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Baby fever on Parliament Hill

by Laura Marchand February 12, 2013
Baby fever on Parliament Hill

Graphic by Jennifer Kwan

Ever since Prince William married Kate Middleton, the world has been abuzz about a new member to the royal family. For those of us less inclined to gossip, all this fuss over the “royal baby bump” can get pretty annoying.

But on the political stage, this little fetus is bringing up a big debate. For over 600 years, the laws of succession for the British Crown have remained unchanged. Until now.

Last December, about a week after Buckingham Palace officially announced the Duchess of Cambridge was with child, the government tabled a bill to stop the practice of giving males priority in line for the throne—and they’re asking every Commonwealth country to do the same. This would mean that should Prince William’s child be a girl, she would not be displaced if their second child was a boy.

Bill C-53, also known as the Succession to the Throne Act of 2013, has already passed through Canada’s House of Commons and is pending approval in the Senate. In Britain, it too passed swiftly through the House, but has stagnated in their upper chamber, known as the House of Lords.

In total, 16 countries have to make the constitutional changes in order for them to work in tandem. However, in at least one country, the changes are being met with resistance: Australia has a vocal conservative movement and the bill may need to be put to a vote in a national referendum.

Australian constitutional expert Anne Twomey said that “Queensland has objected to the Commonwealth’s proposed legislation, not because it objects to the potential outcome in relation to royal succession, but because it is concerned that such a law will subordinate the State Crown to Commonwealth control.”

The implications of Australia, or any other country in the Commonwealth, failing to pass the bill could have negative effects. Should a second baby be born a boy, it would mean two countries could acknowledge a different successor to the throne.

“If they don’t pass [the succession bill], there are two options,” explained Yukub Halabi, a professor of Political Science at Concordia University. “The first is that they agree on common ground. The second, if they really can’t agree, is dissolution of the Commonwealth, or that one country would leave.”

“However, it’s not really a valid possibility,” added Halabi. “It’s very unlikely that they’ll recognize two separate monarchs.”

In addition to those skeptical that the bill won’t pass, there are many who think the entire debate is unnecessary.

“There’s really no significance to it,” said Julie Michaud, administrator for the Concordia-based 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy. “Symbolic gender equality in an unequal system doesn’t do anything for women all over the world. We should be focusing on striving for equality for all women, not just in small circles in the ruling class. I think it says something about the world that we still have symbolic, inherited power: a small family sponging off the state is unacceptable in any way.”

More importantly, why do we care so much about this in the first place? The British monarchy hasn’t held any actual power in almost a century. Whether one of them has the newest handbag or what they’re wearing as a Halloween costume, they repeatedly make headline news. For a group of people who have no talents, no legal authority, no realistic claim to power, there’s a disproportionately high amount of people who care about what toothbrush they use. Is our generation so obsessed with the idea of a Cinderella story that we’ve completely lost touch with reality?

“We have an assumption that just because something is traditional, that it’s worth protecting,” said Michaud. “What would have become of the civil rights movement then?”

Ultimately, if there’s only one thing that’s clear, it’s this: baby fever never sets on the British Empire.

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