British royals fascinate Canadians, even francophones
Royal wedding fever sweeping the Western world is making its way across Canada, including Quebec, despite conflicting emotions among Quebecois.Montreal -- Royal wedding fever sweeping the Western world is making its way across Canada, including Quebec, despite conflicting emotions among Quebecois over the monarchy's role in the francophone province.
Canadians, whose head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, felt a particular twinge of pride after Prince William and his future bride, Kate Middleton, announced plans to travel to Canada this summer for their first official trip as a married couple.
In Montreal, 25-year-old Alexandra Arbour, a medical student, proudly displays her royal collectibles -- coffee mugs bearing the faces of the queen and her husband Prince Philip, and William's parents Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, who married in 1981.
Arbour has pictures of William as a newborn and admits to regularly trawling the Internet for the latest information about the second in line to the British throne, after his father, and his long-term girlfriend, who are set to embark on a new life together under the full glare of a grasping, global media.
But Arbour says her interest in the royal family stems more from a fascination with the power of celebrity, than with the monarchy, per se.
"Living in Quebec, I don't feel like one of Her Majesty's subjects," Arbour told AFP.
"I admire the queen like I would admire a movie star. I think she has a symbolic power and I respect the symbol because it is part of our heritage."
Arbour's attachment with all things royal would unlikely resonate with most Quebecois, many of whom still chafe at their French ancestors' losses against British troops on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City in the 18th century.
A fringe nationalist group called the Reseau de Resistance du Quebecois announced on its website that it intends to openly protest William and Kate's nine-day visit to Canada at the end of June.
But the RRQ website has called on militants to mobilize their forces under the credo: "William, Get Out."
In 2009, Prince Charles's visit to Montreal was marred by anti-monarchy protests by a group of 100 Quebec nationalists whose members included the RRQ.
In 2010, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip skipped Quebec when they visited Canada.
Canada, nonetheless, is a common destination with the royals and it will be seen by commentators as a safe option for a well-received overseas visit by the newlyweds, as well as a straightforward introduction to royal tours for Kate.
In reality, most Quebecers hold more moderate views of the royal family than the RRQ. According to a recent Leger Marketing poll, only 53 percent of Quebecois would like to break ties with Buckingham Palace -- hardly a groundswell of opposition.
Indifference is common on the streets of Montreal, where a young man interviewed by AFP admitted that "the British monarchy doesn't interest me at all."
Occasionally though, the monarchy's symbol has inspired conflicting, often paradoxical feelings in Canada's mostly francophone province.
Former Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau had a particular fondness for the queen, a predilection that earned him the moniker of "separatist monarchist" by his critics, and caused many of his die-hard followers to scratch their heads.
Parizeau, who led the Parti Quebecois from 1988 to 1996, obtained his PhD from the London School of Economics, had a penchant for wearing three-piece suits and sprinkling his impeccable English with typically British expressions such as "jolly good" and "by Jove".
Across Canada, a 2010 poll by international opinion trackers Angus Reid found that more than two-thirds of Canadians, a 69 percent majority, would like to see a Canadian serving as Canada's head of state, and 52 percent favored reopening the constitutional debate to discuss replacing the monarchy.
Marc Laurendeau, a veteran Quebec television journalist who has closely followed the Windsor family for 22 years, believes that William and Kate could usher in a new era and restore the British royal family's image here.
"Here is a young, nice, modern couple who could renew the monarchy like Diana, William's mother, did," Laurendeau said.
Might this be Buckingham Palace's plan, after all?
Dyed-in-the wool monarchists in Canada are hard to come by. The Monarchist League of Canada, a vocal group by all accounts, only boasts 17,000 members.
But it is expected that, as in 1981 when Canadians were glued to the TV screens for the grandiose wedding of Diana and Prince Charles at St. Paul's Cathedral, millions of Canadians will undoubtedly be tuning in on 29 April to watch the marriage of Kate and William at Westminster Abbey.
Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen are due to attend the wedding.
Sophie Fougeres / AFP / Expatica