Our lives are better after 70 years - Keith Roulston editorial
The Queen’s funeral observation, which lasted more than a week, was momentous enough to get me thinking about how much our world has changed during her 70 years on the throne.
Elizabeth was not born to be Queen, of course. She was the eldest daughter of a second-born prince who would never have been monarch if his older brother wasn’t determined to marry a woman who had been divorced, which wasn’t allowed because the king was also the head of the Church of England.
Throughout her long reign, Elizabeth held her own marriage together, even though television series like The Crown make it clear Prince Philip wasn’t always the easiest or most faithful of partners. Faithfulness was not the most important of virtues in the long history of the royal family, even if it was celebrated.
But the Queen was up against a different set of realities by the time her own children wed. Most famously, Charles married the sort of princess without a past in the young Diana that the Queen and her royal advisers wanted. He didn’t love her, of course, and famously had another woman, Camilla, who he carried on with and would have preferred to marry except that she was already married to someone else. When Diana realized the truth, she famously left the marriage, creating plenty of fodder for the media, and was killed in a car accident as she tried to escape the paparazzi in Paris.
The public mourning for Diana was one of the crises of Queen Elizabeth’s life. At first she refused to acknowledge it, but as the public mourning for Diana went on and on, she finally was forced to recognize it and react. In the end, Charles, divorced himself and remarried to a divorced woman, became king. His sister Anne and brother Andrew were also divorced. Only his younger brother Edward is still married to his first wife.
The Canada that Elizabeth reigned over has changed hugely since her coronation, when it was mostly of British and French background in 1952. The post-war immigration of people of all nationalities made this a different country than when she first came to the throne. Belatedly, we have come to recognize the important population that inhabited this land before Europeans ever arrived.
Changes like the establishment of the Canadian maple leaf flag and Centennial celebrations brought about by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson gave Canadians a new sense of self-confidence. His successor, Pierre Trudeau, gave Canada its own constitution.
On a personal level, those who inhabited Canada in 1952 could probably hardly recognize the lives Canadians lead today. We have tremendous wealth that few Canadians could have dreamed about back when the Queen ascended to the throne.
In health care, we still battled diseases like polio which killed thousands almost every summer and permanently harmed others. By the mid-1950s, new vaccines conquered it. In the late 1950s I suffered from rheumatic fever, another plague nearly
unheard of today.
One of Prime Minister Pearson’s innovations was federal government-supported health care, first introduced in Canada in Saskatchewan when Tommy Douglas was premier. Suddenly, people across the land received the same care whether they were rich or poor.
An editorial in last week’s paper suggested that a majority of Canadians have lost faith in the government-provided healthcare. I’d suggest these people don’t remember what health care was like before the government stepped in. Yes, it has become expensive, but without it many people wouldn’t be alive to enjoy the prosperity we share today.
There’s no doubt the federal government has long taken the credit for our healthcare system while provincial governments supplied the largest part of the cost, but no matter who pays, we benefit. Shortfalls are often brought about when governments, federal and provincial, try to cut costs. The same sort of politician who would have opposed the establishment of public-supported health care, often tries to take short-cuts and introduce private services today.
When Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1952, Canada had only 15 million residents. By the time of her death we had nearly 39 million. At the time of her coronation, Britain was still trying to dig its way out of the destruction of World War II and still had rationing. I remember reading that the famous butter sculpture made at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto caused a scandal when the news hit Britain, because it seemed like such a waste to Britons, even though the butter was re-used.
The end of Queen Elizabeth’s office gives us the opportunity to realize how much our lives have improved over the last 70 years.