With Queen Elizabeth’s death, Canada automatically has a King as its head of state.
That is about the extent of the impact of the Queen’s death on Canada’s system of government — at the top of which sits the Crown. Everything else will remain the same.
Canada’s longest-reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II died on Thursday at her Scottish summer residence, Balmoral Castle, at the age of 96.
Charles is now king in Canada
She was immediately succeeded by her eldest son, who becomes King Charles III.
The Queen’s death will be most acutely felt in the United Kingdom, where she resided and directly played a constitutional role as monarch for 70 years.
But the British sovereign is also the head of state of a dozen other Commonwealth realms — separate from their role in the U.K. — including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Jamaica, where the day-to-day responsibilities are delegated to a governor general.
“The thing that’s most important for people to understand is that there’s not going to be any interregnum — there won’t be any period in which we have no monarch,” said Barbara Messamore, professor of history at the University of the Fraser Valley and fellow for the Institute of the Study of the Crown in Canada at Massey College.
“That’s not to suggest the demise of the Queen is in any sense insignificant. The Queen is at the functional heart of our constitution, but what it does suggest is that there won’t be any interruption of that function.”
What does the monarch do here nowadays?
The monarch does not personally participate in the day-to-day functioning of Canada’s government, and their role in the system overall has long been very limited — to the point where one of the only responsibilities left is to approve the prime minister’s recommendation for governor general as the Crown’s representative in Canada.
The governor general carries out the monarch’s responsibilities on their behalf — many of them largely ceremonial, but some are key to Canada’s system of government, including summoning, proroguing and dissolving Parliament, swearing in a new government, and granting royal assent to bills so they become law.
There is a process, but it’s a formality
One of the governor general’s first tasks in the wake of the Queen’s death will be to issue a proclamation announcing the new King.
The Privy Council — whether just the federal cabinet or a larger group of councillors remains to be seen — will be expected to meet in the coming days to recognize Canada’s new monarch, but experts say it’s merely a formality and not a requirement for Charles becoming Canada’s head of state.
The House of Commons and Senate would also be expected at some point to pass motions recognizing the new monarch and expressing condolences on the Queen’s death.
All references to “the Queen” in federal legislation and other documents will be understood to now mean “the King,” said Philippe Lagassé, associate professor of international affairs at Carleton University and an expert in Canada’s parliamentary system.
People who have taken oaths of allegiance to the Queen — such as members of Parliament or new Canadians — will not have to re-take those oaths now that Canada has a King, he said.
“We’ve put a number of structures in place to ensure that continuity of government is not disrupted,” he said.
Will Canada have its own memorial?
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The federal government will have to decide whether a memorial service should be held in Ottawa on the day of the Queen’s funeral in the U.K., according to the manual of official procedure of the Government of Canada, a cabinet document prepared in the 1960s.
The manual notes that following the death of the Queen’s father, King George VI, in 1952, an “elaborate national ceremony” was held on Parliament Hill.
The Prime Minister will also have to declare a period of official mourning, including a national holiday on the day of the funeral, according to the manual.
Lagassé said the present-day government isn’t bound by the procedures in the manual, however. “They may decide to follow them to the letter, but that isn’t guaranteed,” he said.
Who will appear on our coins and $20 bill?
While the impact on government will be minimal, the Queen’s death may have a greater impact on the symbolism in Canada of the monarchy — an institution that for so long has been intertwined with Elizabeth.
Lagassé pointed out that there’s no requirement, for example, that the monarch’s face appear on Canadian coins and bills, or that they be included in the citizenship oath.
“There’s enough of a recognition that the person and the institution are no longer the same in most people’s lives,” he said. “I just don’t anticipate that there’s going to be a great deal of resistance to removing that remaining symbolism.”
The design of coins, including who appears on them, is the “exclusive jurisdiction” of the federal government, said the Royal Canadian Mint.
“As the Mint’s role is limited to manufacturing and distributing Canada’s circulation coinage, the Mint will abide by the decision and timetable of the government on changing the obverse (heads) design of our coins,” Mint spokesperson Alex Reeves said in an email.
Even once a monarch changes, Reeves said the legal tender status of existing coins remains the same and they can continue to be used.
The same goes for the $20 bill, which currently bears the Queen’s face. The Bank of Canada said the current polymer bank note “is intended to circulate for years to come,” and that it’s up to the Minister of Finance to approve the design of any new bank note.
Was the Queen herself part of why she’s still Canada’s head of state?
The Queen’s death could also potentially open up the door further to the idea of doing away with the monarchy altogether.
It would not be an easy feat considering the constitution sets a high bar — Parliament and all 10 provinces would have to agree — and federal governments of all stripes in recent memory have steered clear from re-opening the constitution.
“Certainly when there’s a change in monarch after a long period of time, it is an opportunity to stop and reflect and there may be discussion within the remaining Commonwealth realms about the future,” said royal commentator and University of Toronto history instructor Carolyn Harris.
“It’s one of the challenges whenever there’s been a monarch who has been in the role for decades. The position is so closely associated with them that it’s difficult to imagine anyone else in that role.”
She pointed out that King Edward VII faced such a challenge when he came to the throne in 1901 upon the death of his mother, Queen Victoria, who reigned for 63 years — the longest reign for a British and Canadian monarch at the time, surpassed only by Elizabeth II.
“But Edward VII managed to exceed expectations and carved out a role as a diplomat in European circles,” Harris said.
“There may be some skepticism about how Charles will address the role, and then he may well exceed expectations. Many of his interests, whether interfaith dialogue, climate change or sustainable development, are very topical in the 21st century.”
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