A decidedly unpopular royal couple is paying us a visit this month, but oddly, we seem to be paying the bill. The trip garnered a largely muted and uninterested response from Canadians, unless the cost of the trip is mentioned. There is no better way to engage someone in a debate about the contemporary relevancy of Canada's continued connection to the British monarchy than to raise the question of cost. However, at less than a million dollars before security costs, this particular visit will likely prove to be the least expensive yet for Canadians. This does not assuage the concerns of those who believe that Canada has no business spending a nickel on royal visits in the face of a federal budget that is looking to trim fat and reduce social programs. It is an awkward situation for the Canadian government to say the least.
There is a strange circularity to all royal visits, each one following the same script and each one resembling a proud child displaying their finest artwork for their grandparents. Prince Charles and his wife Camilla started his latest tour of Canada-- Charles's 16th visit to Canada in total-- by visiting CFB Gagetown where he had trained as a naval helicopter pilot decades earlier. The stop in New Brunswick featured many of the same accents of royal visits to Canada: pomp and circumstance, a military salute, an inspection of the troops and some token gesture to Canadian culture. In this case, Charles played a game of street hockey and even managed to score a goal. How novel.
If this is supposed to be a vacation for the would-be king and his much maligned wife, then they should fire their travel agent. In the face of the current global economy, wouldn't it simply be easier to not subject the government of whatever nation they choose to visit to fiscal scrutiny associated with a royal visit? Even if the costs are negligible and the expense per taxpayer minute, spending money for Prince Charles and Camilla to tour elementary schools and attend citizenship services will always be hard to justify. There may not be anything more easily interpreted as trivial than parading a ceremonial, anachronistic head-of-state around the country at taxpayer expense. The optics of the situation are grimace inducing.
Whether or not one agrees with the continued connection between Canada and the monarchy is completely irrelevant at this point. The fact is that as long as they plan these visits, there will always be expenses for Canadian taxpayers. There is a time and place for feeding the Canadian royal fascination and there might even be benefits from visits. Will and Kate's visit to Canada was an international sensation that captivated the attention and security forces of the entire country. For a time, the world's attention was focused on Canada on what ended up being a nine-day tourism advertisement for the country. However, these were young, attractive, newlyweds with charming personalities and nearly universal admiration. Charles and Camilla do not have the same kind of star power and therefore are even harder to defend.
Times are hard everywhere and the celebration of decadence that comes with a royal visit is a tough sell domestically. Perhaps Charles and Camilla should think twice about travelling until things get a little brighter economically. CFB Gagetown will have enough street hockey players to fill his absence.