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Who should be King of Northern Ontario?

If we don’t have a legitimate monarch, maybe we should pick one when Elizabeth goes.
David Robinson Economist, Laurentian University Director, Institute for Northern Ontario Research and Development.

As we start Canada’s 150th year, it is interesting to notice that, for 99 of those years, a queen has reigned over our home and native land. When Elizabeth’s reign ends there will be entertaining talk about the role of the monarch in the Canadian political system. That raises a question about who should be king or queen of Northern Ontario. There is, after all, a strong argument that Northern Ontario has never had a legitimate monarch. If we don’t have a legitimate monarch, maybe we should pick one when Elizabeth goes.

And this raises the larger question of how our North should be governed. All around us it seems governments have gone off the rails. The American presidency has become a laughingstock. Canadian governments are almost as erratic. One week Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne betrays both her own principles and the City of Toronto on the issue of road tolls. The next week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reneges on his campaign promises about electoral reform. In both cases, their gutless decisions run against the opinion of experts, and in both cases they signal serious problems with the way democracy works. If the whole edifice of democracy really is this rickety, maybe it is because the foundations are a mess.

Canada has had quite a few kings. For example, nine French kings controlled Canadian territory from 1534 to 1763, when Louis XV finally handed his North American territories to Mad George III. George is the guy who lost most of Britain’s American Colonies.

George wasn’t the first British pretender to the throne of Northern Ontario. The feeble reign of British kings began in 1497 when John Cabot arrogantly laid claim to Newfoundland in 1497 for the King and the Pope. Newfoundland turned out to be irrelevant because Jacques Cartier came along in 1534 and claimed all of Kanata for France.

The first halfway credible king of Northern Ontario was Merry Charles II. In 1670 he took it on himself to approve the charter for the governor and Company of Adventurers. He gave a third of a continent to his cousin, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, without discussing the matter with the residents at the time. We are still trying to clean up that mess.

At that point, the true heart of British Canada was Northern Ontario. The French-controlled territories weren't added to the British Empire for another century. Northern Ontario’s position as the heart of British North America was forgotten when the southern colonies demanded more territory.

In fact, Northern Ontario was pretty much forgotten until mining companies got interested in the easily accessible north shores of Lakes Huron and Superior in the 1840s. For some reason, the 3,000 silly people in the region thought they should have some say in how they were governed and who got the resource revenues. A rush-rush treaty process pretty much stomped on the idea that Northern Ontario would control anything.

Even so, if Northerners want to commemorate being grabbed by Canada, the day to remember is Sept. 9, when the Robinson Huron Treaty was signed. Let’s make it an official holiday.

Two hundred years after Charles gave his cousin Rupert most of Northern Ontario, the British Crown bought the rights back for $1.5 million. In 1870, Queen Victoria handed the northern half of Northern Ontario over to the new country of Canada. There was one condition: the country had to work out treaties with the inhabitants of the region. The condition underlined the fact that Victoria had no more right to give away chunks of Northern Ontario than Charles had had. The treaties that would provide at least an impression of legality were not signed until 1905. If it had been a marriage, you'd say that the bride had been kidnapped and forced to sign marriage documents 35 years later.

All this puts non-Aboriginal Northerners in an odd position. We can side with the government in the south, or we can side with fellow Northerners who descend from the people who occupied the territory before the kings and queens of Europe jumped in. Or we can all pick a king or Queen of our own and start fresh. Shall we vote?