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Monday, May 18, 2009

Happy Victoria Day!

Today's the day we celebrate Queen Victoria's birthday (Victoria Day) in most Canadian provinces. Queen Victoria was actually born on May 24th but the modern holiday is the first Monday before or on May 24th.

Since the death of Queen Victoria, the holiday does double duty as a celebration of the birthday of the current monarch. Queen Elizabeth II was actually born on April 21st—it must be nice to have two birthday parties every year!

Although Queen Elizabeth II is officially Canada's head of state, the duties are actually carried out by her representative, the Governor General. Governors General are appointed every few years and their duties are largely ceremonial. I really like a system where the head of state is not the same person as the head of government. It avoids a lot of problems.

Officially, Canada's form of government is called a Constitutional Monarchy with a Parliamentary System of government.

[The painting of Queen Victoria's Family in 1846 is by Franz Xaver Winterhalter.]


  1. "I really like a system where the head of state is not the same person as the head of government. It avoids a lot of problems."

    What sort of problems?

  2. What sort of problems?

    The Head of State symbolizes the country as a whole. When entertaining visitors, or when visiting abroad, the Head of State represents the country and not any political party or faction within the country.

    In systems that combine the offices of a partisan political leader and the Head of State there can be confusion about which function is being performed at any given time. In the American system, for example, it sometimes seems almost unpatriotic to criticize the Head of State even when the criticism is directed at the policies of the Chief Executive.

    There's also a risk that the functions of a Head of State can be politicized in a combined system. In that case, when a leader, such as George Bush, becomes unpopular the external image of the country suffers as well.

    The American system is peculiar in that it gives so much power to a single individual. I don't think there's any other Western Industrialized Nation that does this. At the very least, these other nations separate the offices of Head of State and Chief Executive. To me, that seems like a better idea.

  3. Thanks for your interesting insights, they do make sense. Personally I feel that this system is a byproduct of a historical relic of absolute monarchy, rather than of necessity. Hence most of the western industrialized nations (mostly in Western Europe & North America) which were dominated by the monarch dynasties relegate to this system. France is another western industrial nation with the head of state and executive head as the same person ever since they looped off Louis's head.
    I question whether separating head of state and chief executive does truly separate the power of state in practice: has there been any cases whereby the head of state challenges and refuses (possibly wins?)the signing of the bill into law? I also question whether this form of government truly lessens the risks of the image of the country if another "Bush" is the executive head. For example, when you think of Germany, you think of angela merkel...when you think of italy, you think of berlusconi, who was recently got into turmoil for making comments about appointing beautiful women as EU representative. Hardly anyone knows who the head of state for these countries are! Hence i think separation of head of state and chief executive is a waste of tax payer's money. Is it beneficial/necessary to hire a bunch of happy, good looking and morally upright actors/actresses or historical relics (kings & queens)to be head of state? I don't think so. I do also wonder why there has been talk of republicanism in australia but not in canada.