The Crown in Canada
A Constitutional Monarchy
Canada is a monarchy; its head of state is the Sovereign. Under Canada's Constitution, the country is governed by democratically elected federal, provincial, and territorial governments, who carry out their duties under the authority of the Crown.
The roots of this system of government run through Canada's written history. They began with the establishment of the Crown in Canada with the first permanent French settlements in northeastern North America in the early 17th century. Known as New France, the colony and its inhabitants existed under the sovereignty of the French kings through the rule of governors. In 1763, many of France's North American possessions were ceded to the British king, George III, in the Treaty of Paris. New France then became part of British North America.
Like the French Crown had been, the British Crown was central to the governance of these colonies. It differed, however, from the absolute monarchy of the French ancien régime. It had evolved into a system of parliamentary supremacy and responsible government, a model that would eventually guide Canada's development. In the early years of British rule, however, the colonies were entrusted to governors who wielded considerable power and authority. The model of responsible government was established in British North America in the middle of the 19th century. Nova Scotia was the first to adopt it, in 1848, followed soon after by other colonies in what would become Canada at Confederation in 1867.
The framework of responsible government in a federal system was the achievement of the Fathers of Confederation in their negotiation of a united Dominion of Canada within the British Empire in the 1860s. Remaining central to this government, however, was the Crown, and the new country stayed true to its history as a constitutional monarchy. Indeed it was Queen Victoria who, in the 30th year of her reign, assented to the British North America Act (now known as the Constitution Act, 1867).
The Crown served to reinforce Canada's identity as the country continued to evolve over some tumultuous decades. After coming of age on the battlefields of France and Flanders in the First World War, Canada saw its full legal autonomy formalized in the Statute of Westminster in 1931. Thereafter, Canada emerged as a distinct entity within the Commonwealth with a unique relationship to the Crown.
A Queen of Canada
Upon the death in 1952 of King George VI, his daughter Elizabeth succeeded to the throne. She was proclaimed Queen of Canada, the first monarch recognized by this specific title. It was another step in asserting Canada's autonomy under its enduring framework of constitutional monarchy.
Her Majesty's relationship to Canada began with her first Royal Tour of the country in 1951 as Princess Elizabeth. On that tour, as well as the 22 that have followed, the Queen has established ever-deeper ties with the Canadian people. She has visited every province and territory and has often been heard to refer to Canada as "home."
Her Majesty has taken part in Canada's growth as a nation. In 1957 (and again in 1977), she opened Parliament by personally delivering the Speech from the Throne, the only sovereign of Canada to do so. She inaugurated the new St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959 with President Dwight D. Eisenhower and visited him in the United States, making the first foreign visit ever made by a Queen of Canada. In 1967 she celebrated the country's centennial on Parliament Hill and attended Expo '67 in Montreal. Accompanied by her family, she opened the Montreal Olympic Games in 1976. Among other tours, she returned in 1977 and in 2002 to celebrate her Silver and Golden Jubilees. She visited the newly created territory of Nunavut in 2002, and she celebrated the centennial of Alberta and Saskatchewan with their people in 2005. Events during her recent tours such as a visit to the First Nations University of Canada in 2005, the laying of the cornerstone of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in 2010, and the celebration of the Centennial of the Royal Canadian Navy, also in 2010, show Her Majesty's involvement in issues important to Canadians.
In 1982, the Queen took part in the most significant event in Canada's constitutional history since her great-great-grandmother assented to the British North America Act. On April 17, Queen Elizabeth signed the Proclamation of the Constitution Act, 1982, completing a process that brought Canada's Constitution, formerly a statute of the British Parliament, under complete Canadian control. The Constitution could now be amended in Canada without reference to the British Parliament. The stroke of the Queen's pen also gave Canada the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. (It is worth noting that the table upon which the Proclamation was signed is kept in the offices of the Speaker of the Senate as a treasured element of Canada's history.) Preceded by the Canadian Bill of Rights of 1960, an early attempt to codify human rights in federal law, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is an important statement of Canada's values and the guiding principle behind all Acts of Parliament. Interestingly, this constitutional milestone was marked in the 30th year of Queen Elizabeth's reign, the same year of Queen Victoria's reign in which she assented to the country's creation.
The members of the Royal Family also play an active role in the life of Canadians as representatives of the Crown. They periodically tour Canada, connecting with Canadians and their current affairs. Many members of the Queen's family serve as Colonels-in-Chief of regiments of the Canadian Forces. They are also very much involved in promoting the values of duty and service that are an intrinsic part of the Canadian identity. The Queen, for example, is the Sovereign of the Order of Canada, part of her awards system that recognizes the good achieved by Canadians. Members of the Royal Family serve as patrons of other awards, such as the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Program for young people, and of charity work, such as that carried out by The Prince's Charities, a network of charities of which the Prince of Wales is patron or president. In these ways, the Crown and its representatives are truly woven into the fabric of Canadian society.