Lynch and Deegan: As we debate the role of the monarchy, let us strengthen the Commonwealth

The Commonwealth countries have a shared history, respect for the rule of law and respect for democratic values. Together, they can be a powerful force for good in the world.


“If I die tomorrow, I won’t regret it. I really did everything I could.” Those words, once spoken by the late Freddie Mercury of Queen, could certainly have been applied to Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen left an indelible personal mark on the world.

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Her 70-year reign saw the great moments in post-war history, and she knew all the movers and shakers of that history. She started in the depths of the Cold War; she witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall; the end of apartheid in South Africa; a United Kingdom entering and leaving the European Union; she covered huge social and political change within the UK and the world at large; and it ended with a world once again divided and at odds as Russia and China reject the notion of a rules-based, liberal international order.


Transitions are rarely easy, fundamental ones even less so.

Several Commonwealth countries, including the UK, which today have the British monarch as head of state, are likely to have conflicting public views on the post-Elizabeth future. For example, According to Pollara Strategic Insights, only 35 percent of Canadians want Canada to remain a constitutional monarchy; only 37 percent have favorable feelings towards Carlos III; and 44 percent want to completely end our connection to the Crown. Republican views seem to be even stronger in Australia, and similar divisions and debates are expected in other parts of the Commonwealth.

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But while public discourse has focused primarily on the monarchy and its future, a separate and timely question is what should we, as Canadians, do with the Commonwealth?

An important distinction: the monarchy and the Commonwealth are not the same thing. Only 15 of the 56 countries that make up the Commonwealth have the monarch as head of state.

The Commonwealth spans the globe and is home to 2.5 billion world citizens. While the UK’s geopolitical power has waned in the post-war period, the collective membership of the Commonwealth has the potential to be influential global shapers. For example, they are part of most of the international multilateral architecture: the G7 (Canada and the United Kingdom); the G20 (Canada, UK, India, Australia and South Africa); APEC (Canada, Malaysia, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore); the African Union (19 of its members); and the IMF and World Bank (all Commonwealth Caribbean countries are members of the Canadian constituency).

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Why is this important? The world today is retreating into great power politics, a 21st century version of the Cold War, with Russia and China wanting to remake the world order in their own image of history.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a career of waging wars everywhere from Chechnya to Georgia to Syria to the Ukraine and exhibits a burning desire to rebuild the mythical “Russian empire.” Chinese President Xi Jinping has tightened his grip on Chinese society and Hong Kong by subverting the “rule of law” into a “rule of law”; he unleashed aggressive “wolf warrior diplomacy” abroad; and threatens Taiwan and peace in the South China Seas.

These malevolent superpowers of best friends continue to vie for influence from everywhere from Africa to the Middle East to the Americas. And, as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, each enjoys veto power. During the Trump years, when the US woefully closed in on itself, both sought to bolster their presence in a host of multilateral institutions.

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In this context, Canada might consider turning our attention to the Commonwealth and its potential to be a greater force for good in this uncertain world.

Commonwealth member countries have a shared history, respect the rule of law, and embrace democratic values. They subscribe to the common goals of prosperity, democracy and peace.

But the Commonwealth punches well under its weight in world affairs. Its influence is subliminal at best, and its purpose often seems retrospective rather than progressive. This is a missed opportunity in a world that needs cohesive lineups of like-minded countries.

Canada has always had a reasonably strong voice in the Commonwealth. As an example, during the 1980s and 1990s, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Foreign Secretary Joe Clark and our diplomats took a very strong, moral and principled stand within the Commonwealth against the apartheid regime in South Africa. , an approach that contrasts with the British. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. In the end, with Canadian leadership and the influence of a middle power, apartheid collapsed under international pressure.

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It is time for Canada to put a political focus back on the Commonwealth and what its global role could be. With the diversity of the Commonwealth – countries large and small, rich and poor nations, countries situated in the East, West, North and South – a focus on democratic institutions and the rule of law; on liberalized trade and investment; on environmental sustainability; and in conflict resolution and security it could be very influential due to the diversity of the Commonwealth.

How to turn this potential into reality? At just over $10 million, Canada is the second largest donor to the Commonwealth, but to be effective, the Commonwealth needs more financial and institutional resources, and Canada could lead in this regard. The Commonwealth Secretariat needs to be streamlined, reformed and revitalized so that it is purpose-built for today’s geopolitical challenges, and Canada could use its influence to facilitate this modernization.

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An early and tangible way of demonstrating our commitment to this reorientation of the Commonwealth would be to offer to host a meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government, something that has not been done here since 1987.

The risk of inaction may be more than a missed opportunity. According to the TelegraphHad it not been for the personal efforts of Her Majesty the Queen, it seems inconceivable that the Commonwealth of Nations would exist today. With the Queen’s passing, the Commonwealth itself may be at risk. It is in Canada’s self-interest to be there in a leadership role to support a revitalized Commonwealth.

Honorable Kevin Lynch He was Secretary of the Privy Council and Vice President of BMO Financial Group. paul deegan He was a public affairs executive at BMO and CN.

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