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Wills, Kate, and Moi

6 Jul

For her first Canada Day appearance on Parliament Hill earlier this month, Kate – the Duchess of Cambridge – did not disappoint either Royal watchers or patriotic Canadians. She emerged from her ride decked out in red and white, including a stunning cream dress by the British Reiss label, a red fascinator hat with a maple leaf motif designed by Sylvia Fletcher at Lock and co., and stylish red pumps.

The pièce de résistance, of course, was a diamond brooch in the form of a maple leaf, loaned to the Duchess for the tour by the Queen Herself, who first wore the same item of jewelry on her maiden tour of Canada as a young princess in 1951.

For my part, on Canada Day, I wore a fetching black-and-white striped, short-sleeved, buttoned-down-the-middle, wrinkle-free-cotton Arrow shirt (on sale at Zellers last month for $17.99), coupled with a pair of khaki cotton Timberland shorts and – in a Kate-like nod to recyclable fashion, and to the patriotic colors of the day – I topped off the ensemble with my four-year-old Ottawa Lynx red baseball cap.

Although I have been photographed wearing that cap on numerous past occasions, these are tough economic times and I need to do my part, however symbolically.

Later, the Duchess returned to Parliament Hill for the evening festivities wearing a striking long-sleeved V-necked purple Issa dress. She retained the Queen’s brooch. Unlike Kate, I opted to remain in my complete morning ensemble for the entire day. I even retained the cap (mostly because I didn’t want photos of my hat hair appearing in the weekend tabloids).

Actually, I missed out on all of Ottawa’s live, in-person Royal watching because of an out-of-town commitment, but I wasn’t left completely out of the loop. Because I am a member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery, I got daily email updates from “Miguel”, Will’s and Kate’s (and also Prince Harry’s) personal press secretary, most of which detailed whatever outfit Kate happened to be wearing on that day.

The day after Canada Day, for example, Miguel informed me that Kate was wearing a grey Kensington dress by Catherine Walker. The following day it was a blue, lace ‘Jacquenta’ dress by Canadian designer Erdem.

I wrote back, asking Miguel to please inform the Duchess that I had on my red Montreal Canadiens 100th anniversary T-shirt, and that the mustard stain is now almost completely undetectable.

I really didn’t need to be on the press email list to be kept up-to-date on all of the Royal goings-on. With hundreds of members of the international media covering the first official tour of the celebrated newlyweds, every detail of it – Kate’s outfits and beyond – was covered instantly and extensively around the world and across the Internet.

Canada hadn’t been featured in so many international news stories since… well… since last month’s Stanley Cup riot.

But to what end?

How much of the frenzied and fawning attention to Will and Kate’s excellent Canadian adventure was due to the Royal couple’s Hollywood-like celebrity and how much of it was due to an appreciation of the Duke’s hereditary role as the future Head of State of our Constitutional Monarchy?

Probably a lot more of the former than of the latter. Canadians seem more interested in seeing Will’s face on the front cover of People Magazine than on the front of the $20-dollar bill (where it may one day be).

From the point of view of the Royal family, it probably doesn’t matter why we were all paying attention, only that we were. The Will-and-Kate show is the best PR in decades for that often controversial, sometimes scandal-plagued and frequently mocked institution.

For that matter, it’s not likely that any of the Canadian politicians sharing the stage with the Royal newlyweds – the Prime Minister, the federal cabinet ministers, the provincial premiers – were upset about the reflected attention they received as a result.

Whether you believe that the monarchy continues to have relevance in the 21st Century, or whether you believe that it is an archaic institution that has no place in a modern democracy, there’s no denying the Royal duo made a positive splash in this town and across the country.

As far as hereditary heads of states go, you certainly could do a lot worse than Will. But maybe we could consider putting Kate’s image up there with his on the twenty-dollar bill.

I’d even be willing to lend her my Ottawa Lynx cap.

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.