Despite the strong American influence, Canada still resembles the U.K. more than any other Commonwealth country
By JANE HARRIS
BY CHOOSING to have their wedding on May 19, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are giving Canadians something they’ve never had before – a holiday weekend that coincides with a royal wedding.
Not only does the ceremony fall on the Victoria Day weekend, which marks the former Queen’s birthday in Canada, there’s a decidedly Canadian feel to the wedding preparations.
That may be partly because the American bride lived in Toronto for seven years and the couple hid out from the United Kingdom tabloids at Ben and Jessica Mulroney’s place. Harry himself qualified as an honorary Torontonian before his fiance moved to the U.K. last November, and he seems to have picked up Markle’s affinity for wearing coats designed by Canadians.
There’s been tabloid talk that the page boys and bridesmaids will include the Queen’s Canadian great-granddaughters, Isla and Savannah Phillips, and one or more of Ben and Jessica Mulroney’s children.
The wedding also coincides with a resurgence in ties between Canada and the U.K.
The shift may have begun with the strong working relationship between former prime minister Stephen Harper’s administration in Canada and David Cameron’s government in the United Kingdom. But it’s grown stronger under the administration of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – thanks partly to the Brexit vote in the U.K. and the election of President Donald Trump in the U.S.
While Queen Elizabeth has never wavered in her affection for her largest overseas realm, the same can’t be said for politicians or the business class on both sides of the pond.
The Second World War left Britain and its former colonies, especially Canada, with a post-colonial identity crisis. Stripped of British passports that once gave Canadians freedom to visit and live in more than one-third of the world, and with the ‘old country’ struggling with diminished influence, the post-war generation wasn’t sure what it meant to be British or Canadian, which until 1948 were the same thing. Americans, on the other hand, emerged from the war with bravado and political clout that surpassed their pre-war confidence.
Unsurprisingly, Canadians glommed on to the American dream, seeking ever-closer relationships with the republic. The process escalated after the United Kingdom joined the European Union in 1973. Commonwealth citizens, even from countries like Australia, Canada, and Jamaica – where the Queen is head of state – found themselves standing in queues while EU citizens got fast-tracked into British society.
Canadians were bemused. The business class, especially in Alberta, focused on U.S. markets and began to mimic Americans in everything from spelling to politics. And why not? Quebec nationalists were set to split the country because they weren’t sure what being Canadian meant, either.
Even monarchists stopped speaking as frequently of Canada’s British connection, focusing instead on the Canadian crown as it if sprouted up on the banks of the St. Lawrence independent of Britain or France.
In Australia, republicanism took root and the country nearly became a republic in 1999. Still, Canadians were never inclined to fully turn their backs on the Queen. She stayed on our money and we still turned out in droves for royal tours even after the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed. In 1982, the sovereign’s role became formally entrenched in the Constitution.
We never could become American – not even in Alberta. Despite the strong American influence, Canada still resembles the U.K. more than any other Commonwealth realm. We may sound similar to some Americans, but we think a lot like the Brits.
That’s why Americans think we’re polite and humble and it’s why we’re so good at saying ‘sorry’ to get people off our backs. No two countries have embraced official multiculturalism more than Canada and the U.K. Our provincial lieutenant-governors have counterparts in the United Kingdom itself, and we share a monarch with the U.K.
While Canadians were failing to become Americans, the U.K. was uneasy with its place in the European Union. Though the political and business class insisted Europe was their future, millions of Brits weren’t convinced that letting Brussels make their laws lined up with the values of the Magna Carta.
Their unease turned into an outright rebellion in June 2016 when citizens of the U.K. voted to leave the EU, just months before Trump and his protectionist administration settled into the Whitehouse.
Since then, CANZUK– a grassroots international push to restore free trade and free movement between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom – has grown as fast as Canada thistle in an untended garden. It now enjoys support from politicians, including Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, in all four realms.
While Trudeau won’t be at the wedding, he has visited the Queen three times, and struck up a friendship with Harry and Meghan. He’s also promised Prime Minister Theresa May that the day after Brexit takes effect, there will be a trade deal up and running between Canada and U.K.
Perhaps most significantly, the prime ministers of Canada, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand met for a top-secret intelligence briefing at the Commonwealth conference in April.
The Victoria Day weekend wedding date may be one more signal that the old love affair between the Queen’s realms is back on.
Jane Harris is the author of Eugenics and the Firewall.
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