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When is Canada going to grow up?

Sometimes, it appears that Canada has become confident in its own identity, proud without being boastful. On other occasions, the question remains finely poised. And then there are those days following the divorces, marriages, miscarriages, shenanigans, births and deaths of the British Royals.

Deaths bring out the worst of Canada's infantile instincts toward the Royals, or, if not Canada's, then the Canadian media's.

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The death of Diana, Princess of Wales, supplied the media orgy to end all orgies, the story of a mixed-up young woman who became a soap opera star, killed with her Paris lover, immortalized, at least for a week, as a "candle in the wind."

Nobody ever described Princess Margaret, the Queen's sister, as a "candle in the wind," but her recent death sent editors clearing off whole pages to record the sad end tacked on to a rather aimless life.

And now, the Queen Mother. Has one banality been missed, one cliché foregone since she died in her sleep. Entire newspaper sections have been devoted to her. The phrases used to describe her -- and especially her connection to Canada -- have been totally embarrassing to read.

Consider: "In her, we see ourselves." We do? Some of us have had the good fortune to live for long stretches in the United Kingdom, to like and admire the British people, and to have profited from our time there. But no Canadian with a sense of Canada ever saw himself or herself in the British. Maybe 50 or 100 years ago, but not since.

Another example of hyperbole gone wild: "One of the most amazing queens since Cleopatra." This must have been a joke. The Queen Mother was the wife of a constitutional monarch who had no political power, unlike, say, Catherine of Aragon, Catherine the Great, Elizabeth I, or Isabelle of Castille.

Or: "We were blessed by her full life" (Prime Minister Jean Chrétien). Everyone should admire a woman who lives in relatively good health for nearly 102 years. But was anyone in Canada "blessed" by this longevity?

Or: A "blanket of sorrow covers us all" (Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert). I'm not kidding -- he said a "blanket of sorrow."

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Forests have been felled for the newsprint -- and God knows how many minutes of television time have been expended -- to recount the 1939 tour of Canada with her husband, George VI. It was, by all accounts, a fine tour, but it happened 63 years ago, long before most Canadians were born.

And the tour was by no means the most important event of that terrible, fateful year in which the Second World War began.

It turns out that only a modest number of Britons and tourists milled about in front of the Queen Mother's house in London.

In Ottawa, only a few handfuls of people have shown up on Parliament Hill. A rather meagre showing, all things considered, for someone repeatedly described in our hyperventilating media as "beloved," "adored," "indefatigable," and "courageous."

In Britain, the monarchy is less popular than at any time since the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936, an event that propelled George VI and the Queen Mother to Buckingham Palace. It drifts on, embraced by a minority, without stirring much enthusiasm any more.

In New Zealand recently, the Queen's tour in her 50th anniversary on the throne drew middling crowds everywhere. Helen Clark, the redoubtable Labour Prime Minister, was out of the country when the Queen arrived and showed up wearing a pantsuit for a royal dinner. New Zealand's monarchists were scandalized; Ms. Clark's popularity rose.

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The royal tour of Australia was also ho-hum: reasonable crowds in highly conservative parts of Australia, small ones elsewhere. Of course, a majority of Australians want a republic, but the republican forces blew a referendum on ditching the monarchy by splitting over how to select the head of state. Some wanted the selection by Parliament; others, by popular vote.

The monarchy is declining as a matter of public interest almost everywhere, except in the Canadian media. The bilge that pours forth in Canada every time that a British Royal dies -- or marries, or gives birth or partakes of some other rite of passage -- raises the question of why it happens.

Of course, the hardy perennials of the monarchist crowd are nothing if not swift in rushing into print their latest justifications for the institution they love. And the Royal Family really has become a soap opera, a kind of regal Young and the Restless with a faithful, aging audience.

Or maybe the awful truth is that we have not fully grown up as a country, and still need the crutch of another country's institutions to lean on.

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About the Author
National affairs columnist

Jeffrey Simpson, The Globe and Mail's national affairs columnist, has won all three of Canada's leading literary prizes -- the Governor-General's award for non-fiction book writing, the National Magazine Award for political writing, and the National Newspaper Award for column writing (twice). He has also won the Hyman Solomon Award for excellence in public policy journalism. More


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