An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (oath or solemn affirmation)

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in May 2004.

This bill was previously introduced in the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session.

Sponsor

Eugène Bellemare  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of Oct. 7, 2002
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

May 7th, 2003 / 5:50 p.m.
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Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Progressive Conservative 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 ActPrivate Members' Business

December 10th, 2002 / 6:35 p.m.
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Halifax West Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise to speak in today's debate on Bill C-219, An Act to Amend the Parliament of Canada Act. I would like to thank my hon. colleague, the member for Ottawa—Orléans, for introducing this bill to bring about a dialogue on this important issue of the oath.

Bill C-219 is straightforward and well written. The essence of the bill is found in two clauses. Clause 3 would add a new section to the Parliament of Canada Act providing that no person holding a seat in the House of Commons shall sit therein nor shall any funds be made available to such a person for the carrying out of parliamentary functions unless the person has taken the oath or made the solemn affirmation to Canada.

Clause 6 would add a new schedule to the Act with the text of the oath or solemn affirmation to Canada to be sworn by members. The proposed oath reads as follows:

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.

As all of us are aware, section 128 of the Constitution Act, 1867 requires all members of Parliament, senators and members of provincial legislatures to make an oath to the Queen. The oath is found in the fifth schedule to the Constitution and reads:

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

Obviously she was the Queen at the time and the oath has been adjusted for the monarch of the day.

This oath is consistent with other oaths found within our institutions of government. For example, cabinet ministers take an oath to the Queen. Under the Public Service Employment Act and the Oaths of Allegiance Act, public servants take the following oath:

I...do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors. So help me God.

I welcome today's debate as it provides an opportunity for us to consider this aspect of our institutional measures.

The oath that we are required to take under the Constitution has remained unchanged since 1867. Since then, Canada has become a mature, modern and independent country. For example: in 1931 we secured our authority for foreign affairs under the Statute of Westminster; in 1947 we established our own citizenship laws; in 1949 we abandoned appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London; in 1965 we adopted our own flag, on February 15, if I recall correctly; in 1982 we patriated our Constitution; and, through years of immigration, we have become one of the most multicultural societies in the world.

As a result of all these changes, one might wonder why it is that we have an oath of allegiance based on conditions present in 1867. In this regard, we are seeing changes made to some oaths. For example, under Bill C-18, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration is proposing a new citizenship oath to include loyalty to Canada, so it is appropriate for us to consider whether the oath required of parliamentarians is appropriate in today's context.

I would note that there are a number of other factors that we should consider as we debate the bill. For one, we run the risk of having an inconsistent approach to the oaths within the institution of Parliament. For example, this bill does not cover senators, who would continue to be subject to the oath in the Constitution but would be unable to make an oath to Canada. As well, the bill would be inconsistent with the oath to the Queen required by cabinet ministers.

There are also legal factors that need to be considered in this approach.

Some could argue that this bill is an implicit amendment to the Constitution, raising questions about whether or not Parliament can unilaterally amend the provisions of the Constitution dealing with the oath. However, we know that Quebec's National Assembly has established an additional oath for its members, so this concern may not in fact be prohibitive.

I believe that the member for Ottawa—Orléans has put forward a valuable issue for consideration in the House. Perhaps there are other, non-statutory ways of achieving the bill's aims, such as through the Standing Orders, that might mitigate the concerns associated with this legislative approach, and since, of course, a modernization committee has recently been established, perhaps this is an issue that the committee could consider in its deliberations.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

December 10th, 2002 / 6:20 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Canadian Alliance Lanark—Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, I am speaking today in response to Bill C-219, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (oath or solemn affirmation). I am generally supportive of the principle of this act.

Just to repeat, the bill would add to the current oath that we as members of Parliament swear. The current oath is very brief. It simply says, “I”--and then the person would give his or her name--“do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second...”.

The bill proposes to add the following words to that oath, “I”--again the person would give his or her name--“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”.

When I was sworn in, in November 2000, I proposed a secondary oath very similar to the one proposed here in addition to the one that is required by law. About 50 or 60 other members of Parliament did the same thing. This was a practice followed by some members of Parliament in 1997 and some others following the 1993 election. Therefore, the tradition of swearing an oath that is not strictly legally binding but which we regard as being morally binding upon ourselves of swearing an oath to the people of this country and to the country itself, in addition to our oath to the Queen, has been developing and growing.

The bill proposed by the hon. member does retain the existing oath. As an enthusiastic supporter of the monarchy, I am very grateful to the hon. member for having kept that in. I think it is important, not merely because of my own support for the monarchy but because there is a value in maintaining and keeping our traditions. This includes the traditional forms of our government and the traditional forms of our oath. I do not think that one necessarily has to be a monarchist to swear the oath. As I will explain a bit later on, I believe that the Queen and the monarchy is and has been understood to be a symbol and a representation of the Constitution itself.

It is important, however, as we go through a debate like this, that one ought not to put too much weight in an oath itself as a separate institution from the two relevant factors that govern us in our actions as members of Parliament: first, the act of being elected legally; and, second, the act of performing our duties in conformity with the norms of our society, the norms of this place and of course the law of the land. A failure to take the oath or a failure to take the oath in a manner that is genuinely enthusiastic and wholehearted does not, it seems to me, mean that one should not be permitted to sit in the House of Commons.

When the Parti Quebecois was first elected in Quebec in 1976, many members of the new government found it very difficult to take the oath that was then in effect for members of the Quebec provincial legislature. The saying was that they took the oath with their fingers crossed behind their backs. The oath of office was subsequently changed to read, “I”--and the person would give his or her name--“do solemnly affirm that I will be loyal to the people of Quebec and that I will perform the duties of a member honestly and justly in conformity with the Constitution of Quebec”.

While that sounds different, it is really very similar in practice to the oath that exists in Canada at the federal level because, as I say, the Queen was understood in 1867 to be the representative, the keystone, of our Constitution. This simply was an attempt to modernize the wording. While I regret the fact that the monarch was taken out of the Quebec oath, I think the substance is the same.

Similarly, I think what the hon. member is attempting to do in his proposed bill is to expand the current oath by reaffirming in more modern language the sentiment that was at the heart of the 1867 oath. Therefore, the two parts of the oath, the one that has existed since 1867 and the one being proposed by the hon. member, it seems to me, are actually parts of the same package and reaffirmations of 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 do 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.

Taking an oath and then not following through on it is a very serious offence. In the most serious cases, and these are of course extraordinarily rare, it amounts to a betrayal of the Constitution that one has taken an oath to maintain. This has happened in a number of countries. It has happened, for example, to many American senators, congressmen and representatives who were elected in the 1850s and the 1860s. They subsequently violated their oath to represent the constitution of the United States. That act was terrible, indeed it was treasonous, but that did not prevent them from taking that oath initially.

The important thing is that we must always remember the substance of our oath of office, whatever those words may be, and that we follow through on those words as we perform our duties as members of Parliament.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

December 10th, 2002 / 6:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Eugène Bellemare Liberal Ottawa—Orléans, ON

moved that Bill C-219, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (oath or solemn affirmation), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, this bill aims to modify the swearing of allegiance of members of Parliament.

When elected to the House of Commons members must swear allegiance to the Queen. This is done in front of the Clerk. The present oath reads as follows, “I [name of MP] do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law”.

What I propose today is that newly elected members be asked to add to the swearing of allegiance to the Queen the following affirmation:

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 personally made this declaration after the 1993, the 1997 and 2000 general elections. I would also encourage my colleagues from various parties to do the same. To my pride and joy, a great number of newly elected members followed suit and I wish to congratulate and thank them.

After my private member's bill was drawn last month, I sat in front of the House of Commons private members' business committee to request that my bill be deemed votable. I had followed all five rules required to make a private member's bill votable, namely: that it be drafted in clear, complete and effective terms; that it be constitutional and concern areas of federal jurisdiction; that it not concern issues that are not part of the government's current legislative agenda; and finally, that it transcend purely local interests and not be couched in partisan terms.

My bill addressed all of these criteria. Unfortunately, and to my great surprise and disappointment, the committee decided otherwise and made my bill non-votable. Why, I ask? This is unbelievable.

Canadians often ask me why it is that we seem to be the only country in the world where legislators do not swear allegiance to their own country. Perhaps those members among us who were against such a notion should explain to their constituents their rationale. I for one feel an obligation to my constituents and to all Canadians. It is also for me a principle of patriotism as well as accountability.

It is indeed a matter of patriotism and pride, but also a matter of accountability. We live in a country which, ever since its early days, has distinguished itself by an impressive series of achievements, both internationally and nationally.

I do not think it is necessary to point out the merits of Canada, but I do hope that its contributions make you feel the same sense of pride that I feel. The Canadian public itself certainly seems to feel that pride.

When asked to identify their ethnic origin, more than eight million citizens indicated Canadian, that is more than any other possible nationality, according to the 1996 census data published by Statistics Canada. This is something that is rather new in Canada. Until then, citizens were more likely to refer to their English or French, Irish or Italian origins, to give just a few examples.

This brings me to another important aspect. Without loosing sight of our history and traditions, to swear allegiance to Canada and its Constitution is consistent with today's reality and desire, especially since the new oath would be in addition to the oath of allegiance to the Queen.

This private member's bill in no way negates or removes our allegiance to the Queen. Our parliamentary monarchy is part of our Canadian Constitution, our Canadian history and our Canadian heritage. We in the House also know that the Constitution cannot be amended by Parliament alone without the consent of the provinces and territories.

My proposed oath of solemn affirmation to Canada would be but an amendment to the Parliament of Canada Act, not the Constitution, and is therefore in proper order. It comes as an addition to swearing allegiance to the Queen. This is not an attempt to diminish the Queen. She still represents Canadian traditions. However the monarchy no longer embodies the whole picture.

The Canada of today is very much a multicultural society, depicting citizens from all over the world. Amid this impressive mosaic, “Canada” is the one word that applies to everyone in the country regardless of their region or background. This is, in large measure, because Canadians feel an overriding sense of pride and a sense of belonging in their country.

Recently, while he was being sworn in, a new senator added the word “Canada”. This gave rise to a short debate in the other place, where it was decided that it might be desirable for everyone in Parliament to swear allegiance to Canada. This is interesting coming from the Senate.

I think it is desirable to go ahead, to take the lead and not wait for the Senate to do so. We can only benefit from an initiative showing our pride in and gratitude to a country that has given us so much happiness and good fortune.

The affirmation that I am proposing, which would be added to the swearing of allegiance, is not just a series of words. It is the recognition of democracy and responsibility. This is about what our actual form of government is all about. It is a representative democracy. We owe our allegiance and accountability to the people who elected us and who we represent. This is in accordance with democratic principles around the world.

More often than not, democratically elected officials in countries around the world swear allegiance to their country and to the people of their country. Some will state that we are part of the Commonwealth. I would inform members that Jamaica and India are but two examples of Commonwealth countries that changed their oath to include the country. Many others are debating similar measures, such as Australia for example.

We have to recognize that we are elected by the people to represent their interests and their concerns. We answer to the people and we are responsible to the people who elected us. Let us make it official and further enhance the trust that Canadians have in their parliamentarians. We owe it to all Canadians. Vive le Canada.

Parliament of Canada ActRoutine Proceedings

October 7th, 2002 / 3:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Eugène Bellemare Liberal Ottawa—Orléans, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-219, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (oath or solemn affirmation).

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to introduce a bill to make an addition to the oath of allegiance for federal members of parliament who wish to sit in the House.

If my private member's bill is adopted, newly elected members would henceforth have to swear allegiance to our country and not exclusively to the Queen.

It is strange that Canada is possibly one of the only countries where elected officials do not swear allegiance to their country. It was out of pride and patriotism that I included this voluntarily when elected the last three times.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)