Mr. Speaker, I want to start by expressing my admiration for the determination and commitment of the hon. member for presenting his bill today and his commitment to the institution of Parliament, which has been demonstrated by the extraordinary efforts he made to be here to ensure that we would have the opportunity to debate this bill.
Reputedly, it was writer H.G. Wells who said, “No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft”, or, as I have heard it said otherwise, “There is no human need as strong as the need to edit someone else's copy”. Nowhere is that particular human drive more openly manifested than when it comes to national anthems.
Take Germany, for example. The Deutschlandlied or Germany song, actually had its beginning as a royal anthem to the Holy Roman Emperor. It then became the anthem for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with the words changing each time the emperor changed. Its first appearance as a German anthem was in 1890. At that time, the Prussian royal anthem was still more popular. Deutschlandlied became the official anthem in 1922, but in the Nazi era, it was shortened to just the first verse, with its opening Deutschland über alles, Germany over everything.
That ultra-nationalist version was, understandably and for obvious reasons, banned initially after World War II. When it was restored in 1952, it was only the more benign third verse, which speaks of unity, justice, and freedom, that was used. Throughout, the version of the anthem that someone had selected had been, actually, a politically charged statement and in many cases, it was taken to mean something entirely different than was the original intention.
A similar desire to change and revise can be found in the case of the Russian anthem, and again politics has driven change. From 1816 to 1833, the Prayer of Russians, using the British music to God Save the King, served as the anthem. Later, a new anthem began to take its place, God Save the Tsar. It kept only the first line of the previous anthem and used an entirely new melody, which most today recognize as the theme representing Russia in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Despite its use, idealizing the Napoleonic War of 1812 to 1814, it was actually only introduced in 1833, so not entirely historically accurate, but it did prevail as the national anthem until the February Revolution of 1917 when the tsar was removed from power.
Then, for a period of time, the provisional Russian government used The Workers' Marseillaise, a modified version of the French anthem. With the coming of the Bolshevik government, The Internationale became the anthem of the day, a new tune and entirely new lyrics, but even that was not enough.
In 1944, a new Soviet anthem was unveiled. It worked until 1953 when, with the death of the brutal dictator Stalin, its glowing references to him were no longer politically vogue, so for years the melody was played with no lyrics. In 1977, a new set of lyrics was introduced. Stalin was gone and so were references to the great war. Lenin, however, remained and the triumph and immortal ideals of communism now figured large.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Patriotic Song of Glinka was adopted as the new anthem for the now post-Soviet Russian state. The Glinka melody went without lyrics until 1999, when it finally gained words, which evoked the tsarist past, speaking of Mother Russia and the two-headed eagle. Its life and that of another competing set of lyrics was brief.
After Putin took power the next year, in 2000, he restored the old Soviet anthem's music, but, of course, once again, a lyrical rewrite was required; in fact, it was directed by Putin. Lenin and the Communist Party were not really in. A set of lyrics was settled by committee, but even it was changed before Putin set the new words in law, losing its references to tsarist era symbols. Not surprisingly, a decade later, a majority of Russians could still not recall the first line of the recently revised version of the national anthem.
In Canada, we actually also have a history of editing and changing national anthems. It is a recurring theme.
At this time I will take the opportunity to advise the House and make everyone aware that the Conservative Party has taken a position on this bill that it will be a free vote. Everyone will be able to vote their conscience, which I think is, as the hon. member has said in proposing this bill, the appropriate way to approach this matter.
In the case of the Canadian anthem changes, politics, too, has played a part. God Save the Queen was played for many years in pre- and post-Confederation Canada.
This reflected the fact of Canada as a British colony, and after Confederation, the fact that Queen Victoria was the head of state of our new country of Canada. Some, however, felt the need for a uniquely Canadian song as a Canadian anthem.
In the year of Confederation, 1867, Alexander Muir composed The Maple Leaf Forever. It was said to have been inspired by a silver maple tree in his neighbourhood in east end Toronto. In fact, beside you, Mr. Speaker, is a flag stand that has been carved from that very tree, which was felled by a storm in July 2013. However, there is some debate, I should confess, about whether the Orange lodge had the right tree when it erected the plaque there in 1958.
While, for many, The Maple Leaf Forever served as the national anthem, some criticized the anthem. They said that its words focusing on Wolfe's victory at Quebec and referencing the thistle, shamrock, and rose were too Anglocentric. Muir revised the words to include the lily, symbolizing Canada's French roots.
Although the song enjoyed popularity in the past, it has faded over time, despite many rewrites of the lyrics that sought to placate critics and salvage this undoubtedly historically significant song. Today, it is principally heard when the Toronto Maple Leafs skate onto the ice before home games. Sadly, they have experienced a similar decline in their fortunes.
Another parallel effort to give Canada a national anthem of its own was more successful. Originally commissioned by the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste to provide a patriotic Canadian song in French, it had a tune composed by Calixa Lavallée and lyrics by Adolphe-Basile Routhier. It was first performed on June 24, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, in 1880. It was O Canada, French lyrics only.
It really began to gain momentum when it was played for the visit of the future King George V, the Duke of Cornwall, in 1901. In the years that followed, competing efforts to write English lyrics took place, but a 1908 version by Montreal lawyer Robert Stanley Weir began to win hearts and minds. His version is close to the one members would recognize today, but even that would change in his own hands between the 1908 and the 1927 version, which is what I sang as a child.
Parliamentary efforts to make it official moved forward in steps from 1964, but only in 1980 would it officially become the national anthem, and through that time, more lyric changes took place. It is significant that one of the causes of delay was resistance by Weir's family to further changes to the lyrics. There have been no word changes since the 1980 law that made the anthem official.
A proposal to change the words was raised by the previous government, in which I served, in a throne speech in 2010. The public response was strong, and it was negative. Those of us who were part of the government experienced that reaction. Even though the proposal would restore an original Weir lyric, Canadians wanted no changes. Even Weir's grandson weighed in, opposing any change.
What Canadians were telling us is important, which is that symbols matter. Those things we use to create our national identity matter. They were saying that, in a world of rapid change, they want to hang on to things that matter to them. They want to continue to believe that the things that made Canada a great country remain great things. They were saying that, in a lifetime of singing the national anthem, they were doing so with pride for their country. They do not want everyone poring over the national symbols, which make us Canadian, and looking for reasons to change them. Canadians want to be able to hang on to their heritage.
It is a motivation and sentiment that I respect. It is a perspective that I believe we should value. In a world where change moves faster and faster, respecting the history of the symbols, the icons, and the stories that have made us who we are is actually a good idea. That is why I am listening to those who told our government in 2010 to leave their national anthem alone; it belongs to Canadians now.