Madam Speaker, the member who just spoke was very eloquent on his position. I am glad to be joining this debate. However, when joining a debate at this late an hour, everything that is smart and interesting has already been said, so I will try to add a viewpoint to the debate that I do not think has been shared too often.
I actually conducted a poll in my riding asking my constituents how I should vote. I will provide some of that information to the House and some background as to how I will be voting on this matter.
Other members have mentioned that this is not the first time this has been proposed. There have been 10 attempts since the 1980s to change the second line of the English version of the anthem for both personal and technical reasons. In the previous Parliament, Bill C-624 was debated and considered on this matter. Therefore, successive Parliaments have spent ample time on this over the past few decades debating whether there should be a change to the national anthem.
In 2010, the previous Conservative government proposed this change in its throne speech, no less. When the member for York—Simcoe spoke earlier in the debate, he alluded to the fact that even Weir's grandson had weighed in at that time and opposed a change to the national anthem.
I want to clear up one misconception that I heard earlier today. It has been raised in the public and in the House as well that somehow the Conservative caucus blocked this bill earlier in the month. I do not believe that is true. It was simply following the usual legislative practice, which is rather than adopting a special expedited process, we should have a fulsome debate on this subject. This would allow me an opportunity to rise in the House to speak to this on behalf of my constituents.
I know this will shock many members, but I was initially going to support this bill. I thought changing and adopting the words “in all of us command” would have returned the wording closer to the 1908 version by Mr. Justice Robert Stanley Weir. I thought that would be the correct thing to do.
As an originalist, I would consider that a reasonable legislative amendment to our national anthem. When I approach all manners of legislation, I look at our Constitution. I am an originalist and I like to stay within the bounds of what our founders intended for us to do both in the Constitution and with the symbols that represent Canada.
Since the bill was first tabled and debated, I have heard loud and clear from my constituents in Calgary Shepard, through a poll I conducted both on my website and promoted online via my Facebook page. They are 87% opposed to this change. Accordingly, I will be voting against this bill, unless more of my constituents vote in this online poll and sway me the other way.
I received hundreds of comments. In emails and phone calls, people explained to me the reasons they thought their local member should vote against this bill. I am attuned to the fact that this is not just a vote that I have to exercise based on what I believe is best, using what I know, and the facts that are laid before me. However, I also represent my constituents and they have been very clear with me that they are opposed to this change.
I am also mindful that a poll was conducted called “Sing 'all of us'” by Mainstreet. It is a 2016 national poll conducted by Mainstreet Research in May. It is true that it found that 62% of Canadians supported this change of wording from “all thy sons command” to “in all of us command”, its original English wording. It was indicated that it was quite possible that a great deal of the 38% that were greatly opposed to this happened to be in my constituency.
I note that in the news release Mainstreet issued, it promoted the notion that Canadians supported a gender-neutral national anthem. However, if we actually look at the questions it put forward in its poll, the script very handily put into the report, it made no such argument and did not put forward questions asking whether there should be a gender-neutral national anthem. Instead, they asked the following two questions, which I will read.
The first question was, “The original English Anthem uses the word US, the current version uses Thy SONS. Which version do you believe is most appropriate?” I actually used a question very similar to this to ask my constituents which version we should use. I took the 1908 version and the current version, put them side by side, and put in big bold text the changes that were going to be made.
The second question that Mainstreet used was, “There is a Private Members Bill in the House of Commons to restore the meaning of the original English Anthem. Do you agree or disagree that we should restore the original meaning and use the words 'in all of us command' instead of the words 'in all thy sons command' in the English O Canada?” Again, I do not see a single mention of gender neutrality being proposed. Those are questions about restoration and returning something to its original meaning in 1908, closer to the true original meaning of the anthem at the time.
Those are questions that ask Canadians whether changing a national symbol back to a previous version would be a good idea, not whether there is sufficient gender neutrality or parity in the language.
As well, the promotional material used by Mainstreet in that poll does not match the questions asked by the firm. It has been used by proponents of this change. This poll has been used oftentimes. Canadians do support it massively, but what Canadians support is retaining our national symbols the way they are and keeping to our traditions as much as possible.
I also disagree with the argument made by many in the House, and outside, that the proposed change is to ensure the gender neutrality of the wording. I am not opposed to that in a general way, only in this particular case. That argument implies that the English language is incapable of allusions, allegory, imagery, metaphors, or irony, that somehow the English language is very static. We know that not to be a fact. Many members use allegory, metaphors, and irony in their speeches in the House, using words that 200 years ago had a completely different meaning.
Andrew Coyne made this same argument in a National Post comment that appeared May 9, 2016 online, and wrote that if “all thy sons” ever meant “just the guys”, it does not do so now. I very much agree with him. It requires an extraordinary effort of obtuseness to claim that it does. I am using his words here. I am just quoting what he said.
After all, many of the same proponents of this view of the static meaning of words are also enthusiastic proponents of a legal theory called the “living tree” when approaching the law and a constitution. It is that a constitution that serves the basis of all laws in a country can be reinterpreted, endlessly at times, with new meaning, including new words being found in it, sentences being read into it and read into the law.
I am conscious that in Canada we accept that the English language does change. All languages are not static. They change with the times, and words take on new meaning. In the case of the anthem, I believe it is all-inclusive, and if it meant a very specific thing 100 years ago, it does not mean that necessarily today.
Before 0 Canada was officially adopted in 1980 as the official anthem, we used God Save the Queen. Will we be changing that as well? It still remains our royal anthem in Canada.
We have many national symbols, including coats of arms, mottoes, a national flag, official colours, the maple tree, the beaver, the national horse, our national sports, and the tartan. How many of these should we start to change, as well, to achieve some type of goal? Should we restore them to their original status of maybe 1967? How far do we need to go back to ensure gender neutrality? When is it appropriate to change these symbols of Canada? Is there a rush to change them? Does it not need fulsome debate?
We have had 25 or 30 years of different individuals considering the matter and proposing changes to our different symbols. Our provinces and territories also have their own symbols, which residents of them cherish to various degrees. I am from Alberta, and back home we unofficially sing a tune called Alberta Bound by Paul Brandt as our anthem. I will provide a few lyrics from that song because it is so good:
I'm Alberta bound
This piece of heaven that I've found
Rocky Mountains and black fertile ground
Everything I need beneath that big blue sky
Doesn't matter where I go
This place will always be my home
Yeah I've been Alberta bound all my life
And I'll be Alberta bound until I die.
Despite not being born in Alberta, those few lines speak to that deep, hard to explain, but easy to feel, sense of home and belonging that Alberta is to Albertans. It is an unofficial anthem. There is no act saying that it is an official symbol of Alberta, but those few simple lines give literary life to the feeling that every Albertan feels, wherever he or she is from originally, that we are truly only home when we are back in Alberta. I hope Paul Brandt keeps every single word exactly the way it is.
Words do have meaning, and they do have a lot of power, and the original meaning especially has a lot of power.
My constituents, though, are really tied to the current version of the national anthem. I deeply respect the motivation of the mover of this motion, the member for Ottawa—Vanier. He has offered us yet another opportunity to have vigorous debate on this topic. I salute his stamina and strength as he battles his illness. It is courageous to see a man like that who has such grace and power. It gives heart to people like me with kids with a chronic condition. They can do it too. They can outlast it as well. However, at the end of the day, I must listen to my constituents, who are vastly opposed to the bill. Canadians, in 2010, so strongly opposed the amendments to the national anthem, and I must vote against the bill.