William and Kate set a new royal standard

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The Gazette, Wednesday, July 6, 2011

There's never been a crowd on Parliament Hill such as the throng, 300,000 strong, that turned out on Canada Day to see William and Kate. There's never been such cheering, either, for the royals or anyone else, like the spontaneous shouts of "Will and Kate! Will and Kate!"

This is rock-star territory.

And it wasn't just in Ottawa that they drew adoring crowds. Even in Quebec City, the main square of Lower Town was packed. When Prince William, speaking in French, apologized for "my accent," he was greeted with cheers and applause.

In Prince Edward Island on Monday, it seemed like the entire population showed up to see them in Charlottetown, Sunnyside and Cavendish, home of Anne of Green Gables. It will be the same in Calgary on Thursday and Friday, when the couple will put on cowboy hats, boots and jeans, and ride in the Stampede parade.

Then it's off to California and Hollywood. In a cheeky op-ed in the New York Times on Sunday, Sarah Lyall of its London bureau offered some suggestions for handling the shock of Tinseltown "after they leave the cozy, somewhat small-potatoes confines of Canada."

Canada's been called many things, but "cozy" and "small potatoes" are not among them, as Will and Kate can probably attest.

Clearly they've been having fun, not just going through the motions. They've brought generational change to the royals and conceptually redefined royal visits.

Future royal tours will be measured by the standards of enthusiasm and informality set by this one. It isn't every day an heir to the throne competes against his wife in a dragon-boat race. It's even more unusual to see a prince landing a Sea King helicopter on water, when Canadians are more accustomed to reports of the ancient choppers falling into the ocean.

In television terms alone, the visuals of this trip have been stunning and, in those terms, unprecedented.

Canadians might be generally indifferent to the monarchy, but not to this young couple. It isn't just their celebrity status as the Brad and Angelina of the Windsor family. It has something to do with their narrative as an attractive couple, still on their honeymoon and also best friends.

And if the idea at the palace was to send them to Canada on their first trip as a test drive, they've passed with flying colours. They have a way of connecting with crowds, and feeding off their energy, that is clearly authentic. It's one thing to walk down an aisle, and quite another to work a crowd. As it turns out, they're both naturals.

It also turns out that William has been trained not only as a helicopter pilot, but also in public speaking. The words for public occasions are generally written at the Prime Minister's Office or by the tour office of Heritage Canada, but the delivery and sense of occasion are all in the presenter, and he's clearly got it.

Which is not to take anything away from the Queen, who is generally respected and admired for her work and might even be entering a beloved phase in the run-up to her diamond jubilee next year.

Stephen Harper is her 11th Canadian prime minister, and every living former PM can attest to her knowledge of her Canadian brief. I can personally attest to her diligence in speeches, having written for her on several occasions. On every one she significantly improved what we gave her.

On Canada Day in 1990, only a week after the death of Meech Lake, she said, quite on her own, that she was "no fair-weather friend" and was "glad to be here at this difficult time."

Abolish the monarchy? It's a hypothetical question. The constitutional degree of difficulty for doing so is improbably high, requiring the unanimous consent of Ottawa and the provinces.

Most constitutional amendments require only a "7/50," the agreement of Ottawa and seven provinces representing 50 per cent of the population. But the Crown is a class apart, requiring unanimous consent for any change to the role or status of the monarch. It's known as the Hatfield clause, after Richard Hatfield, the premier of New Brunswick who proposed it at a first ministers conference in 1981.

"I got the queen in there," Hatfield said at the time.

Did he ever.

But if we're going to have the monarchy, Canadians are probably wondering if we can't skip Charles and Camilla, and go straight to William and Kate.

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