Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill C-223 put forward by the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. His bill calls for amending the oath of Canadian citizenship.
The current oath reads as follows: "I swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, her heirs and successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen". Bill C-223 would replace that oath with the following: "I swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Canada and the Constitution of Canada and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen".
The bill replaces the oath of allegiance to the monarchy with an oath of allegiance to Canada and the Canadian Constitution. Although this bill only changes a handful of words, it is actually a very significant change in the very essence of what it means to be a Canadian.
I will review what it means to be a Canadian citizen. As every Canadian schoolchild knows, Canada became a country on July 1, 1867. Many Canadians may be surprised to learn that while Canada has existed for over 129 years, Canadians have existed for less than 50 years. That is right. There was no such thing in law as a Canadian citizen until January 1, 1947. We were considered to be British subjects residing in Canada. When travelling abroad we had to use British passports. The first Canadian citizenship act did not exist until 1946 when It was presented in the House. It received royal assent in July 1946 and came into effect January 1, 1947. Given this history it is not surprising that many Canadians are at a loss to explain what it means to be a Canadian citizen.
I recall speaking to an immigrant from Pakistan who was proud to recently become a Canadian citizen. However, he commented that when he took the oath of allegiance it was an oath very similar to the one in the country he had left and had very little to do with his commitment to his new country.
I believe that most Canadians would accept the idea of amending the oath of Canadian citizenship to include an oath of allegiance to Canada. The controversy is should that oath be allegiance to Canada in addition to the oath of allegiance to Her Majesty or should the oath of allegiance to Canada replace the oath of allegiance to Her Majesty?
The hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce has chosen the second option. He has replaced reference to Her Majesty with an oath of allegiance to Canada and the Canadian Constitution. However, he does state that it is understood that Her Majesty is an integral part of the Constitution of Canada. I wonder if most Canadians would accept that. Do most Canadian accept that Her Majesty is an integral part of the Constitution of Canada? I think not.
The member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce was a member of the House in the early 1980s when the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution was drafted and as a member for Quebec is is painfully aware that the Government of Quebec never consented to the repatriation of the Constitution, as the members of the Bloc Quebecois point out on a regular basis in the House.
Would an oath to the Constitution of Canada mean any more to the average Canadian than the current oath to Her Majesty? After all, there are 47 different constitutional acts and documents that relate to Canada. Of these 47 acts and documents, 30 are mentioned in the schedule of the Constitution Act, 1982. I doubt that very few of us in the House know which 30 constitutional acts and docu-
ments appear in the schedule of the Constitution, never mind the average Canadian.
To the average Canadian the Constitution of Canada and the subsequent Meech Lake accord of 1987 and the Charlottetown accord of 1992 were all deals made by a few men in back rooms. As the 1992 referendum on the Charlottetown accord demonstrated, when the people have a say on constitutional change, it is not necessarily the same one that the politicians have.
In my riding the vote against the Charlottetown accord was 71 per cent. That was not to say that people were happy with the current Constitution, but rather that they were unhappy with the entire process of constitutional amendments.
The Constitution of Canada does not belong only to members of this Parliament and the provincial legislatures. It should belong to all the people of Canada. If that were to happen, if we could develop a Constitution adopted by the majority of Canadian citizens, then the oath of Canadian citizenship as proposed by the hon. member from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce would have true meaning.
For us in the House to change the oath of Canadian citizenship without consulting with Canadian citizens would be wrong. And I do not just mean having a few hand picked advocacy groups appearing before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. I mean letting all Canadians have a say. In true Reform Party tradition I did that earlier this year.
In a householder survey that was sent out in May, I asked the following two questions: (1) should the oath of Canadian citizenship be amended to introduce an allegiance to Canada in addition to allegiance to the Queen? or; (2) should the oath of Canadian citizenship be amended to introduce an allegiance to Canada replacing the allegiance to the Queen?
I asked my constituents that if they agreed that the oath of Canadian citizenship should be amended, which one of these two options would be preferable? Almost 95.5 per cent of the 3,209 constituents who responded to my survey said the oath should be changed. Of that total, 40.6 per cent said there should be an allegiance to Canada in addition to the allegiance to Her Majesty. But 54.8 per cent of respondents agreed that an allegiance to Canada should replace the allegiance to Her Majesty.
I do not know if the majority of my constituents would agree with the wording of Bill C-223. However, it is clear that the majority of my constituents agree with the sentiment of the bill.
Canadians have a lot to be proud of about our country and our past, but the fact that Canada existed as a country for almost 80 years before Canadians existed as a people is not something to be proud of.
Canada has reached the stage of maturity as a nation that we must now have a new oath of allegiance to our own country. However, whatever that allegiance is, it should not be left only to the 295 members of the House and those patronage appointees of the other place to decide. We need to let all Canadians participate in determining what Canadian citizenship really means. We have to trust the common sense of the common people.
I congratulate the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce for putting this important bill before us. It is a shame that it was not made a votable item. It reflects poorly upon this House that it was not. Sooner or later, and I hope it is sooner, there should be and will be an oath of Canadian citizenship in which people actually pledge their allegiance to this great country of ours.