I think such a request would be very carefully and sympathetically dealt with.” Naval Headquarters in Ottawa soon directed the ship’s commander to ask its officers and ratings to sign an undertaking that “I hereby volunteer for service in the war against Japan and agree to serve in the Pacific Theatre and/or any other theatre for the duration of hostilities should my services be so required.” 

Uganda’s Captain, Rollo Mainguy, was puzzled by all this. As he said years later, “we got this signal. We couldn’t understand what it meant. And after great exchange of signals, we were given orders finally that we had to vote. Everybody on board votes secretly as to whether or not they volunteered to fight against the Japanese. If they said yes, they’d get 30 days leave. Well, that sounded a bit improbable as we were already fighting. So the way this signal and exchange of the signal was received annoyed everybody, every single soul on board.” 

Some sailors, at sea without pause for seven months, were unhappy because Uganda had not been designed for service in a tropical climate and was infested with rats and cockroaches, short of drinking water, and ordinarily only had rations of canned meat and dehydrated vegetables. Others had been away from home for years and wanted to see their families and find a civvy job. Nor were matters helped when Mainguy in effect called those who might vote against volunteering again “quitters.” That comment did it, and the vote was decisive, with 576 sailors and 29 officers declining to volunteer. As one sailor recalled, “I was one of the ones who did not volunteer. I was prepared to stay there, but if they were going through this nonsense of volunteering (which was all it was) I wasn’t going to volunteer again.” 

Now the problem became clear. Without returning to Canada, it was impossible to get more than 600 men onto the cruiser to replace those who refused to volunteer. Even then it would take weeks to make the ship fit to fight as a team. On July 27, Uganda left the Royal Navy flotilla, the best estimates being that it could return with an all-volunteer crew sometime in September. In fact, Uganda did not return to Japanese waters. The atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had forced Japan to capitulate, five days after the cruiser made it to port in Esquimalt on August 10. 

The federal election on June 11 had returned the Liberals to power with the barest of majorities.1945 Canadian federal election https://dbpedia.org/page/1945_Canadian_federal_election Unfortunately for Conservative election hopes, the media did not learn of the Uganda affair until six weeks after the election, and the newspapers were furious. The Globe and Mail was outraged: “When was there ever a more shameful slander on so splendid a career?” while the Liberal-leaning Halifax Chronicle acidly editorialized that “The Government’s policy regarding conscription for the Army has aroused enough ribaldry at home and abroad for any reasonable people to bear. Now, it appears that indecision and weak-kneed policy has created another demarche which threatens to hold the Canadian Navy up to unparalleled ridicule.” 

The criticism was wholly justified. The government’s decision had led to Uganda voting itself out of the war. This was shameful policy, as the media said, but it was also appalling that Canadian servicemen had decided to withdraw from combat operations in the final stages of a war. Their absence mattered little militarily, but without doubt it was also shameful.