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Harry and Meghan interview invites fresh scrutiny over Canada’s royal ties

Meghan and Harry’s televised interview with Oprah Winfrey has roiled royal watchers
A newspaper is blown by the wind after it is placed on a railing by a television crew outside Buckingham Palace in London, Monday, March 8, 2021. Britain’s royal family is absorbing the tremors from a sensational television interview by Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex, in which the couple said they encountered racist attitudes and a lack of support that drove Meghan to thoughts of suicide. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Kirsty Wigglesworth

Meghan and Harry’s bombshell revelations about the British monarchy have invited fresh scrutiny over Canada’s ties to the institution, but royal watchers say it is unlikely to spark much change.

Constitutional expert Emmett Macfarlane says the couple’s “explosive” portrayal of their royal experience adds fire to brewing sentiment the Crown holds increasingly less relevance to many Canadians.

But he notes public allegiance remains divided and that getting rid of the monarchy would lead to a complicated constitutional debate that would almost certainly plunge the country into political turmoil.

Meghan and Harry’s televised interview with Oprah Winfrey has roiled royal watchers with revelations Meghan had suicidal thoughts after joining the family and that there were palace conversations about the skin colour of the couple’s future children.

It comes on the heels of a scandal surrounding Canada’s former governor general Julie Payette, who resigned in January following reports of workplace harassment, as well as an ensuing Leger poll that suggested Canadians’ attachment to the monarchy had weakened.

Royal historian and author Carolyn Harris notes Meghan and Harry spoke warmly of the Queen in their interview, but less so of Harry’s father and heir apparent, Prince Charles, and older brother, Prince William.

WATCH: Revealing Harry, Meghan interview reverberates across U.K.

She said that unflattering portrayal “emphasized the divisions” in the family and ran starkly counter to the monarchy’s concerted efforts to project “continuity and stability.”

With the Queen at the advanced age of 94, that does little to inspire confidence in the future of the institution, Harris suggested.

“It’s a difficult time to have critical scrutiny directed towards Charles and William when there’s already some public skepticism about whether they will be able to rise to the occasion,” said Harris, an instructor at the University of Toronto’s school of continuing studies.

Macfarlane called Sunday’s broadcast “a bad night” for the Royal Family and expected it to “push the needle on public opinion” about the monarchy, generally.

“It was incredibly, incredibly damning to the Royal Family. I don’t know how you come out of that interview not at least sympathizing with Harry and Meghan, and it really did emphasize the archaic nature of that institution,” said Macfarlane, an associate professor of political science at the University of Waterloo.

Still, he found it unlikely Canada would pursue efforts to formally cut ties with the monarchy since that would require all 10 provinces to agree, a tall order even with large grassroots support.

Macfarlane noted politicians are scared of constitutional reform talks, pointing to past turmoil surrounding the Meech Lake Accord in 1987 and the Charlottetown Accord in 1992.

“Those events led to the Quebec secession referendum of ‘95 and the country almost broke up,” he said.

“Quebec is not going to agree to a constitutional amendment without other things being on the table, like more powers for Quebec or recognition of Quebec’s distinct society in the Constitution. And once you start adding other things to the negotiating table, the other provinces will start piling on as well.

“Suddenly you’re not talking about getting rid of the monarchy — you’re talking about huge, other changes to the Constitution, and it becomes much more fraught and much more unpopular.”

While other Commonwealth nations have similarly mused on leaving the Crown, the prospect of reform, as well as coming up with an alternative, is daunting, Harris agreed.

She noted Barbados has announced plans to cut ties later this year, but said the process there is far less complicated.

“It can be reassuring to stick with a familiar system that works regardless of the personal reputations of individual members of the Royal Family at any given time,” she suggested.

A Leger poll commissioned earlier this year by Journal de Montréal found just six per cent of respondents in Atlantic Canada and Quebec said they “feel attached to the British monarchy,” with attachment reaching as high as 29 per cent in British Columbia.

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press

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