Constitution Class

…Aaaand there are the bells, so we’re gonna have to get back to business pretty soon, but while we’re still at some liberty…

Let’s talk about everybody’s favourite subject:  Canadian politics!


Oh don’t worry, we’re not really going to talk Canadian politics.  Just about one tiny piece of Canadian politics.

The money.

Or — scratch that, I mean the Queen.

A funny old bird, the Queen;  some people like her, and some people hate her, but most Canadians think something about her every so often — la Reine du Canada, in that possibly oddest of all odd military toasts.  So today I was talking to my friend who makes a great show every so often of being a Republican…to which I say, “as if”, because I’ve met some genuine Canadian Republicans (down at the Legion, which is really the only place you’ll find ’em) and as crotchety a curmudgeon as my friend is he just doesn’t have the right amount of grey hairs and vitamin supplements to qualify for that august brotherhood.  Nowadays we don’t care so much about getting rid of the monarchy, most of us — because the Constitution already got repatriated, and a Prime Minister already invoked the vestigial right of direct appeal to the monarch — these things really work like Charter rights do, you know:  as precedent stands until the Charter is applied to it (just like State law applies until the 14th (?) Amendment is applied to it down in the Benighted States of America) (I kid because I love), so do obsolete constitutional privileges until they are used, whereupon they back out of the House sweeping away their own footprints behind them, editing themselves from Parliamentary praxis — although that editing process is more a matter of tacit democratic agreement rather than legal necessity — and I’m not sure if you can even leapfrog the Supreme Court to the Privy Council anymore.  But in any case the crux of it all is this:  that Canada’s money stays in Canada, and Canadians don’t care anymore about the rest.  We don’t have Dominion Day, and we don’t have to go cap-in-hand on matters constitutional, and that’s where our long colonial story sort of…just peters out gradually, I guess, as most things like that do up here.

And not that there isn’t more to that story…

But we don’t need to get into it here.  All we really need to get into is this:  that for most Canadians, the only change they’d notice from Canada becoming a full-fledged Republic with a UDI and everything is that the money would look different.  And so why bother going that route?  Since it costs money, to change the money…

Well all right.  There is a little bit more to it than that.  Because the Queen (and not just any old Queen, but this Queen), is written into the Constitution itself.  “Monarch” in the Canadian context is technically not a category just any old monarch can fill, and as we all know the Constitution is about nothing but technicalities…as any constitution must be, if it’s really supposed to track down self-evident Truths and hustle them into a legal framework.  Or, as we might more fancifully call it, a cage: a binding-spell made of hierarchical prouncements and conditions, a Solomon’s Seal of philosophical formulae:  and all the chalk lines must be drawn out in full and unbroken, or the demon will escape.  Yes:  the law that governs our governments is the highest form of cybernetic research we’ve got, and like Mr. Suber’s Nomic it is infinitely flexible, a maze of cause and effect and cause descriptively-powerful enough to fall into the border of complexity itself:  there to fight the very Dragon of Undecidability if it isn’t lucky.  But for such immensely serious real-world risks, the compensations are stunning:  for doesn’t Jung say, that to win the Princess is always and only to win one’s own soul?

For polities, democracy is just such a soul — essential and unsubstitutable.  In the core (the heart, of course:  as heartwood) of democracies, there lies always the indissoluble trouble of science itself:  how can we know, really know?  How can our mathematical plots of reality, of Truth, no matter however so close they sail up to it, ever jump the gap of Newtonian evanescence to the firmness of Dry Land?  Well…the short answer is:  they can’t.  (And it suddenly occurs to me that you can blame Andrew for this post, that is if you’re looking for someone to blame…hey, I’m just the messenger, man…)

But again:  compensations.

The Princess, and all that.

But, we weren’t talking about the Princess, were we?  We were talking about the Queen.  And as the Queen, good old Betty (though I never call her that, myself) is the fundamental technical fact of the Canadian Constitution…and so, because of another fundamental (though less technical) fact, which is that THIS IS CANADA AND WE DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY HERE, taking the old jeep-fixer out and putting some other moral widget in her place would be an extremely complicated, not to say vexed, task.  In Canada, you see, we do a lot of pretending:  we do a lot of nodding and smiling and what-we-were-gonna-do-anyway.  I would venture to say, even, that we are the most (constitutionally-speaking, at the very least!) passive-aggressive polity in the English-speaking world.  But even for us, the Queen is a hard prop to kick out, and then plausibly walk away whistling what who me, she did, you don’t say, well well.  I’ve got friends in the UK who want the monarchy bloody well OUT!!, but my true north strong and free hasn’t got anything like that kind of feeling about it, that you could hang a philosophical position on.  And so there’s no way of telling just what would it take, or what would have to be done, to remove the distant figurehead from which our Governor-General ultimately derives authority.  The UK?  Heck, this isn’t even Australia…this is the place where faking it ’til you’re making it was invented, and we are not straightforward people up in here.  Every country, like every family, is weird in its own way:  and our way is that we are just not going to let on what’s on our minds.

Individually, of course…well, I like us.

But corporately…hey, your guess is as good as mine.

Constitutionally-speaking, that is.

But with that said…still, no matter how occulted the matter of dramatic constitutional change might be, the business of what the money would look like would still be the most pressing and critical matter.  I mean, we couldn’t even start talking about removing the (strangely vital) figurehead, until we had that shit sorted out.  Hey, did I ever tell you about the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Bank of Edinburgh?  That’s where Jacobite and Whig alike (according to the grandson of our fifteenth Governor-General) recognized that ideological warfare was trumped by the necessity of people having faith in the security of their banking system, and for Canada — whose Constitution doesn’t fool about with such idealistic aspirations as “the pursuit of happiness” but instead concentrates rather dully (with glorious, heroic dullness!) on the even-more-nebulous thing identified as “good government” — and there are a lot of goddamn ex-Scots in this country! — and one day soon I promise to get into all this more fairly and in more detail so no one hates me — for Canada, the same imminently (not to say eminently) practical panic is likewise a top priority.

And so, all that (as I said) said…

Jesus, what d’you think the money would have to look like?

That’s exactly what I asked my faux-Republican friend.  Convince me about the money, I said, and maybe I’ll ride along with your pointless anti-monarchist tough-guy gravy train to a freedom we’ve already got!

And that’s when he said:

“Lester B. Pearson on the twenty.”

So okay, you Canadians out there:  he got my attention with that.  And so let me get your attention with this, a possibly fun game?  Suppose it happened:  we changed the money.

What, in that event, do you think it should be changed to?

We need the facing side of the lesser coins, the facing side of the two major coins, and the facing side of the twenty, and let’s say we bring back the thousand and give it a new facing side as well…and, of course, a back side!  And if you want to go higher, I don’t mind:  after all, if we’re to be Republic-ready, we’re gonna want a whole bunch of patriotic portraits, aren’t we?  Heck, design a whole new series if you want to, I mean I’ve gotta say I miss the landscapes that used to be on the back of the notes.  Go crazy, is what I say…but I only ask that you consider what could make it through Parliament:  so if you want something a little off the beaten path (I think you probably know who I mean), you better make a bit of a convincing speech about it.

I know…

…It’s boring!

But isn’t that part of what being Canadian is all about?

22 responses to “Constitution Class

  1. Me, I think the most beautiful money we’ve had since the 1969 series is the commemorative Nunavut toonie…you know, the one with the Inuit dude beating on his drum? Gorgeous money: does anyone know who designed it, off the top of their heads?

  2. Ah, but you lack the long view. In a few (?) years time, it’ll be Charles Windsor’s spoiled, melancholic, tampon-adoring face staring up from your Canadian currency. At that point, even the Neil Young’s arse is going to seem like an improvement.

  3. Strangely debatable! Although I’ve often thought Charles would make an excellent King…if “King” is really still the word…there is some question in Canada whether Charles would “count”.

    And isn’t that just the peculiarest thing you ever heard? Why it’s like when I caught my old roommate reading the Bible, and I said:

    “Whatcha readin’ that Bible for, man?”

    And he said:

    “I’m trying to figure out how Jesus was able to choose just those people his healing-power was adequate to, and not anyone his healing-power would be defeated by.”

    Good luck with that!

  4. You see everything in Canada is a fiction. Well, it’s a fiction in the U.S. and the UK too. But here it’s a polite fiction, and in the UK there’s nothing polite about it, politeness is the fiction…meanwhile in the U.S it’s just fiction and it has no dimension of politeness at all. And that reminds me, gotta say something about “No Country”…

  5. Excellent king? I’d hate to see what a bad king would look like. I mean, he can’t even make a speech. He mutters and stumbles and fiddles with his damn cufflinks and sounds like he’s straining to unload an obstinate turd. It’s the only thing the man has ever needed to do, and he’s useless at it. Even after forty years of repetition.

    I’ve always thought of Canada as a rather civilised place. It doesn’t get the acclaim it deserves, mainly because it has a shouty neighbour demanding complete attention. Robertson Davies came from Canada. The man’s a dude.

  6. Ah! Fun!

    Okay, well, we’re leaving the maple leaves on the penny and the loon on the dollar coin and (most importantly!) the Bluenose on the dime, right? It’s only the Queen’s picture we’re replacing?

    So that’s [counting] nine pictures. And, yes, I take your point about getting this through Parliament, but I would prefer to indulge myself.

    First, the conventional choices. Pearson, yes. Baldwin and Lafontaine can be another. There’s all kinds of good stuff in the War of 1812… Laura Secord? Brock and Tecumseh? Battle of Chateauguay? Stretching a point a bit, the burning of the White House? Then there’s Maurice Richard, Stompin’ Tom Connors, Gordon Lightfoot. I’d want to get John Humphrey in there, but he’s already covered by the $50. We’ve already got Macdonald, Laurier, and Borden, so that’s fine; maybe Georges Etienne Cartier? Tilley and Tupper? George Brown? Oh: Terry Fox! I’m surprised they haven’t done that already.

    Let’s fill in one set of proposals, then: Pearson can go on the $20, Brock and Tecumseh on the $2, the Rocket on the $1, Stompin’ Tom on the quarter, Baldwin and Lafontaine on the nickel, Terry Fox on the dime, Cartier on the penny, and Leif Ericsson and St. Brendan back-to-back on the thousand.

    For a slightly more idiosyncratic coinage, how about we put Jean Lesage on the penny, WWII spy hero Jones of Jugo-Slavia on the nickel, Lord Elgin on the dime, Stuart McLean on the quarter, the Littlest Hobo on the $1, Deanna Durbin on the $2, Wolverine on the $20, and Bob and Doug Mackenzie back-to-back with the cast of The Beachcombers on the thousand?

    That was cool. Now let’s get back to the make-up-your-own-superhero thing; I don’t want to be finished with that yet.

  7. Clone: oh, only where “excellent” is a term standing for some value of “irrelevant but mildly interesting to watch”…also, kind words about Davies there, kind words sir…

    And, Matthew: Ha! Those are good! I’m quite taken with Georges Etienne Cartier…a real good one…and Brock and Tecumseh. Laura Secord too. Maybe even Terry Fox (the back would certainly be iconic if it were a bill, him trudging up the hill on the highway), but I figure our pop-culture people — especially Richard? — Stompin’ Tom too? — oughtta be saved for commemorative sets. Heck, a “Canadian Scientists” set wouldn’t be too bad either, would it?

    (And, man, I got like 350 visits today…you don’t think this post…?!)

    A double-portrait on the thousand sounds real good…but where to put Tommy Douglas? Or Louis St-Laurent for that matter? Or Nellie McClung? For me I’d be hesitant to do a lot of 1812 stuff, if only because Kate Beaton’s disquiet with the recent Coupland-designed memorial statue has sunk into my brain pretty deep — a narrative so powerfully (if unconsciously) contested is not something I’d feel totally comfortable propping up. In somewhat the same manner, it’s kinda shameful that I can’t easily and instantly call to mind more Native people to slap on the money, and yet there is something, hmm, a little co-opty about doing that anyway, isn’t there? But damned if you do, damned if you don’t, I suppose…like we should just have a bunch of old white guys on there anyway, and claim sensitivity as the rationale? Little late for that… And yet the most obvious and fitting non-Euro personage is the one person you probably never could get through Parliament…which is some kinda damn shame if you ask me, but there it is…

    Well, you might have some trouble getting Smallwood on there, too…

    I’d put Cartier on the quarter in deference to the pun (“Quartier”), Terry Fox on the dime actually sounds quite intuitively brilliant…like to stick Leacock on the nickel but we’re running out of denominations! And besides, there are still commemorative series to be minted, aren’t there? My artist friend would love to see Nellie on the nickel no doubt, but then there’s a reason she’ll never be a politician…so put Nellie on the loonie, I say! And Baldwin and Lafontaine on the toonie with the polar bear family. Tommy on the penny seems appropriate to me, and so then for the nickel…St-Laurent? Champlain? It’s a tough one, considering how marvellously iconic is the beaver…

    The thousand I’m still mulling over…but it’d be nice to change the backs of the notes too, wouldn’t it? Maybe a nice shot of Charlevoix someplace…Ellesmere Island…Drumheller…the Rideau Canal…

    It is fun, eh?

  8. I dunno how to find the link…will look around me and see what jumps out. But in any case, Coupland designed an 1812 statue consisting of two oversized toy soldiers, one in a British costume and one in an American one…with the American one tottled over on the ground. Now you look at that and I think the first thing you say “yes it’s a cute idea”, but then at second glance I think you have to question the message it might convey, because for better or worse there is a faint suggestion of “rah rah, we won that one” in there, and for a war memorial it’s sort of the last thing you want. Not that one couldn’t also see another, more serious type of commentary in it…but what if you’re an American visitor, I mean what’s going to go through your mind, there? Kate informs us that for the Americans 1812 was something very like a second War of Independence; for us it’s a “victory”…but neither of these stories is a particularly good one, it was bloody and nasty and had a fair amount of brother-against-brother in it, so though it’s perhaps all right to indulge in a wee bit of nationalistic sentiment there, or indeed a bit of dry, distant analysis, there’s also something a bit unseemly about turning that into statuary…

    …I mean, depending on how you look at it.

    But I think it bears some thinking about in any case.

  9. — Also I wonder how many people are reading these comments and
    — have no idea who ninety percent of the people we’re naming are.

    Me for one. After a bit of googling, I’m disappointed to find Nellie isn’t Nelly Furtado. How could you not love a country with her on the currency. Incidentally, you should really get rid of dollars. Sounds too American. Try duckets or florins or, er, canucks.

  10. Yeah, I know the statue (although I can’t recall if I ever saw it in real life, or just in pictures); I just hadn’t seen Kate Beaton’s reaction to it (and a simple search doesn’t help). Me, I figure that it’s exactly the sort of thing you’re liable to get if you commission a statue for Douglas Coupland, and if you don’t want anything like that you should go to someone else. I’m okay with the statue itself.

  11. Embarrassingly, Clone, they aren’t really called “dollars”…as far as I know, they’ve got no other official name but “banknotes”. Uh…the bills, that is, anyway.

    God knows what we call the coins…

    “Canucks” I could live with! As for Ms. Furtado, I’m a little concerned that we’d risk spoiling that child, if we put her on the money…nine out of ten people already think she wrote the last Olympics theme song, and it’s not like there’s much doubt she’s ending up on a designer sitcom one of these days…

  12. Matthew: Like I said, the “toy soldiers” thing…could easily be read according to what was no doubt its intent: real lives lost in somebody else’s game, nominal victory, and no difference between the figures but how they’re painted. Definitely what you should expect to get from Douglas Coupland: a bit bloodless, a bit ironic, an intellectual take. Nothing wrong with that in and of itself. But for me, there’s a mild queasiness that comes in with it, too, and personally I’d wish somebody else had been asked.

    But whatta ya gonna do: it’s a mosaic, I guess.

  13. You would think with all those lakes it’d be part of Manitoba at least…the canoeing and the hockey, the loon being the State bird…I mean it all adds up, doesn’t it?

  14. Yeah, but Nelly’s a diva. She’s supposed to get spoilt. I picture her on your five Canuck note in a sultry pose while a hologram Timbaland does that little jig that’s nothing like dancing.

    On the ten Canuck you could have Wolverine in a death-duel with Wayne Gretzky (it has to be the ten because then Wolvie can cross his claws in an X and, for once, it’ll actually make sense.)

    Twenty Canucks sees Robertson Davies perusing an immaculate quadrangle while puffing on an enormous pipe. If nicotine’s no longer presentable in Canada, he could smoke a Stradivarius.

    And on the fifty Canucks you could have Sk8r boi era Avril Lavigne entwined around the muscular arms of Keanu Reeves dressed as Neo. They’d be the Canadian Posh ‘n’ Becks.

  15. I hate to say it but those are not bad ideas.

    Of course that is coming from a man whose country’s name for its currency is “some coins” and “notes drawn on the central bank, like y’know”.

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