Last year, leaders of Britain and the 15 former colonies that have the queen as their head of state informally agreed to establish new rules giving female children equal status with males in the order of succession — something that will require legal changes in each country.Canada is, of course, one of the 16 Commonwealth realms that recognize the Queen as head of state. In order for a change in the succession to the Crown to be successful, more than the agreement of the heads of government is needed. Each realm must enact the relevant statutes to make this possible, and this requires parliamentary approval. In Canada's case it would seem to require an amendment to our Constitution Acts under sections 41 and 41(a) of the Constitution Act, 1982. Such an amendment would require the assent of both chambers of Parliament and all ten provincial legislatures. Past efforts at formal constitutional change, most notably the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords, illustrate that such unanimity is not easily procured. We could conceivably end up with a king while our fellow Commonwealth realms go with a new queen.
"Put simply, if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were to have a little girl, that girl would one day be our queen," Prime Minister David Cameron said at the time.
Of course, in the second decade of the 21st century the notion of equality of opportunity for men and women is fairly securely established in our political culture, so it might not be that difficult to carry off. All the same, the larger issue of nondiscrimination will have been only partially settled by the requisite legal and constitutional changes. Sex discrimination, yes. But obviously not age discrimination. Hereditary monarchy is intrinsically discriminatory against younger siblings. If this form of discrimination were ever to be addressed, it would seem to make the monarchy itself untenable. Because only one person can occupy a single office, the process of determining who will fill it necessarily discriminates against those ineligible for it on a variety of grounds. The elimination of sex (or gender) as a criterion for succession is a reform whose time has undoubtedly come, although it is not obvious to some of us that it is any less fair to favour males over females than it is to favour the eldest over younger siblings.