O Canada, “Thou Dost in Us Command”


Senator Plett, a Conservative representing Manitoba, moved an amendment to the O Canada Bill on 18 May, which would still conform to the purpose of the bill (making the language gender neutral), but which would restore Robert Stanley Weir’s original lyrics from 1908: “True patriot love thou dost in us command.”

I mentioned Plett’s amendment on 19 May, though I didn’t see the full significance of it at the time. I thought that the Senate would vote on the motion and that, if it passed, the bill would return to the House of Commons for consideration.

On 30 May, the Senate continued debate on the O Canada Bill and on Plett’s amendment. Senator Frances Lankin pointed out that the normal ping-pong between the Senate and Commons cannot happen in this case, because the sponsor of the bill, Mauril Belanger, has died. Without a sponsor, the House of Commons could only consider the Senate’s amendments to the bill with the unanimous consent of the Commons — which would probably not be granted.

Hon. Frances Lankin: 

Honourable senators, I, too, will be brief.

I had the opportunity to speak about this amendment with the mover of the amendment, Senator Plett. I appreciate the attempt at creating gender-neutral language, which is the intent of the original bill. I also appreciate, personally, the respect for heritage language. It’s a proposition I personally could support.

I was interested in the possibility that Senator Plett and I might have a common cause with respect to this bill. I might be overstating it; I’m not sure.

I have to regretfully inform all senators — I’ve already told Senator Plett — that upon checking the rules of this place and the House of Commons, the effect of Senator Plett’s amendment would be to kill the bill. If this amendment were to be adopted in the Senate, the bill would go back to the House of Commons. Sadly, with the passing of MP Bélanger, the sponsor is no longer a member of the House of Commons and, therefore, a new sponsor would have to be found. Under the rules, that would require unanimous consent. It has become clear that unanimous consent would not be given. At least 70 voted against this bill in the first place. A number of people have been spoken to and have indicated that they would block the bill there, as is the intent of some of the members here, who have been quite honest and forthright that the intent is to delay this bill until after prorogation and to see the bill die.

It is curious that Senator Lankin described Weir’s original lyrics from 1908 as “heritage language.” If the line “True patriot love thou dost in us command” is “heritage language”, then why is “True patriot love in all thy sons command” not also “heritage language” worthy of protection?

The response of the Minister of Canadian Heritage is even more bizarre. She stated that the Trudeau government would oppose changing the lyrics to “True patriot love thou dost in us command” on the grounds that they would “abide by the position of Mauril Bélanger, which was in favour of gender parity.”

“True patriot love thou dost in us command” most certainly is also gender neutral, and it sounds better than “True patriot love in all of us command.” I would prefer that the lyrics to O Canada remain intact. But if Parliament has to change them, it should at least adopt the original language from 1908.

We shall have to wait and see if the Senate passes Plett’s amendment.

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I invite reasonable questions and comments; all others will be prorogued or dissolved.

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