Personal autonomy and the exercise of individual conscience are cornerstones of western civilization. We expect mature individuals to accept that personal autonomy includes embracing the consequences of independent decisions. We have entrenched these values in the canon, from Magna Carta (1215) to Canada’s Constitution Act (1982). So, when Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, announced they no longer wish to have official royal duties, our generous inclination is to support their desire for greater autonomy.
Plenty of ink is being dedicated to the Sussexes, but little has focused on an important consequence of their decision: they have renounced their public duty.
Dropping the bombshell publicly before advising Her Majesty the Queen showed an absence of good judgement, the main standard of public duty. In addition to being the family matriarch and their grandmother, the queen is also the reigning monarch and head of state. Any of these roles individually commands dutiful respect.
The crass action has public implications beyond the disrespect to our Monarch, and the most immediate for Canadians is our Prime Minister announcing his willingness to have Canadians pay for Harry and Meghan’s steep personal security costs, should they decide to settle in Canada.
Prior to the invitation, came rash speculation backed by a flash opinion survey asking whether there is support for Harry to become our governor general.
Both ideas are senselessness raised on stilts.
The governorship general idea is tone deaf to the couple’s wishes. They have rejected public duties, wishing to be autonomous. How disrespectful is it to offer someone what they have just rejected? Do you stubbornly offer dog meat to someone wanting to be vegan?
However much Harry might know about Canada, the highest political office in the land should be reserved to someone who has the fortitude to perform his public duty –a standard also applicable to the present occupant at Rideau Hall, one might fairly say.
The principal issue is that Harry and his wife are not interested in, or have the resilience for, performing public duties. Putting aside the question of ability, consider his judgement and disposition. Despite being raised in a royal household, prepared for a life of service and duty, Harry demonstrated anemic judgement in handling his exit from duty.
However generously we wish to look at his exit, Harry reneged on duties he was trained to perform and unwisely embarrassed his people and his country, his grandmother and his monarch.
And there’s the rub! We now want the Duke of Sussex to come to perform in Canada for Canadians, in the stead of his queen and grandmother, greater duties with more consequence than those he rejected in the United Kingdom?
What kind of affront would this be to Her Majesty for Canada even to submit Harry as Canada’s choice for GG? (Let’s not forget the queen has the last word on who represents her personally). And if Harry and wife wish to demonstrate autonomy, how many shades of hypocrisy could we spot on Harry embracing Canadian public duties having rejected lesser duties at home?
What is more, are there assurances that the Sussexes would perform and stick with Canadian duties for the same Sovereign they rejected? Would Harry be more diligent and loyal in performing duty to strangers in a strange land than in his own country of birth?
Provided they satisfy our immigration laws and regulations, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are welcome to come and stay in Canada, in accordance with their stated wishes. But in keeping with their wishes, they ought not be treated as royalty. That’s how we can help!
They have not asked for financial help with their security costs. Absent any state duties, they are not Canada’s responsibility. Offering to pay for them condescendingly insults their wish for autonomy as much as does offering them public duty they rejected.
So let’s leave them be. If the Duke and Duchess want to evade their royal kin in the United Kingdom, we can be for, against, or neutral. No matter what we think, they are entitled to personal autonomy and they alone must be responsible for the array of consequences their decisions bring.
Let us not push on them to receive monetary aid we claim we cannot afford for veteran Canadians, who have loyally and bravely performed their duties to queen and country.
Marco Navarro-Génie is the president of Haultain Research Institute and a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.