Opposition leaders throughout the Commonwealth have particular reason to add to fond remembrance of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. She kept active the honorific but important prerogative of the Crown to name the Leader of the Official Opposition to the Queen’s Privy Council. More well known is that the elected Prime Ministers of Commonwealth countries are members of the Privy Council.

Thanksgiving 1999, Queen Elizabeth visited Ottawa. The Media reported that the Queen invited then Opposition leader, Stephen Harper, to a 30 minute private meeting. Their discussion went well. There’s more to the story.

First, it is unusual for the Queen or King to meet privately with the Leader of the Opposition. In the unwritten manual of the Privy Council Office, however, is a “rule” that the Opposition Leader, as a Privy Councillor, May request a private meeting. In the months leading up to the Queen’s visit, the request from the Office of the Leader of the Opposition for a private meeting rattled around the Canadian PCO and the Prime Ministers Office. As any meeting with the Queen is at her discretion, Harper’s request was granted.

The content of their discussion was confidential: the symbolism was not. Harper, as the new leader of the Opposition, gained stature vis a vis the Prime Minister, then Jean Chrétien. The meeting shored up Harper’s acceptance by the newly merged members of former Progressive Conservative party, who tended to be to left of Harper’s Western Canadian base, but were significantly more pro-monarchist.

Harper’s quietly audacious meeting request to Queen Elizabeth sent a message. The Leader of the Opposition has a constitutional role important enough to be a member of the Queen’s Privy Council. With that status, they can judiciously exercise the prerogative of requesting a private meeting with the Monarch. There is a condition. The title specifies a “Loyal Opposition,” that is loyalty is owed to the “constitution” and to the integrity of the state, as well as the formal but circumscribed obedience to the Monarch.

Takeaway for Commonwealth Opposition leaders: King Charles III has a bounded obligation obligation to meet with you privately. That level of access and stature has political significance. Exercised wisely, there may be benefits. Warning though. The process and planning resemble nuclear arms negotiations. Approach with caution and respect, but consider an initiative. One assumes King Charles will visit as an introduction effort.

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