House of Commons Hansard #97 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was airports.

Topics

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Eugène Bellemare Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has asked an excellent question. Would they have a crisis of conscience? I see no reason for that.

There should not be a crisis of conscience in this case. If one lives in Quebec one lives in Canada. If one lives in Ontario one lives in Canada. If one lives in British Columbia one lives in Canada.

Therefore everyone in Quebec is a Canadian and a Quebecois, just as in Ontario, the member, myself and other members who are from Ontario are Ontarians and Canadians. The same applies to all the other provinces. There should be no concern.

If the members of the Bloc, as they keep repeating every time I present my bill, are against it, they should remind themselves that they are accountable to the community they represent. It is a question of accountability. If they dislike the Constitution they should propose amendments to the Constitution.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Lanark—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to the bill. I must say that of all the private members' legislations to come before the House under the new rules, this strikes me as being one of the two or three that is the most likely to make it through the process and find its way toward becoming the law of the land. Therefore I take the bill very seriously.

The title of the bill is “an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (oath or solemn affirmation)”. The essence of the bill is summed up in clause 3, which states that no person may sit in the House unless he or she has sworn an oath or solemn affirmation in addition to the one which we now swear.

All members, including myself, swear the following oath, which is stipulated in section 128 of the Constitution Act, 1867 and is laid out in schedule 5 of that act:

I, .... do swear, That I will be faithful and bear true Allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.

The proposed new law would not remove that oath but would add the following:

I, ..., do swear (or solemnly affirm) that I will be loyal to Canada and that I will perform the duties of a member of the House of Commons honestly and justly.

I think it is pretty hard to object in principle to this. Certainly nobody, including members of the Bloc Quebecois, could object to the second part of that statement, “I will perform the duties of a member of the House of Commons honestly and justly”.

Therefore the question then becomes one of the first part of the statement, “I will be loyal to Canada”. This is the reason that earlier I asked the hon. member the question whether a person who is a separatist, who would like to see his or her province removed from Canada, could in good conscience swear this oath.

My inclination is to think that there should not be a problem, that being loyal to Canada means, in part, as the hon. member said in his comments, being loyal to the community, to the spirit of the community.

As well, there is a question of being loyal to the Constitution. While I do not support in any way, at any point in Canada's future, one province leaving the country, there is a constitutional mechanism by which this could occur. One could be loyal to the Constitution and work toward the sovereignty of one province. That was laid out in a Supreme Court reference decision two years ago. I do not think there is a logical reason, even if one were not loyal to the idea of Canada remaining a united country permanently, that one would not swear an oath to this effect.

Being loyal to Canada in the sense that the hon. member, the proposer of this bill, described in his initial remarks, is just another way of saying what is in the second part of the act, “I will perform the duties of a member of the House of Commons honestly and justly”.

The obligation on us to follow our oath, because these oaths are very general, is, in a sense, a moral obligation rather than a legal obligation. I think it would be very difficult to prosecute anybody sitting in the House, or anybody who has sat in the House in recent decades, for failing to fulfil the oath that currently exists, and it would probably be very difficult to prosecute anybody or to deprive them of their seat in the House based upon a failure to perform the proposed oath. Therefore the statement that is being made here is a moral statement.

I thought it was interesting that the hon. member for Ottawa—Orléans referred to the oath that he voluntarily took, in addition to his oath to the Queen, when he was sworn in. It is a version of an oath that a number of us took, myself included, when we were sworn in. We understood when we took the oath that we could not be bound to that oath. It was something that we took on voluntarily because we thought it was a way of showing our commitment to the community, of which we are part, our own constituents and to the country as a whole.

It seems to me that this kind of oath is a reaffirmation of the general reason for which we were sent here. Now there is a specific reason why each of us were sent here. I was sent here because a larger number of people in my riding voted for me than voted for any other candidate. We all have a similar tale to tell. However when we get here it is our obligation to represent, not just the people who voted for us-and many people who come to this place have been voted for by less than half of the potential votes in their constituency--but to represent all of them.

It seems to me that the expression of community and of community interest as stated in the proposed oath reflects that sense of community as a whole. For that reason, I would be supportive of this oath and of including it in the oath that we swear. This would be a real step forward for us. All members could swear in good conscience. Those who feel the necessity to express their reservations could do so separately from the oath itself.

In 1976 when the first Parti Québécois government was sworn in, a number of the members of the party said that they had sworn the oath with their fingers crossed behind their backs. I guess they felt it was important to express a certain sentiment but nonetheless they swore the oath. Bloc Québécois members who sit in the House have sworn an oath to the Queen despite the fact that I suspect very few of them are actually monarchists. It is possible to do that sort of thing without suffering a great crisis of conscience.

I think all Canadians recognize the value of Canada as a whole, as a concept, as an idea, and not merely as a constitutional status quo. That is what the bill proposes to recognize. For that reason, I encourage all members of the House of Commons to vote for it.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, I rise because I represent Canada's first incorporated city by royal charter, Saint John, New Brunswick. We date back to 1783. We are not a republic. The head of state for Canada, and Saint John, is Her Majesty the Queen.

I have great respect for the hon. member who has put forward the motion. However when we take our oath, we refer to Queen Elizabeth II who is Canada's head of state. Therefore we are taking our oath to Canada.

On October 12, 2002, my colleague from Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, when speaking against Bill C-219 at that time, stated his personal view that we should embrace our link to Great Britain, to our very origins and embrace the oath to the Queen. He said that we should embrace the fact that the Queen had continued in a very diligent and forthright way the lineage and connection to our country. As a Canadian, I feel very proud to continue this. When I take the oath and refer to Her Majesty, I definitely feel I am taking the oath to Canada, and I am proud to do it.

I know the hon. member is saying that he wants to add more to it. He is not saying that he wants to take that portion of the oath out. However now we are dividing it because she is our head of state.

I have met Prince Charles, Princess Diana, Her Majesty, Prince Philip, Prince Andrew, all of the royal family. I have been in their company. They love Canada. I will never forget the hurtful comments by the Deputy Prime Minister on the Queen's visit to Canada. I was so very much ashamed. I felt so saddened when he made them.

I am sure all of us will remember Queen Elizabeth II's state visit to Canada last fall and the response of Canadians to her and to Prince Philip as well. The Duke of Edinburgh was truly amazing. Whether it was in the north, the west, central Canada or the east, the response was the same, welcoming communities, warm hearts, joyful crowds and thankful Canadians.

Queen Elizabeth II, who has served in her capacity as Queen of the commonwealth for over 50 years, has served us and served us well. We all know, with her diligence, steadfastness and unwaivering hand, we are a very special country in this world. Our Queen has been a role model for Canadians and the whole world. As such, we as a nation are blessed for her leadership and guidance.

I stated earlier that I had great respect for the hon. member who has put forth this private member's bill. However I want the hon. member to know that when we take our oath, we take our oath to Canada through the head of state of Canada.

One major concern I have is that just recently we took reference to Her Majesty out of the oath for the public servants. Public servants no longer take the oath to Her Majesty. Not that the hon. member is saying this, but before we know it, we will not be taking our oath either. Some tried before in the House of Commons to take out the oath to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. I worry about that.

There are two parts of the oath, one that has existed since 1867 and the one that is being proposed today. They seem to be part of almost the same package, reaffirming essentially the same sentiment.

What is particularly important in our actions as members of Parliament is that we act in conformity with the norms that govern the behaviour of members of Parliament and that we act in a spirit that conforms with the constitution of the country.

I think there is a danger that members of either the federal or provincial houses can act in a manner that is in contempt of their oath. The important thing is we must always remember the substance of our oath of office.

As I said earlier, I represent Canada's first incorporated city, Saint John, New Brunswick and I am truly proud of that. Who worked to build this wonderful country? It was our francophone people, our anglophone people, our aboriginal people, we all built it.

It is an honour and a privilege to be a member of Parliament and sit in the House of Commons. When I look at the top of your chair, Mr. Speaker, and its insignia, some of it represents Her Majesty and some of it represents Quebec. We should be very proud to stand in the House of Commons and take our oath.

I also belong to the Monarchist League of Canada, a group which tries to ensure that Her Majesty receives the respect that she deserves.

When I read Bill C-408, I asked myself what she would say. She was just here in October. She did not receive the respect that she should have, not only from the Deputy Prime Minister but from some others. If we were to divide the oath, it would say to her that we felt she was no longer the head of state of Canada. When we take our oath, we swear allegiance to the Queen: “Faithful and bear Allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth”.

I cannot believe we would get into this kind of debate in the House of Commons of Canada once again. We are here to work for all our people no matter in which province they live. We have the Governor General, who represents Her Majesty. We have Lieutenant-Governors in every province in Canada who also represents Her Majesty, and they do it with dignity.

If we pass this bill, the next thing we know we will not have a Governor General representing Her Majesty. We will be looking at a different organization altogether down the road.

The hon. member who proposed the motion is an honourable member. He used to sit right across from me. He always encouraged me. In fact both those members who sit side by side always encouraged me, and I have such great respect for both of them. However I am very worried because we have some members who do not want to take an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty. That oath of allegiance must be there. When we take that oath, we take an oath of allegiance to Canada as a whole, through Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on the bill introduced by one of my hon. colleagues, who is a great defender of the official languages in Canada and of French in his province.

He would make a major change in the oath of allegiance so that it read:

I, (full name of the member), do swear (or solemnly affirm) that I will be loyal to Canada and that I will perform the duties of a member of the House of Commons honestly and justly.

I was listening and I see that it was very much inspired by the oath of allegiance that is now used in Quebec. But I believe it is worthwhile to look at the origin, the meaning and need to have an oath of allegiance.

I had prepared some notes, but first, I feel I must comment on the previous speeches, to which I was listening carefully. Before this debate, I thought that Canada truly had two solitudes and two realities. But after listening to some of these speeches, I feel that we are living on another planet or in another galaxy.

I have a great deal of respect for my hon. Progressive Conservative colleague who spoke before me, but seeing the passion and emotion with which she was defending the archaic system of Canadian political dependence on Great Britain leaves me completely at a loss.

I am completely amazed by the fact that, in 2003, when it comes to the issue of sovereignty, Canadian sovereignty anyway, there is still such a passionate desire to remain a colony dependent on Great Britain. Someday someone will have to explain to me—and it will take some time I think—why I must remain a faithful and loyal subject of someone else, when I live in one country and hope to have my own someday. I have great difficulty in understanding, and it would take a great deal of explaining, this interest and this primacy that some would confer to a head of state.

When we travel around our ridings and ask constituents why the Queen's image is on our dollar and what the role of the Governor General is, and that of the Lieutenants Governor in the provinces, and we explain what their role really is in our democracy, I would say that in 99.9% of the cases, people are dumbfounded and say, “Come on, we do not still have that kind of system”.

We need to look at where this system came from and how we can live with it and improve it, not go back in time, like the film Back to the Future . I think that that is what our friend wants us to do by introducing this bill.

First, the oath of allegiance goes back a long time, but here in Canada, it goes back to 1867. Section 128 of the Constitution Act, 1867 reads as follows—Mr. Speaker, please tell your colleague to let me know if I am interrupting his conversation and I will wait for him to finish—and I quote:

Every Member of the Senate or House of Commons of Canada shall before taking his Seat therein take and subscribe before the Governor General or some Person authorized by him, and every Member of a Legislative Council or Legislative Assembly of any Province shall before taking his Seat therein take and subscribe before the Lieutenant Governor of the Province or some Person authorized by him, the Oath of Allegiance contained in the Fifth Schedule to this Act;

And, this fifth schedule of the act reads:

I (name of the person) do swear, That I will be faithful and bear true Allegiance to Her Majesty—

At the time of the Act, this was Queen Victoria, but they have modified it with the current Queen, so it now reads Queen Elizabeth II.

However, where does it come from, this oath of allegiance that we have copied, like the British system, like the British parliamentary system?

I would like to give you some information that I got from a document in the library entitled Oaths of Allegiance and the Canadian House of Commons . It says and I quote:

“The Canadian oath of allegiance derives from that used in the British Parliament”, which is only natural, “where the requirement for such an oath arose from the political and religious conflicts of the sixteenth century”.

So, in order to resolve religious and political conflicts, the oath of allegiance was adopted sometime during the 1500s. Further on, it reads:

The original purpose of the oath was to assert the primacy of the British sovereign over all matters, both ecclesiastical and temporal; as such, it was primarily directed at preventing Catholics from holding public office. (Other religious denominations were also affected incidentally, until the reforms of the nineteenth century.)

The oath of allegiance taken by members of the House of Commons upon their election has its roots in an oath of allegiance adopted in the sixteenth century to prevent Catholics from getting into the British Parliament. The member is proposing this oath not to improve it but to amend it, in the same spirit as prior to the reform in the nineteenth century.

I respect protocol. I respect traditions. I know that there is a distinction between folklore and traditions. But, on the other hand, when it comes to amending texts from the sixteenth century, such as this one, I do not think that we are changing with the times.

This reminds me of something our guests and visitors are always surprised to learn. I have a few examples. Visitors are told that the green carpet in the House of Commons represents the lawn on which the Commons held its meetings in the Middle Ages. The distance separating the opposition party and the government party is represented by an outstretched arm holding a sword on each side of the House; the swords must not touch to avoid fratricidal battles.

I am reciting facts you already know, Mr. Speaker, since you are very learned when it comes to the British parliamentary system. We are still living in that era.

As hon. members may know, and I am going back in time here, the expression “It's in the bag” is also a legacy of the British system. When it came to dealing with a private member's business or bill, the Speaker of the House at Westminster would literally take the piece of paper on which the business in question was described and put it in a bag behind his chair. Whenever the member of Parliament returned to his riding and constituents asked him where their bill or motion was at, he could answer, “It is in the bag”.

Such expressions date back to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Today, in Canada, we are once again debating their relevance. I do respect institutions and traditions, but once in a while we must wonder about the folklore and the true meaning of amendments or changes proposed by members of the government party. I do not think that it is a priority for Canadians citizens to discuss whether we should take this oath or that one.

I would also ask my hon. colleague why he feels the need to remain under the British monarchy. While the primary purpose of this bill is clearly to interfere in the duties and functions of the members of the Bloc Quebecois, does he not think that he should at least support his country's sovereignty, if he does not support ours?

Having been recognized by the Statute of Westminster, Canada has the authority to make its own foreign policies, and since it collects its own taxes why does the hon. member sponsoring this bill not join the Deputy Prime Minister of Canada and leadership candidate in saying that there should no longer be a monarchy system in Canada?

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Ottawa—Orléans, who introduced the motion, has the floor.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Eugène Bellemare Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the floor to end the debate. I was informed this morning by the government House leader that the government was in favour of this bill. This was also confirmed by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, today.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I would point out to the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst, who appears to be seeking the floor, that when I asked whether any member wished to speak, no one rose. I then gave the floor to the mover of the motion who, under the new Standing Orders, has five minutes to conclude the debate.

If, however, the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst really wants to speak, I can suggest that he seek the consent of the House. Then we shall see.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, that is exactly what I shall do. I therefore seek the unanimous consent of the House to take part in the debate on Bill C-408.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is there unanimous consent to allow the member for Acadie—Bathurst to speak for ten minutes?

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Therefore the question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.