Senate amendment to O Canada bill could force House to vote unanimously on new sponsor
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau touches the casket of MP Mauril Belanger after delivering a eulogy during his funeral at the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica, on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016 in Ottawa.
OTTAWA — A month before Canada Day, a private member’s bill to make the language of the national anthem gender-neutral is facing another roadblock.
A Conservative amendment that changes proposed language from “in all of us command” to “thou dost in us command” could inadvertently kill the bill when it goes back to the House of Commons, said Senate sponsor Sen. Frances Lankin, an independent who was appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The lyric in O Canada, sung daily at schools across the country (and at innumerable events), had been “true patriot love, in all thy sons command.”
Because the bill’s original sponsor, Mauril Bélanger, died last year, the House would require unanimous consent for a new bill sponsor before being able to vote on the Senate’s amendment. In theory, any one of the 74 MPs who voted against the bill could block its progress by denying consent.
Conservative Sen. Donald Plett said Wednesday in a statement to the National Post the Commons rule was “news to most of us in the Senate” but shouldn’t change senators’ deliberations on the merit of his amendment.
“Given the circumstances, I have every reason to believe that the House of Commons would allow for a change in sponsorship,” Plett said. “For a senator to suggest that I would purposely take advantage of the death of a former colleague is disheartening.”
Bélanger, the longtime MP for Ottawa-Vanier, succumbed to ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) last August. His struggle with the disease was public, and so was his championing of the national anthem bill, which passed the Commons last June.
Plett said he believes the anthem is already inclusive in its present form, but “the only appropriate change to the anthem would be to revert to the lyrics penned by the author himself.”
The proposed words “thou dost in us command” come from a first draft of composer Judge Robert Stanley Weir.
To change the specific language proposed by Bélanger isn’t necessarily a bad idea, Lankin conceded. “I’m not opposed to (Plett’s) language. I think it accomplishes gender neutrality, and I think it is the heritage language of O Canada,” she said. But even if the intentions are good, “all senators need to know what the effect of that would be.”
Tensions have continued to rise between Tory senators and the rest of the chamber.
Taking issue with a general attack on Conservative tactics during speeches on the anthem bill Tuesday, Plett said he and Liberal senators have reached common ground before, and “hell hasn’t frozen over yet.” Lankin recalled supporting one of Plett’s amendments on another bill and shot back, “I want to assert that you have a short memory.”
Legislators have tried to put similar bills forward for 30 years, but none got this far in the Senate. Lankin said Conservatives have been obstructing the bill from coming to a vote before Canada Day, when Canada 150 celebrations could be a showcase for a new gender-neutral anthem.
“That’s unconscionable,” she said. “To stop a vote from happening at all is not the job of the Senate.”