Queen Elizabeth II's autumn visit to Canada once again highlights the unique worldwide role played by Britain's monarchy. ELIZABETH II embarked on her latest Canadian visit — her 12th as sovereign — while riding the crest of popularity at home in Britain.
Polls taken in the last few years have confirmed that both the monarchy and its most visible symbol, the Queen, enjoy widespread favor and respect in the eyes of the British public.
Queen Elizabeth II, observers agree, has grown steadily in her office since February 6, 1952. That is the day she ascended the throne upon the death of her father, George VI. At age 25 Elizabeth II was the youngest monarch to ascend the throne since Queen Victoria and the same age as her great 16th century predecessor, Elizabeth I.
Why Popularity High At the time of her 30th anniversary on the throne, the Times of London (February 1, 1982) remarked that " Elizabeth II has finally managed to transcend the lower atmosphere of mere reverence from her subjects into the rarer air of genuine affection."
The same Times profile of the Queen also carried the observation of Norman St. John Stevas, a Member of Parliament and noted observer of the monarchy. He said:
"The monarchy has become our only truly popular political institution at a time when the House of Commons has declined in public esteem and the [House of] Lords is a matter of controversy. The monarchy is, in real sense, underpinning the other two estates of the realm."
This is of no small consequence in a world that has seen some 30 monarchies vanish in half a century.
The Right Balance There is no doubt that Elizabeth II, in her manner and decorum, has enhanced the image of the British Royal Family. The Queen has displayed unwavering standards of decency and stability.
While becoming more visible and accessible — her walkabouts and quarterly garden parties have increased her popularity — she has not succumbed to the temptation to become a popular just-plain-folks type of monarch as in some other constitutional democracies. She has kept her dignity, or as one authority on the Royal Family phrased it, "She treads the right line between accessibility and mystique."
Paul Johnson, a sometime critic of the monarchy, put it this way: "She does not bow to idiotic waves of public taste. She makes no attempt to be 'with it'.... If we must have a monarch, it is good to have a queen who looks and behaves like one."
Elizabeth II has learned to walk the tightrope, said another observer, "by instinctively judging not how she personally would behave but how an anointed queen should act."
In his best-selling book Majesty, author Robert Lacey analyzed the Queen's overall approach to her office. "Being royal in her eyes," wrote Mr. Lacey, "is not a question of acting a role. It is being a role." As a result, the Queen binds British people of all classes together.
Governments of different political leanings come and go — Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is the ninth Prime Minister to serve Elizabeth II. The Queen, standing above politics as head of state, provides a sense of stability and continuity. But the monarchy is by no means limited to maintaining social standards and providing the essence of nationhood.
Well-informed Adviser The Queen has three specific rights — "the right to be consulted, the right to encourage and the right to warn." She actively exercises these rights, limited though they may appear to be, in Britain. Her Governors — General * do the same in other realms under her sovereignty.
In order to properly perform these functions, Elizabeth II keeps up-to-date on all matters of state in her far-flung realm.
Virtually every important paper that crosses the Prime Minister's desk passes before the Queen's eyes as well. The Prime Minister also consults the Queen on a wide range of issues privately once a week.
The Times of London profile, quoted earlier, said this about the Queen's grasp of world conditions:
"Elizabeth II is a woman of great political astuteness.... Her experience is wider than any other head of state alive.... It is, in a way, a shame that the Queen cannot, by virtue of her position, make more use of her astonishing knowledge of domestic and world politics."
The Crown in Canada Elizabeth II's influence extends far beyond the United Kingdom. Canada is a good example.
When the Queen visited selected locations in Canada beginning in late September, she was by no means visiting foreign territory, as she did in a state visit to Canada's southern neighbor, the United States, in 1983.
In Canada, Elizabeth II's official title is Queen of Canada. Her responsibilities there are incorporated in a unique, somewhat abstract entity, known as the Crown.
This instrument of state power, explains Frank MacKinnon in The Crown in Canada, "operates in mysterious and practical ways." More than anything else it is the Crown that distinguishes Canadian political life from that of republican United States.
The Crown, its proponents maintain, is also largely responsible for Canada having enjoyed a relatively trouble-free political history.
The Crown comprises the supreme executive power of Canada, positioned above the structure of government (Parliament and Prime Minister). It is, as author MacKinnon writes, "an institution at the summit of the state designed to limit the problems of wielding political power."
Its power is almost entirely exerted behind the scenes, quietly and confidentially. Even most Canadians are not aware of the day-to-day operations of the Crown. "Like an iceberg," says Mr. MacKinnon, "the Crown displays only its tip."
The Crown in Canada is composed of 12 key individuals — the Queen, the Governor-General and 10 Lieutenant Governors (one over each of Canada's 10 provinces).
Since the Queen resides in Britain, the Governor-General (since 1952 a Canadian citizen) exercises all the powers of the Queen, as her personal representative. He performs all the formal and ceremonial functions that the Queen would perform if she were present.
Among his duties the Governor-General summons, adjourns and dissolves Parliament, and signs many state documents.
On foreign trips, the Governor-General represents Canada. At home he accepts the accreditation of ambassadors from other countries appointed to Canada, as well as the high commissioners of Commonwealth countries.
The 10 Lieutenant Governors are as much representatives of the Queen in provincial government as the Governor-General is in the national government. This in large measure accounts for the sizable sovereignty possessed by Canada's 10 provinces — more authority and responsibility than is wielded by states within the United States. This has even helped preserve the unique French culture and language in Quebec.
Having this form of executive government and authority in no way compromises Canada's sovereignty as an independent nation.
Originally, with regard to Canadian matters, the sovereign (King or Queen as the case may have been) was advised by representatives of the British government. As Canada matured as a nation, Canadian advisers gradually took over, until the British government relinquished its role entirely.
The last vestiges of British control over Canadian affairs disappeared in 1982 with the "patriation" of Canada's constitution, composed in the main of the British North America Act of 1867. Until patriation, amendments to the BN A Act had to be approved by the British Parliament, upon advice of the Canadian government (which Westminster automatically did).
The Queen traveled to Canada in April 1982 to formally proclaim the Canadian constitution.
"To identify the Crown as the British Crown may have been correct and practical years ago," notes author MacKinnon, "when Canada's own support of her institutions and foreign relations was not strong enough. But times have changed, and the Crown now belongs to Canada and other members of the Commonwealth separately.... It is a shared symbol which we have made our own for practical reasons."
Simply put, the constitutional monarchy system, as it had developed over the centuries in Britain, was eng rafted into Canada, as it were, where it is now as much Canadian as British. Moreover, Canada's independence was achieved peacefully, rather than by way of a revolution.
In the process, Canada, though a relatively new country (its confederation dates to 1867), inherited a governmental system developed over centuries — of transformation, honed by the trial — and — error method. Canadians did not have to invent a political process of their own, as have many nations in the post — World War II breakup of the colonial empires.
Advice with Authority While coups and revolutions continue to wrack the globe on a regular basis, Canada witnessed a smooth transition of political power, with the recent September 4 election victory of the Progressive Conservative Party, headed by Brian Mulroney.
Crown supporters claim the system works because there is a clear delineation between those who hold political power and those who wield it. Power in Canada resides in the Crown, whereas elected officials forming the government (at the behest of the Governor-General) are responsible for wielding the power, while in office, as temporary trustees of it.
Should difficulties arise, the Governor-General has the right "to remove from his office, or to suspend from the exercise of the same, any person exercising any office within Canada." Each Lieutenant Governor has a similar power within his province.
While such drastic measures seldom take place, the very powers retained by the Crown encourage moderation in the wielding of power by the politicians, "a deterrent to overheated government," comments Mr. MacKinnon. The offices of Governor-General and Lieutenant Governors thus act, he continues, as "constitutional fire extinguishers."
The best recent example of such latent power was displayed nine years ago not in Canada, but in Australia. On November 11, 1975, Governor-General Sir John Kerr dismissed Prime Minister Gough Whitlam after the latter refused to call new elections in the wake of a parliamentary deadlock. In Whitlam's place, the Governor-General called upon opposition leader Malcolm Fraser to form a government.
Many Australians were shocked to learn how much power was actually invested in the Queen's top representative.
Another Prime Minister of Australia, Robert Menzies, once extolled the value of the Crown in this manner:
"The Queen is seen in all the countries within her allegiance as the fountain of honour, the protector of the law, the centre of a Parliamentary system in which she makes and proclaims statutes by and with the consent' of Parliament.... The Crown remains the centre of our democracy; a fixed point in the whirl of circumstance."
The display of power seen in the Whitlam affair is the exception to the rule. The power of the Crown is most often dispensed behind the scenes in an atmosphere of trust. The successful Governor-General is one who, like the Queen herself, is respected by a Prime Minister and who can give discreet, tactful advice and counsel.
Contrast with Other Forms Human history is replete with tragic abuses of political power. Certainly the absolute monarchies in the past have been as guilty as modern forms of government today. Because of this, modern monarchies are generally limited by constitutional safeguards and forced to exert power cautiously.
Those who uphold the operations of the monarchy and the Crown today point to the relative success of nations utilizing this system of executive power.
In contrast, many countries in the Commonwealth that, in the independence process, have replaced the Queen with their own head of state, such as a president, have witnessed a tragic chronology of coups, rebellions, civil wars and one-party dictatorships. Indigenous heads of state have generally lacked the power and prestige to ward off abuses of political power.
At the same time non-Commonwealth Western democracies have occasionally been confronted with presidents who have proven to be more monarchial than constitutional monarchs.
In this generation the United States experienced what Arthur M. Schlesinger, American author and educator, called the "Imperial Presidency." In France, the office of head of state, strengthened by the late Charles de Gaulle. has been referred to by the French magazine Le Monde as a "monarque-president."
The Crown system has also tended to defuse the emergence of dangerous nationalism, since patriotic feelings are focused on the State itself or its nonpolitical head rather than a government or a party.
One thinks of the extreme example of Adolf Hitler being able to get the German army to swear allegiance to him personally. This could not happen in Canada, where the Queen, not the Prime Minister, is commander in chief of the military.
The Crown, writes Mr. MacKinnon, "acts as the repository for the decorative and emotional functions which are inevitable in any state. These functions have to be placed somewhere, and experience indicates that the less politicians can use them the better and more safely they are performed.... It also reminds them [the politicians] that they are servants of the state, not its master."
Canadians have often joked that their politics seem dull in comparison with other countries. But this relative dullness is primarily the result of a system employing safeguards against those who would let power go to their heads, to the detriment of the whole society.
"To this situation," concluded Mr. MacKinnon in his book, "the Crown and its twelve representatives... provide compensations for human nature to help make democracy work."
Alter Human Nature The modern-day role of the Queen and the Crown has indeed evolved into a system of ruling fairly, while curbing the appetites of those who would selfishly strive for more power than they should have. But the system is far from perfect.
That is why the Bible foretells of the time — just ahead of us — when a King of kings will rule with perfection, not just a handful of nations, but the entirety of the earth.
This King will rule with total fairness, righteousness and power (Isa. 11:3-5). Unlike human beings he will never be tempted to abuse his office. This coming government will not have to be based upon compromise or checks and balances, or the need to provide "compensation for human nature!"
This government is, in fact, the government of Almighty God. It is headed by the Supreme Creator who has appointed Jesus Christ as his Chief Executive. Its other rulers will also have divine nature.
The ruling Christ will be joined in this future world government by "kings and priests" (Rev. 5:10). These individuals, through the very power and Spirit of God, will have overcome in their lifetimes their prideful, selfish natures and have become obedient to the will of God. They will have qualified to exercise "power over the nations" (Rev. 2:26).
And in this kingdom too, "my servant David" — the ancient king of Israel — will be resurrected to high office (Ezek. 34:23, 24).
Christ himself will sit upon "the throne of his father David" (Luke 1:32), completing a remarkable cycle of rulership that has intimately involved the very throne of the British Royal Family for almost 3,000 years. Write for editor in chief Herbert W. Armstrong's exciting book The United States And Britain In Prophecy to understand this remarkable story.
In the world tomorrow, this Royal Family of spirit beings will extend the government of God out from Jerusalem to encompass eventually every inhabited corner of the earth. It will be the Crown and chief executive power over all other nations and kingdoms (Rev. 11:15). As the British Crown does today on a lesser scale, it will pass along its experience and proven success from one nation to the next, "till He" the Messiah Jesus Christ — "has established justice in the earth" (Isa. 42:4, Revised Authorized Version).
Even the glory of the British Empire at its zenith of power will pale into insignificance by comparison.
* The Queen is head of state in 18 countries including the United Kingdom. She has 17 Governors-General since one is not necessary in the United Kingdom itself The Statesman's Year-Book 1984-85 refers to these 18 countries as "Queen's Realms": Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Fiji, Grenada, Jamaica, Mauritius, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Christopher and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and Grenadines, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and the United Kingdom.