First things first: Queen Elizabeth II cannot die. Not now. Not in 2017. With all the political and economic uncertainty right now, the last thing the world needs is to lose the very personification of stability.
The Queen is up and about after a brutal cold kept her in bed for nearly two weeks throughout the holidays. But the health scare put thousands of people around the world on notice that the end of the Elizabethan Age might be nigh. This is particularly true of Canada: Aside from the U.K. itself, nobody has spent more time drilling for the death of Queen Elizabeth II than us.
Below, a partial list of all the behind-the-scenes plans and mechanisms designed to click into place the moment “long live the King!” peels out from Great Britain.
Prince Charles becomes the King of Canada automatically
After a sovereign’s death, the Governor General’s job is to drive to Parliament Hill, stand in front of a cabinet meeting and proclaim that Canada has a new “lawful and rightful liege.” But it’s all justwindow
dressing ; Charles would automatically become Canada’s head of state the moment his mother dies. This isn’t just British tradition, it’s written right into Canadian law. “Where there is a demise of the Crown … the demise does not affect the holding of any office under the Crown in right of Canada,” reads the 1985 Interpretation Act. The Crown itself is the institution; it doesn’t matter who’s wearing it — and the 1931 Statute of Westminster guarantees that the U.K. can’t, say, proclaim Paddington Bear their next in line for the throne without first getting Canada’s permission. The system is similar to the U.S. presidency. Lyndon Johnson became president at the precise moment that John F. Kennedy’s heart stopped. Johnson’s subsequent swearing-in aboard Air Force One was only required for him to start giving orders, not to become president.
There is no secret vault of King Charles III currency
The Queen’s most visible presence in Canada is on the money: In 2015 alone, 100 million quarters bearing the image of Queen Elizabeth II were minted in Winnipeg. But as the Royal Canadian Mint told the National Post, it would be weird of them to be constantly guessing who the next monarch is going to be. “Since choosing which effigy appears on future Canadian coins goes beyond our mandate, the Mint has not produced any advance tooling depicting a future, anticipated monarch,” said a spokesman. For one thing, Charles may not even adopt the name King Charles III. The name Charles doesn’t have the most sterling record (the first one was beheaded, for a start) so he might go with one of his middle names: King George VII, King Arthur or King Philip. But the Mint’s turnaround is now so quick that new coins can go from drawing to production in a matter of days — the only real delay is having the Royal Family officially approve the new portrait (and reportedly, Queen Elizabeth II has indeed rejected some of our designs in the past). The Bank of Canada, which produces Canadian banknotes, won’t be so swift: In about five years when they next design a new $20, they plan to simply feature whoever happens to be the monarch.
There are already secret stashes of black armbands and condolence books across Canada
Starting in earnest with Queen Elizabeth II’s 2002 Golden Jubilee, Rideau Hall and Canada’s 10 Government Houses all began preparing for what Buckingham Palace euphemistically calls “The Bridge”: The period of time between the death of a monarch and the coronation of a new one. This much is known: The minute a sovereign dies, all staff of Canada’s Governor General, Lieutenant Governors and Territorial Commissioners will be immediately issued with black ties and black armbands. Black ribbons will be hung on portraits and flagpoles, a book of condolences will be laid out near the frontdoor
and any book signings or fiddle recitals will be swiftly cancelled. In the back rooms of Government Houses from Victoria to St. John’s, there is an ominous cardboard box labelled “mourning.” Rideau Hall is naturally quite reticent to admit all this; it hints of treason when you plan too thoroughly for the death of Canada’s head of state. “We are not in a position to share the detailed plans and sequencing of events that would follow the passing of our sovereign,” said Rideau Hall in a statement to the National Post.
Official portraits of the Queen could remain up for as long as a year
When the United States changes its head of state on Jan. 20, federal buildings across the country will swap out their portraits of Barack Obama with one of Donald Trump. But Canada will bide its time until after the coronation — which may not take place for more than year (Queen Elizabeth II, for instance, was crowned 15 months after her father died at the age of 56). In the interim, every government office in Canada will feature its usual portrait of the Queen, but with a black ribbon. Of course, prepare for lots of Kiwanis Clubs, hockey arenas and veterans organization that are going to stubbornly refuse to swap out their Queen portraits — or even stop singing God Save the Queen. “In private or community organizations, some may feel that they are not ready to make such a change after a long reign and no one is going to tell them differently,” Canadian royal expert Richard Berthelsen told the National Post.
The day of the funeral will likely be a holiday
The Manual of Official Procedure of the Government of Canada states that the prime minister’s job in the event of a sovereign’s demise is to convene parliament, pass a resolution expressing “loyalty and sympathy” to the next monarch, and then adjourn. From there, the usual procedure is to issue an Order in Council declaring a “Day of Mourning” on the day of the funeral. “It would be a pretty significant break with tradition for there not to be a day of mourning that is a holiday,” said Canadian protocol expert and author Christopher McCreery. And if you live near a military base, that’s going to be a loud day: For the funeral of King George VI every military installation in Canada was ordered to fire a 56 gun salute.
We’re in for a whole lot of paperwork
The front page of a Canadian passport notes that it is issued in “the name of Her Majesty the Queen.” The drum majors of Canadian military bands wear a sash bearing Queen Elizabeth’s cipher of “EIIR.” Lawyers across Canada have business cards printed with the title “QC” for “Queen’s Counsel” and go to work at a “Court of Queen’s Bench.” Every day, government contractors ink their agreements with “Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada.” Conservative MPs sit in “Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.” For a period of as long as 18 months, bureaucrats in virtually every branch of Canadian government will have to meticulously weed out all mentions of “Queen” and replace it with “King.” Making it all the more confusing is that some references to Queen Elizabeth II will remain: Alberta’s Queen Elizabeth II Highway, for instance, was named for the sovereign personally, so the title stays.
The CBC has a “Queen death” plan
On the BBC, the death of any member of the royal family is treated almost like an announcement of pending nuclear war: Regular programming is immediately stopped, sometimes with the clinical announcement “normal programming has been suspended.” Then, a solemn presenter in black clothes announces the death, God Save the Queen is played against the image of a waving flag and thus begins wall-to-wall news coverage that can last for days. The CBC won’t be quite as intense, but over the holidays the network did have a specially picked on-call squad of broadcasters ready to drop their Christmas turkey and rush to work should the Queen die. It would be what they call a “Broadcast of NationalImportance
”; regular programming is cancelled, all advertisements are halted and all TV channels and radio stations shift into 24-hour news mode. And, naturally, the network has almost certainly prepared a reel of tasteful Queen content to get them through the first shaky hours after the announcement.
Canada has a seat at the Accession Council in England
Even though Charles would automatically become king, there’s still an official ceremony to make it all legal — and prevent any would-be continental invaders from getting ideas. Within hours of a sovereign’s death, various figures and officials in their best regalia gather at a palace built by Henry VIII to swear allegiance, sign some documents and then proclaim the new monarch from a balcony. Somewhere in the swirl of gold braid, bicorn hats and glistening medals will be the High Commissioner of Canada (our version of an ambassador to the U.K.). Below, for instance, is the Accession Council in 1936 announcing that King George VI has become “our only lawful and rightful liege lord.”
The U.K. will utterly grind to a halt
Business Insider UK said it best: The death of Queen Elizabeth II will be the “most disruptive event in Britain” since the Second World War. For reference, look to the near-hysterical response to the 1997 death of Princess Diana: Millions of mourners flooding the streets, a spike in suicide rates, as many as 15 tonnes of flowers piled in front of anything even remotely linked to Diana’s memory. As the only monarch most Britons have ever known — and one of the last living links to Great Britain at the height of its world empire — the death of Queen Elizabeth II will be all that and more.
Canada doesn’t mourn like we used to
The 1901 death of Queen Victoria was a big, big deal in Canada: Common citizens wore black armbands for weeks, black borders were placed around government announcements, theatre performances were cancelled because they weren’t solemn enough. “We have met under the shadow of a death, which has caused more universal mourning than has ever been recorded in the pages of history. In these words there is no exaggeration; they are the literal truth,” said Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier at the time. We’d calmed down somewhat by the 1952 death of King George VI, but even then Parliament Hill was draped in black bunting — a measure that even some in the U.K. saw as excessive.
Once the mourning has stopped, get ready for the republicans
Canada’s small but vocal republican movement has made no secret that a King Charles is their best bet to ditch constitutional monarchy — and the polls back them up. Last month, an Ipsos Reid poll found that 53 per cent of Canadians wanted to dismantle the Crown as soon as the black ribbons are taken down. When mourning has ended and the run-up to coronation begins, expect a new volley of attempts to ensure that Canada never has to attend. “We hope the Queen lives a long and healthy life and Canada makes a decision on Canadianizing our head of state long before her reign ends,” said Tom Freda, director of Citizens for a Canadian Republic.