The Octogenarian Superstar

5 Jul

So the Queen was in town the other day. Did you see her? Have tea with her?

I mean with Her.

I mean with Her Majesty.

She came downtown to unveil a statue of Oscar Peterson outside of the National Arts Centre. I happened to be a couple of blocks away at the time, so I thought I’d amble by and say hello.

I got there a few minutes after the ceremony began. I heard the sounds of the Montreal Jubilation Choir and of the excited crowd of onlookers.

And I saw Her Majesty pull back the red velvet curtain to unveil a handsome new tribute to the legendary Canadian jazz pianist.

Well, no. I really didn’t see that at all.

I did see the curtain opening up.

Well, no. Actually, I only saw the very top of the curtain open up. But open up it did, so the Queen must have been in there somewhere.

Here was the problem: By the time I arrived on the scene, the adoring crowd was about ten deep, not to mention all of the police and limos and barricades and musicians and VIPs that stood between my Monarch and me. I couldn’t get anywhere close to her.

I mean to Her Majesty.

I raised my camera as high as I could above my head and pointed it in the general direction of where I estimated the Queen to be.

I got a nice shot of a lot of other people raising their cameras as high as they could above their heads and pointing them in the general direction of where they estimated the Queen to be.

The following day was Canada Day, and the Queen was scheduled to appear on Parliament Hill to speak to all of us subjects. I thought this would be a good opportunity to make up for the NAC debacle and to say hello to her. Or at least to catch a glimpse of her.

I mean of Her Majesty.

I got a late start. By the time I arrived in the general vicinity of the Hill, the crowd was way more than ten deep. It was blocks deep. And I was with my kids. And there was this busker juggling fiery torches on Sparks Street. And… well… I missed the Queen again.

But the throng was impressive. Canada Day always draws a nice crowd, but I can’t remember ever seeing that many people out for July 1. Had to be more than double the usual number.

The only possible explanation?

Right. Her Majesty.

Every time Queen Elizabeth – or one of her relatives – visits Canada, an age-old debate about the Monarchy’s place in our democracy is briefly rekindled. Small-r republicans argue that it was all fine and good in the 19th century for our young country to retain the British Monarch as our head of state. But in the 21st century, the Crown is at best an anachronism and at worst an impediment to our development as a modern nation.

It’s true that outside of the UK itself, there are only 15 former British colonies in the world that maintain Queen Elizabeth as their head of state. We are by far the largest of any of them. With the exception of Australia, none of those other countries have more than a few million people, and most of them have far fewer.

Should Canada stand with the large independent countries that broke definitively with their former British overlords or are we comfortable remaining as part of a group that includes such tiny places such as Tuvalu and St. Kitts? They have pictures of Elizabeth II on their currency, too.

Of course, monarchists tend to dismiss the whole debate as a silly one. The Queen, they argue, is not some British anachronism. She is the Queen of Canada, as central to our history and our evolving culture as the Constitution. And universal health care. And Timbits. Rejecting the monarchy, goes the argument, is rejecting the system of government that made us the great democracy we are.

The biggest ace in the hole for monarchists is, of course, the Queen herself.

I mean Herself.

It’s hard to imagine any other octogenarian inspiring such adoration and commanding such star power.

Well, maybe Betty White.

But Her Majesty will not live forever. In the future, when the Mint starts printing bills with the image of King Charles III, the debate will likely flare anew. And all bets are off as to its outcome.

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