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.