Five things: What role would Harry and Meghan play in Canada?

Prince Harry and Meghan

OTTAWA — Now that Queen Elizabeth has extended her blessing for her grandson Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, to spend extended time in Canada, a lot of questions have arisen about what official role they might play here.

Would Prince Harry, as grandson of the Queen, have any royal powers?

No. Canada’s constitutional monarchy dictates that the Queen of the United Kingdom is Canada’s head of state and the prime minister is head of government. As such, Queen Elizabeth does have a constitutional role in Canada’s government. Normally those functions are carried out by her vice-regal representatives: the Governor General federally and lieutenant-governors in the provinces.

However, only the Queen is recognized as the Queen of Canada, and therefore only she could step in and do things that her representatives usually do, such as opening Parliament or reading the speech from the throne (as she has done twice here, in 1957 and 1977). Other members of the Royal Family could not.

“The extended Royal Family have no specific legal status in Canada, although they do hold an important place both politically and culturally,” says Andrew Heard, a political-science professor at Simon Fraser University whose research has specialized in Canadian constitutional issues and the Crown.

If Harry and Meghan come to live in Canada, they would have “no ability to exercise any constitutional function of the monarch, as only the Queen is recognized as having the capacity to act formally,” Heard says.

Could the Duke and Duchess of Sussex take on some other official role in Canada?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or other officials in Canada could invite Prince Harry or the Duchess of Sussex to take on some kind of ceremonial, non-constitutional role, but that could also become complicated, says Philippe Lagasse, a Carleton University expert on the Westminster system and the Crown.

“The government of Canada could presumably ask them to do certain things, but that would be rather awkward, given that you do still have the official representatives of the Queen here,” Lagasse said.

“Are we recruiting them to do things that are usually done by other people? Do we invite them for Canada Day every year? What if they’re in the U.K. and if we’re paying for their security if they’re in Canada part-time and they don’t show up to Canada Day — are we going to get upset because they’re not there?”

A lot will depend on what they want to do in Canada — a question that even the Royal Family in Britain seems unclear about.

Could Prince Harry become the next Governor General?

While there’s no legal bar against it, and members of the Royal Family in the past have served as governors general or been married to them, experts say it’s highly unlikely Harry would be appointed to this position.

There was similar speculation in the late 1970s and early 1980s that Harry’s father, Prince Charles, might be sent to Rideau Hall. But concern about Quebec separatism at the time stymied any true exploration of this idea, Heard says.

“The idea of appointing Prince Charles as governor general was feared to throw fuel on the separatist fire. There is still strong republican sentiment in Quebec … It would be a calculated risk to choose a Briton as our governor general.”

Michael Jackson, president of the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada, also notes the role of governors general in Canada “carefully takes into account the ethnic and linguistic makeup of the country.”

“Today, the Governor General is expected to be fluent in both official languages and to represent the population, which obviously Harry and Meghan can’t do the same way,” Jackson said.

How would Harry and Meghan’s coming to Canada differ from an official royal visit or royal tour?

When members of the Royal Family come to Canada on official visits, they are acting as personal representatives of the Queen. Similarly, when there is a royal tour, the government of Canada invites Royal Family members in their official capacities, and they are expected to take part in carefully planned events. These usually involve much pomp and circumstance, with lots of protocol and official ceremonies.

If Royal Family members wish to visit Canada privately, they are free to, and their presence in Canada does not require protocol officers or official welcomes. Such was the case when Meghan and Harry spent a quiet few weeks on Vancouver Island over the holidays.

Who will foot the bill for the couple’s security costs?

Finance Minister Bill Morneau said Monday the federal government hasn’t decided if it will cover any security costs associated with Harry and Meghan’s time in Canada.

The prime minister’s office is also remaining vague about this, saying only that much will depend upon decisions that have yet to be made by the Sussexes themselves when it comes to their future roles within the Royal Family.

“We are of course supportive of their reflections but have responsibilities in this as well. There are still many discussions to be had,” Trudeau spokeswoman Eleanore Catenaro said in a statement.

Costs might be shared with the British government, be taken on by the couple themselves, be shared, or be subject to an arrangement that changes over time.

Not everyone is giddy at the idea of Canada picking up a royal security bill. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation launched a petition Tuesday, calling on Trudeau to ensure taxpayers’ dollars aren’t used to support Harry and Meghan.

Federation director Aaron Wudrick noted the duke and duchess have themselves expressed an ambition to become financially independent.

“True financial independence cannot be achieved if Canadian taxpayers are still paying the bills,” Wudrick said in a news release.


Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


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