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Saturday, November 6, 1999 Published at 12:45 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Commonwealth eyes Australia

Support is increasing for the Royal Family in Canada

Commonwealth countries New Zealand and Canada have been watching closely the vote in Australia on its ties to the British monarchy.

Australian referendum
New Zealand has been remarkably quiet on the subject and a recent poll in Canada shows a significant increase in support for the monarchy.

The different response to republicanism reveals how the Queen serves different purposes in each commonwealth country.

Canada's ties to the Queen distinguish it from its overpowering neighbour, the United States. New Zealand, like Australia, is becoming increasingly linked to its Asian Pacific neighbours and many believe it will break ties when the time is right.


For the first time since 1994 less than half of Canadians polled want to break with the monarchy. Leading monarchist campaigner John Aimers said there was no prospect of an Australian-style debate in Canada.

"It's really inconceivable that we'll ever have a republic without a seismic shift in people's attitudes," he said.

Mr Aimers heads The Monarchist League of Canada, which has a strong internet presence and even a toll-free hotline (1-800-I'M-LOYAL).

He said support for the monarchy was one way for Canada to mark itself away from the "cloying embrace" of the United States.

"There are very big differences across the border," he said. "In the face of that, Canadians, I think, have looked increasingly to institutions and icons to help define their nationhood."

The poll released by Gallup on 20 October, showed Canada is divided over whether it should cut ties with the Queen, with 48% in favour of retaining the Queen as head of state and 43% wanting to cut ties. But it is an increase in support since Gallup asked the same question last year and the highest level of support since 1991.

In all regions but the largely French-speaking Quebec, the majority wanted to keep the Queen. In Quebec, 58% wanted a republic.

But even in Quebec there has been a significant increase in support for the Queen. Two years ago the Queen had 14% support, a figure that has increased to 30%.

Mr Aimers said: "The monarchy is ideally suited for Canada and for Canadians. It's a most enduring institution and there's no significant public demand for change."

[ image: Canadian premier Jean Chretien is not pushing for change]
Canadian premier Jean Chretien is not pushing for change
Even the federal Prime Minister Jean Chretien, a French-speaking Catholic from Quebec, is keen to avoid constitutional conflict. He knows that axing the monarchy would need the unanimous support of the governments of each of Canada's 10 provinces. At least two - Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island - have already said they would veto such a move.

Professor Michael Bliss of the University of Toronto supports a change in the constitution but does not expect it for some time.

"Republicanism in Canada is not nearly as vigorous or outspoken as in Australia, but tends to grow quietly as the British monarchy loses its relevance and memories of the old British Commonwealth fade away," he said. "My sense is that nothing significant is going to happen in Canada until Queen Elizabeth dies or abdicates."

New Zealand

Ironically, closer to home, the Australian vote is having less resonance. In New Zealand, the poll comes halfway through a general election campaign.

None of the parties have raised the republican debate. But some say that if Australia does vote to cut ties with the crown it is inevitable that its neighbours will soon follow.

Dave Guerin, president of the Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand, which launched a new website campaign on Thursday, predicted his country would be a republic within five years.

"In New Zealand power flows from the people, and a legal system that says that power flows from the Crown simply strikes people as wrong," he said.

It is five years since then prime minister Jim Bolger tried to push New Zealand towards a republic. The response was cool. Polls at the time suggested two thirds favoured retaining the monarchy.

His successor as National Party leader and prime minister, Jenny Shipley, has made it clear she does not support a republic. Her centre-left rivals, the Labour Party led by Helen Clark, were well ahead in the polls for several months, but their lead has narrowed to less than two percentage points. The election looks set to be a cliffhanger.

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