On Oct. 19 and 21, 14 elected Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) from Québec solidaire and the Parti québécois refused to take the oath of office pledging allegiance to the new King of England, Charles III. Since then, the President of the National Assembly has ordered that the dissidents be expelled from the assembly when it opens on Nov. 29 if they continue to refuse. Considering that two-thirds of Quebecers believe that the dissident MNAs should be allowed to sit, the monarchy has once again exposed itself as the undemocratic institution that it is. This crisis is an opportunity to mobilize a mass anti-monarchy movement. The refusal to swear allegiance to the King should be replicated all across Canada.
A reactionary relic
With the recent death of Queen Elizabeth II, debates are taking place in several Commonwealth countries about the future of the monarchy. For Marxists, the debate is already clear: the monarchy must be abolished. It is an archaic, expensive and anti-democratic institution.
But it is not only symbolic, it is the bourgeoisie’s weapon of last resort when the people go “too far” in the exercise of democracy and threaten the power of the ruling class. We saw this in Australia in 1975 when the monarchy dislodged the Labor Party government from power in order to block its progressive reforms, as well as in Canada in 2008 when Governor General Michaëlle Jean kept Stephen Harper’s minority government in power despite the impending vote of no confidence from the other parties that would have brought it down.
Add in all the monarchy’s scandals of racism, sexual assault, embezzlement and employee abuse, and it’s no surprise that 53 per cent of Canadians believe the British monarchy is outdated and has no place in the 21st century, and that 74 per cent of Quebecers want the monarchy abolished.
The dissident parties
During September’s election campaign, PQ leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon (PSPP) promised to find a way to “get around” the oath to the British crown. Once elected, he kept his word by announcing that he simply would not take it. QS MNAs then followed suit. Summoned to take the oath of office on Oct. 19, prior to the PQ, the QS MNAs took the oath pledging to serve only the people of Quebec, following an agreement between QS and the National Assembly. Two days later, the three PQ MNAs were in turn summoned and refused to take the oath to the King.
Never has the oath to the Crown been questioned in this way. And once again, Québec solidaire is lagging behind the PQ on what should be a basic position for democrats and the left.
QS spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois (GND) says it has long been the party’s intention to not take the oath of office. In 2018, QS MNAs had in fact asked the National Assembly not to do so. However, after being threatened with not being allowed to take their seats, they simply took the oath to the queen away from the cameras. This time, after the PQ’s outright refusal has forced them to muster up the courage to challenge the monarchy, the QS MNAs have called for a meeting between parties to find a way out of the “impasse”. Instead of using the opportunity to militantly challenge the establishment, they simply want the parties to reach an agreement on the issue, trying to be as inoffensive as possible.
As for the PQ, while this is arguably a bold move on the part of PSPP, one wonders why the party waited so long. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that the party has never before been so far from taking power. With only three MPs and on the heels of the worst election results in the party’s history, they have literally nothing to lose and everything to gain by standing up to the King. While the PQ has sometimes made left-wing gestures and statements in the past, history has shown that the closer they get to power, the more they bow to the establishment and leave their left-wing image at the door.
The bootlicker parties
The temporary pass granted to QS and the PQ regarding their oath to the King was symbolic, however. The dissident MNAs will not be allowed to sit in the assembly when Parliament resumes on Nov. 29, under the Constitution Act, 1867. St-Pierre Plamondon wanted a motion to allow the dissenting MNAs to sit, which so far has been rejected by the CAQ and the Liberals.
The CAQ now believes it has had the last word by mobilizing outgoing National Assembly President François Paradis. On Nov. 1 Paradis said that even a motion passed by the assembly would not be enough to override the oath requirement. He even went so far as to say: “In the event that a person refuses to comply with this ban, the Sergeant-at-Arms will be justified in expelling him”! PQ MP Pascal Bérubé maintains that he and his colleagues will not give in and will stand their ground.
So, even though the CAQ says that “it doesn’t give us any more pleasure than anyone else to swear in Charles III” and has positioned itself as the great defenders of the Quebec people, it has no problem kneeling before our historical oppressors.
Blanchet vs. the court jesters
This move also sent ripples through federal politics. Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet introduced a motion to take steps to end Canada’s relationship with the British monarchy. After saying a few weeks earlier that Queen Elizabeth II had had “the desire to be a positive force” “in the midst of a troubled century,” he has now jumped on the anti-monarchy bandwagon.
Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, the motion was defeated on Oct. 26 by an overwhelming majority. The day before, Blanchet had mentioned that he was “not sincere” when he personally took the mandatory oath of allegiance to the Crown. His statement sparked an outcry from the monarchy’s lapdogs: the Liberals are now calling for his resignation! To his credit, the Bloc leader explained that voting against his motion means acknowledging “that we are still the conquered subjects of the British crown” and continuing to “endorse the 18th century British Empire, which is about the most racist institution the world has ever known.” (Emphasis added). While the Bloc has certainly very little authority in terms of lecturing people about racism, these words are correct.
Scandalously, Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the NDP, abstained on the Bloc Québécois’ motion. Organically incapable of taking a bold position, Singh is functionally saying that he is unwilling to fight for basic democracy. At least, some NDP MPs like Niki Ashton and Alexandre Boulerice voted with the Bloc. But with Singh as a leader, the NDP is set to continue to serve the ruling class and its institutions while claiming to fight for the workers and poor.
For a mass movement to abolish the monarchy!
Whatever ends up happening in Quebec, it is becoming increasingly clear to more and more people that we do not live in a democracy. The oath to the King is a symbol on which a host of reactionary institutions are built: the Senate, the royal assent to laws, the Governor General with anti-democratic powers, and more. The ruling class and its parties fear that a constitutional crisis over the monarchy could lead to a challenge to the entire Canadian federation and the capitalist system it defends – and who knows where such a move might lead.
This is why the CAQ, despite its claims to be defending Quebecers, has no intention of challenging the monarchy. The PQ, too, defends the capitalist status quo, so given the chance, we know that it would not go through with its anti-monarchy rhetoric because of the revolutionary consequences.
QS finds itself with a golden opportunity to challenge the feudal relics of our supposedly democratic institutions and to expose the CAQ. QS has always described itself as the party of the ballot box and the street; if the government blocks parliament, let’s take the street! The oath is unlikely to be thrown out through simple parliamentary manoeuvring. QS should call for mobilization, for example by starting a large anti-monarchy demonstration. MNAs should refuse to sit as long as the National Assembly maintains its position on the oath.
Every member of Parliament calling themselves a democrat should refuse to take the oath of office to the King. The oath is a symbol that must be abolished. But ultimately, it is the monarchy itself that must be abolished. And to attack this valuable tool of the ruling class, it will be necessary to attack the ruling class itself, and fight for a new, truly democratic, socialist society.