Read The First 3 Chapters Free!

Duty and Service

I hadn’t intended to write about the passing of Canada’s longest-serving monarch, since much has been expressed elsewhere on television and social media by those far more eloquent than I am about the life and times of Queen Elizabeth. Indeed, I imagined I’d have little to add that is truly noteworthy or belongs in a series of posts about my life, my reading habits and my writing practice.

But on Thursday morning I chanced to open this book:

Toronto, Random House (Alfred A. Knopf Canada), 2007

I had been reading it off and on since June, and enjoying it thoroughly. In his acknowledgements, the former Prime Minister admits he never kept a diary, rarely wrote letters, seldom dictated a memo and tended to delete the minutiae of an issue in his mind when he’d moved on to the next crisis. Thus, I don’t doubt that a great deal of credit for its accuracy and readability goes to the “distinguished” Canadian editor and political journalist Ron Graham (pp. 410-11).

The book is significant personally in two ways. First, much of my career in government was spent with Mr. Chretien either as cabinet minister or Prime Minister, and the latter portion, especially when I’d moved to Canada’s west coast, has great meaning for me. This book covers that last decade (1993-2003) as Prime Minister, and I was involved in or knew about many of the initiatives and events he mentions. Second, the book was a present from my sister, who developed the index for the book (and is my own editor).

So, on Thursday morning, when I happened to open the book where I’d last left off, on page 143, I found Mr. Chretien reminiscing about Queen Elizabeth II. The coincidence was too great; I knew I had to say something as well.

Mr. Chretien talks about Her Majesty’s sense of humour (something many others have noted; indeed, who can forget her inspired video clips with Daniel Craig and Paddington Bear? [please see below]), her excellent French-speaking ability and her concern for others. Others have spoken about her dignity and diplomatic skills. Such praise is echoed by our current Prime Minister, who first met Queen Elizabeth as a youngster. That being said, to put things in proper perspective for we Canadians, Mr. Chretien also notes how, at the 2002 funeral of the Queen Mother, the Prime Ministers of Great Britain’s former “colonies” came far down the pecking order, “far behind the grand old families of Britain, the royal households of Europe…and all the republican presidents, no matter how small or new”. (p. 145)

We shall see on September 19 whether, ten years later, things have changed in that regard. In truth, I doubt it – if anything characterizes the transition to King Charles III, it is maintaining tradition and a “proper” way of doing things.

By the way, with regard to political history I don’t discriminate between governments, Liberal or Conservative. I am a political junkie, also possessing the memoirs of Brian Mulroney:

Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 2007

and several books about Pierre Trudeau (who never published his memoirs):

Toronto, MacMillan, 1978 and Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1980

And many other books, too numerous to mention here, covering the entirety of both Canadian and American political history.

Once again, I digress. My desire was to note the Queen’s passing and acknowledge her devotion to duty and public responsibilities, which carried on into the very last week of her reign, to her greeting the latest and current Prime Minister of Great Britain, Liz Truss, and offer of condolences to those suffering in the James Smith Cree Nation reserve in Saskatchewan.

In sum, despite a life of privilege and wealth, Queen Elizabeth kept the promise made on her 21st birthday (April 21, 1947) that her life would be devoted to service, whether it “be long or short”. It is a rare enough commitment and an even rarer achievement.

Cover Photo by Samuel Regan-Asante on Unsplash