TORONTO — Whether it’s about the cake, the kiss or the constant coverage, comments or complaints over the royal wedding are bound to slip into Canadian conversation on the eve of the big day.
But regardless of if they’re rooting for the royals or nauseated by the blow-by-blow coverage, monarchists and republicans agree that Friday’s grand event is getting Canadians thinking about their country’s link to the monarchy, and whether it will endure.
“We relish the chance of having the monarchy in the news,” says Tom Freda, co-founder and director of the Citizens for a Canadian Republic. “Apathy is the biggest problem we have in this debate.”
Freda’s non-profit group wishes Prince William and Kate Middleton well, but ultimately wants the country’s head of state to be an elected governor general from Canada instead of a “non-resident monarch. ”
“Simply being a celebrity is not enough to warrant being at the core of the Canadian state,” he says. “Especially when these people aren’t Canadian and they don’t live here.”
Republicans concede that it is hard not to get excited by the pomp and ceremony surrounding what’s being billed as a fairytale event. But they say once discussion in Canada moves beyond Kate’s dress or Prince Harry’s date, the majority agree that the monarchy’s link to Canada is one that needs to be debated.
“We find that most Canadians find it something that’s representative of our past, and when the Queen’s reign ends in particular, this is an issue that we should have a plan for,” says Freda.
Still, who doesn’t love a wedding, and all the trimmings that come with it. A Canadian Press Harris- Decima poll suggests about 40 per cent of Canadians have been making plans to watch the vows, although older wedding watchers are more likely to tune in.
Many of them plan to don daring headgear and toast the royal couple in real time as the wedding gets underway — even if is the early morning hours. Others plan to catch reruns of the proceedings with a cup of English tea for authenticity. Governor General David Johnston will be representing Canada at the wedding itself.
For monarchists, the Canadian connection to the royal wedding runs deeper than hats and honeymoons.
“Canadians should care about the wedding because (William and Kate) represent the future of the monarchy in Canada,” says Eugene Berezovsky, a spokesman for the Monarchist League of Canada.
“If the monarchy is going to continue, for better or worse, these are the people who are going to head it, you want to know them.”
Younger Canadians are among those who want to learn more about the future newlyweds, says Berezovsky, and the perception of William and Kate as a modern couple many can relate to has something to do with it.
That new interest, even if it’s in the royals as mega-celebrities rather than monarchs, lends itself to the argument that Canada’s link to the monarchy is one that endures, he says.
“The monarchy is the single thread that has been present in Canadian history in every one of its stages,” says Berevosky. “We get the benefits of a distinct identity that helps us to separate Canada from its neighbours, it gives us a non-partisan head of state … there are still continually useful arguments for the institution.”
But are William and Kate merely the ultimate celebrities, or is there something more Canadians seek as they watch the wedding take place?
According to Ninian Mellamphy it’s the former.
“Interest in the monarchy in Canada seems to be something incredibly flat,” says the professor emeritus from The University of Western Ontario, who specializes in the monarchy and Canada.
“People don’t have interest in that couple as a royal couple, but as a glam couple.”
A good test of Canada’s enthusiasm for the monarchy will likely come when William and Kate visit Canada in the summer.
“Will they be treated as film stars or will there be an attitude of loyalty? I don’t think there will be any reverence for royalty,” says Mellamphy, who believes even ardent royalists track monarchs as a hobby rather than out of sincere allegiance.
“They’re beautiful people,” says Mellamphy. “We might as well rejoice in their marriage, without in any way claiming them for ourselves.”
Until a serious debate on the monarchy in Canada is held though, the buzz over the “wedding of the century” continues, even if much of the discussion is of a more frivolous variety.
Carolyn Harris, a Queen’s University PhD candidate whose research focuses on British royalty, says Canadian discussion of the event currently focuses on the couple more as a bellwether of trends rather than the future heads of state.
But all that chatter is still a catalyst for discussions of the royal institution itself.
“It is reviving debates about the monarchy and the place of Canada within the commonwealth,” says Harris. “The way that Canada is structured and governed shouldn’t be something that’s taken for granted.”