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Prince Charles' visit to Canada elicits yawns


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POSTED: Friday, November 13, 2009

PETAWAWA, Ontario—As things now stand, when Prince Charles succeeds his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, his many roles will include being the king of Canada.

But as his 11-day tour of the country with Camilla Parker-Bowles, his wife, drew to a sleepy close on Thursday, few Canadians seemed to be looking forward to the day when his face appears on their coins and their laws are proclaimed, as well as their criminals prosecuted, in his name.

The huge crowds that greeted Charles and Princess Diana during the 1980s were absent, frequently replaced by groups, like one at the airport near here, that could be measured by the dozens or, at one stop in Newfoundland, with the fingers of two hands.

When three Canadian government jets carrying the royal party landed outside Petawawa, a town of about 14,600 around 200 miles north of Rochester, N.Y., no one greeted it other than the staff of the tiny airport. Charles, wearing a Canadian army uniform, met informally here with soldiers who had served in Afghanistan, but no spectators stood along the motorcade route.

But by late afternoon, when it came time for Charles to fly out, about 60 people, many of them children from a nearby school, had gathered at the airport.

In Quebec, where earlier royal visits set off bloody riots that remain rallying cries for separatists, Charles' appearance was met only by a gaggle of egg-tossing protesters led by a fringe separatist who told a Montreal newspaper, The Gazette: “;I have to be honest; Prince Charles is not a priority for us.”;

C.E.S. Franks, a professor emeritus and leading governance scholar at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, vividly recalls his excitement as a boy in 1939 of seeing a royal tour train pass through town, the king and queen waving from its rear platform. But he felt no urge to relive the magic of his childhood this week.

“;There's absolutely no mystique attached to the monarchy today,”; said Franks, whose ancestors fled to Canada after backing the crown in the American Revolution. “;Monarchists are rare and far between, relatively aged and feeble.”;

Can Charles, the sometimes self-pitying scion of an exceptionally wealthy family that lives in a country increasingly disconnected from Canada, live up to the description, posted on the royal Web site, of a monarch who “;personifies the state and is the personal symbol of allegiance, unity and authority for all Canadians”;?

The answer may be that he may not have to. His royal status is written into the Canadian Constitution, and amending that is a fractious process that requires the unanimous consent of Parliament and all 10 provinces. Going through that to eliminate or change a monarchy that few people pay attention to may seem far more trouble than it is worth.

“;We haven't replaced the queen, and I don't think we should or really can,”; said Nelson Wiseman, a political scientist at the University of Toronto. “;Why do we want to get into that quicksand?”;

While few in number, the monarchists who did turn out to greet the prince were a passionate group. Doris Saar, a retired government employee, was clearly bothered by a suggestion that the sparse crowds betrayed a lack of interest. Clutching a British Union Jack flag in her gloved hand, she blamed the news media.

“;In the past, when we had royal visits, we heard all about it,”; Saar said, as she waited at the airport. “;Now, it's just a flash.”;

In the end, Saar caught only a glimpse of Charles' head through the rear window of a Lincoln Town Car bearing nothing but a crown for license plates. It was, she said, still satisfying: “;I've now flitted my Union Jack right in front of him.”;