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?