On Monday, Queen Elizabeth formally confirmed what had previously been mere gossip: Her grandson Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, will soon be spending “time in Canada” in the aftermath of their stepping down as “full-time working Members of the Royal Family.”

Spending time in Canada as part of a “period of transition” from royal life, as the queen put it, is not quite the same as “moving to” Canada, as the Canadian press has preferred to characterize it, and there’s still a lot of ambiguity about what this will mean in practice. It does, however, undeniably represent a notable moment in Canada’s weird relationship with British royalty, and one that has accordingly sired no shortage of bizarre daydreams among Canada’s exhausting royalist subculture.

We don’t know how much politics went into picking Canada as Meghan and Harry’s second home, but it’s reasonable to assume the answer is “some.” Meghan’s most notable acting gig, playing Rachel Zane on the series “Suits,” did see her live in Toronto for a few years — “Suits” being one of many Hollywood productions that filmed in Canada for tax reasons. But she left the series in 2017 and sold her part-time Toronto home shortly after. The apparent extent of Harry’s connection with Canada, meanwhile, is that he has attended a few Canadian ceremonies over the years — but you could say the same about Tonga.

Instead, one of the implied pretexts for a Canadian exile is that Canada, whose constitution’s first line declares the country “under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain,” is somehow a safer exile than Meghan’s native United States for royalty. It’s a Commonwealth nation and therefore less offensive for members of the royal family to dwell in.

Yet the British monarchy is not actually all that popular in Canada — certainly no more than it is in the United States. Most Canadians believe (incorrectly) that Canada has been fully independent from Britain for at least 150 years and remain indifferent to the lingering constitutional ties that exist. A 2019 poll found only 19 percent of citizens were able to name Elizabeth II when asked, “Who is Canada’s head of state?”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed Jan. 13 that the government would play a role if Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, move to Canada. (Reuters)

As I noted in a previous column, Canadians are not the sort of people who naturally bow and scrape before aristocrats, making Canada a “monarchical society” only by technicality. At the same time, Canada being “under the Crown” is an ongoing source of joy to a narrow community of Canadian Anglophile nationalists, many of whom view news of Harry and Meghan’s potential move as validating their theories on the importance of royalty to Canada’s identity.

Over the years, Canadian monarchists have built up an idiosyncratic view of the royal family. They persist in speaking of a unique “Canadian monarchy” and “Canadian royal family,” as if it were somehow distinct from the actual British one. The alternative would be admitting Canada is still trapped in some sort of neocolonial relationship with Britain, which of course would never do. The long-standing hope has been that the Windsors would someday play along.

Prince Harry himself, as one of Britain’s more expendable “senior royals,” has always loomed large in such dreams. In 2011, for instance, royalist journalists were briefly titillated by the suggestion of a member of the Monarchist League of Canada that Harry “could set himself up here and found a Canadian branch of the Royal family.” This idea — “patriating” part of the Windsor dynasty onto Canadian soil — has long been bandied about on monarchist message boards and even in academia, where Canada has no shortage of eccentric monarchist scholars.

Canadians uncomfortable maintaining ties to Buckingham Palace would surely be appeased if Ottawa could find a way to “constitutionally entrench the embodiment of [the] crown in someone who is physically in Canada,” University of Waterloo professor Emmett Macfarlane told Global News the other day. A similar fantasy, of making Prince Harry governor general of Canada, was dusted off last week when Postmedia commissioned a poll on the idea. “The favorable poll came despite Harry never having expressed any interest in the post,” noted the Daily Mail dryly.

Not all Canadian monarchists feel vindicated by this week’s news, however. Rejecting the case for a patriated prince, the Globe and Mail’s editorial board blasted Harry and Meghan for breaking an apparently “unspoken constitutional taboo” requiring “our Royal Family” to maintain a safe physical distance from Canada. This is the key to “Canada’s unique and highly successful monarchy," they asserted — a family that is somehow “of” Canada, but also nowhere near it.

Much of this is obviously nonsense — fantastical speculation about the finer points of one of the least consequential, most obscure aspects of the Canadian political system. It is nevertheless nonsense Harry and Meghan have themselves invited by choosing to spend time in a country whose elite clearly have a lot of issues to work out when it comes to their nation’s post-colonial identity.

Those who enjoy seeing this sort of thing clutter up Canada’s newspapers should welcome the couple with open arms — and the rest of us should pray their “period of transition” is over quickly.

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