Seeing things differently...

O Canada?

Lynne Bell

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            You'd have to have the proverbial heart of stone if you weren't moved by Liberal MP Mauril Belanger's valiant and determined attempt to bring his private member's bill before the House of Commons.

            The Member of Parliament for Ottawa-Vanier has been stricken with ALS-amyotropic lateral sclerosis-a progessive and fatal neurological disease (also known as Lou Gehring's disease). As I write this, the bill he worked to pass was a request to change some of the English lyrics of 'O Canada' in an effort to make this country's national anthem gender-neutral. In fact, the entire process is now a done deal. 

            Bill C-210 has changed the lyrics “in all thy sons command” to “in all of us command.” It must be noted that this is not the first time the anthem's lyrics have been altered. During the First World War I era, the lyrics were changed from “thou dost in us command” to “in all thy sons command.” This was done for poetic, rather than political purposes, however.

            Previous politically-driven attempts to change the lyrics of 'O Canada' have not succeeded, including those of NDP MPs Svend Robinson and Libby Davies, who, like Belanger, proposed changes to Canada's national anthem in the interests of inclusivity.

            Belanger has said (via iPad-as he has lost the ability to speak): “Changing only two words... gives Canada an inclusive anthem that respects who we were and what we have become as a country.”

            “As Canadians, we continually test our assumptions, and indeed our symbols, for their suitability. Our anthem can reflect our roots and our growth.”

            Not surprisingly, some of his colleagues in the House of Commons disagree.

            Citing correspondence from his constituents, Conservative MP Peter Van Loan said, “These are views that matter, whether you agree or disagree. When it comes to national symbols, when it comes to these things that make us what we are, historically we have taken them from the people, not given them to the people.”

            In the face of Belanger's rapidly and tragically deteriorating health, many of his colleagues within the House of Commons felt a sense of urgency and wanted to pass the ailing MP's private member's bill as quickly as possible, so that its author could witness its successful passage through Parliament. Naturally, there are others who were equally as determined to block Belanger's bill. The entire process resulted in the nation's representatives engaging in behavior which ranged from the noble to the nasty, as they either attempted to push the bill through in haste, or halt its progress entirely.

            Belanger's bill passed with a majority vote, with some MPs stating that an updated version of Canada's national anthem was inevitable.

            But perhaps the larger question is: Why weren't the citizens of this country consulted on this change? As tragic and as personal as Belanger's situation is, is it justification for how decisions are made in the House of Commons?

            By all accounts, Mauril Belanger is a respected Member of Parliament, who has served admirably, and continues to do with great courage and fortitude, and under the most tragic of circumstances.

            Instead of emotionally and hurriedly pushing proposed Bill C-210 through or equally, trying to slow its progress via unparliamentary behavior, would it not have been a more fitting tribute to the Member of Parliament for Ottawa-Vanier for his fellow MPs to pay respect to him by engaging in a full and thoughtful debate which includes the views of all Canadian citizens?

            In this case, the parliamentary process is as important as the result.

           Softening my stance on changing “O Canada”

By Kelly Running


                With Canada Day just around the corner Lynne and I decided to look at a hot topic in Canada recently, that’s right, we’re looking at the change of the Canadian national anthem.

                Personally, I like traditions and a national anthem is part of our identity… plus it would take me forever to remember a new version… but… what is the other side saying?

                I was reading through a variety of articles and others do make a solid claim for it to be changed. The argument that stuck out to me was that if your national anthem isn’t inclusive, then how inclusive is your national identity; something that the majority of Canadians pride themselves on.

                The proposed change would be to move from the line “in all thy sons command” and replace it with “in all of us command.”

                The country wants to use it as a strong symbol of equality. The discussion jumps back to the Liberal government drawing attention to gender inequality with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointing a cabinet that is 50 percent women: “Because it’s 2016.”

                Technically the Liberals were voted in with a majority government, which allows them to operate the country how they like with a little input here and there from Conservatives and New Democrats. This means that whether we’re happy with the changes or not it’s their up to their discretion.

                Reading further I discovered the House voted 225 to 74 in support of the bill to change the lyrics, which means the majority of Canadian representatives felt need to change it.

                Now, being the bit of a history buff I began reading about the national anthem, I knew it was originally written in French and assumed the English version would have been a translation of it. But, this would have been Thomas B. Richardson’s lyrics published in 1906 by Whaley, Royce & Co.

                However, there were a few different English versions created by various individuals. The one that caught the attention of the government, however, was Robert Stanley Weir’s 1908 composition, which wasn’t officially accepted until the 1960s! In 1964 the federal government had the Senate and House of Commons work jointly together to look at “God Save the Queen” and “O Canada” as national anthems because at the time Canada was not yet a country on its own. That didn’t happen until 1967, but knowing that was coming the government , in 1966, decided that “O Canada” would be the national anthem and “God Save the Queen” would be the Royal anthem. This was made official in 1967.

                They then looked at Weir’s version and decided to change a few lines: “And stand on guard, O Canada” to “From far and wide, O Canada,” “O Canada, glorious and free” to “God keep our land, glorious and free,” AND “True patriot love thou dost in us command” to “True patriot love in all our sons command.” Yup, the federal government changed the lyric in the 60s within the English version that had become popular in 1908.

                So, is it really tradition? The national anthem is as old as Canada, technically, but the country has been around a lot longer. We just had an amicable end to British rule, which took a little longer than say the Americans splitting from the U.K.

                By switching the lyrics it actually comes more in line with the 1908 version of the anthem, which used gender neutral wording.

                It’s a little thing. One that has some people up in arms, but it’s one that at the end of the day, sorry but, it’s one that really doesn’t affect us a whole lot. The new lyrics sound nearly identical while singing it… and how often do you really sing “O Canada” anyway? If you’re like me and am not fond of your singing voice you tend to let others belt it out if anyone is singing at all. There’s been many times that I’ve simply heard only the instruments. So it’s more of a symbolic change than anything.


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