Hatfield made it certain that long would she reign over us

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The Gazette, Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Every time the queen comes to Canada, and this is her 24th visit, polls show Canadians indifferent to the crown, with many favouring its abolition. Tell us something we don't know.

It isn't going to happen. And proponents of our constitutional monarchy have Richard Hatfield to thank for it.

"I got the queen in there," Hatfield, then premier of New Brunswick, said delightedly at his hotel suite in Ottawa in November 1981, following the conclusion of the talks that led to the patriation of the Constitution from Westminster with the Charter of Rights.

Rene Levesque and Quebec went home empty-handed, but Hatfield got the queen entrenched in the constitutional amending formula, requiring unanimous consent of Ottawa and the provinces for any change to her role and status.

What are the chances of the premier of Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, or Nova Scotia in bringing such an amendment to their legislature? Somewhere between zero and zilch.

Had the regular "7/50" amending formula obtained in her case, the crown could be abolished with the consent of Ottawa and seven provinces representing 50 per cent of the population. That might have been a do-able deal. But unanimity is out the question.

Thus, the Hatfield clause in the Constitution Act, signed with a flourish by the queen herself on Parliament Hill on April 17, 1982.

The only way to abolish the monarchy would be in a referendum that passed in all provinces, but no prime minister would be foolish enough to waste political capital on such a divisive issue.

Quite aside from the constitutional continuity provided by the crown, there are lots of reasons for keeping the queen, and one compelling one. She is incredibly good at her job. She is deeply knowledgeable on her Canadian files, with an unfailing sense of occasion. And she has been doing it for so long, this is the 58th year of her reign, that she now represents institutional memory in her own palace guard.

Consider - Canada has had 22 prime ministers since Confederation, and Stephen Harper is her 11th Canadian prime minister. (David Cameron is her 12th British PM, the first one having been a guy named Churchill.)

I can personally attest to the queen's diligence, having worked for her on three different occasions in the Prime Minister's Office. When in Canada, her speeches are usually written in the PMO. In my experience, at a perfunctory event, she will read remarks as written. But on important state occasions she personally rewrites and edits her speeches, in every case improving the final product.

In October, 1987, she came to Quebec City for the first time in 23 years, and in her remarks at a dinner hosted by the PM at the Chateau Frontenac, went much further in endorsing the Meech Lake Accord than in the draft we had provided her. She later told Brian Mulroney that travelling across the country, she had been hearing good things about the constitutional accord, and wanted to be helpful. Pierre Trudeau, an unwavering opponent of Meech, complained that "even the queen herself is forced to say the accord is a good thing." Trudeau knew better -no one puts words in her mouth.

Twenty years ago tomorrow, when the original idea was to have the queen proclaim Meech on Canada Day, she instead came to Parliament Hill to give it a decent burial, a week after it died.

"I am not a fair weather friend," she declared. "I am glad to be here at this sensitive time."

She went on: "Knowing Canadians as I do, I cannot believe that they will not be able, after a period of calm reflection, to find their way through present difficulties."

We didn't write that for her. She wrote it herself. Again on Canada Day in 1992, at the launch of the Charlottetown Round, she delivered an overtly political speech in support of renewing efforts for a constitutional accord that would include aboriginal issues and Senate reform, as well as obtaining Quebec's signature. But quite on her own, she suggested to the PM that "we really should say something about your peacekeepers in Yugoslavia." So she did, to spontaneous cheers and applause from the crowd.

Who knows what she will say tomorrow? But you can be sure it will be a marked improvement over the draft provided by the PM's office.

Today in Ottawa she will unveil a sculpture of Oscar Peterson, the legendary Montreal jazz pianist and seven-time Grammy winner, outside the National Arts Centre. Gregory Charles will be the MC. Trevor Payne and the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir will sing his signature piece, Hymn to Freedom, which Peterson performed for the queen at her golden jubilee gala in Toronto in 2002. The great Oliver Jones, his close friend, will play piano.

This is a moment of immense pride for Montreal's black community. It is, after all, a long way from the streets of Little Burgundy to having your statue unveiled in the national capital. You can bet the performers will put on a show fit for a queen.

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