Canadian governments held opposite views on how to alter the laws of royal succession for Canada in 1936 and 2013. This contrast was not the result of refined thinking about how the law of succession operates in Canada. Rather, the difference is explained by these governments’ political aims and institutional constraints. In 1936, the government of William Lyon Mackenzie King denied that Canada necessarily followed the British line of succession, and he ensured that alterations to the rules of succession that followed the abdication of King Edward VIII were extended into Canadian law. This was done gradually to advance the cause of Canadian autonomy while maintaining the unity of the Crown in the Commonwealth. In 2013, the government of Stephen Harper argued that rules of royal succession were not a matter of Canadian law or a constitutional issue in Canada. Instead, the Harper government maintained that Canada automatically accepts the British monarch as the sovereign of Canada. This approach served to avoid the complex constitutional amending formula Canada adopted in 1982. Constitutional politics, not the law of the constitution, explains how these two Canadian governments fundamentally disagreed with each other over royal succession.

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Round Table
Norman Paterson School of International Affairs

Lagassé, P. (2018). Royal Succession and the Constitutional Politics of the Canadian Crown, 1936–2013. Round Table, 1–12. doi:10.1080/00358533.2018.1494682