Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Ottawa—Vanier for bring forward this important bill. He made wonderful comments in support of the bill, and I agree with everything that he said.
I am proud of the fact that over the years several former members of the NDP, including Svend Robinson and Judy Wasylycia-Leis, and myself in the 40th Parliament, have had exactly the same bills. The bills tried to change the wording of our national anthem.
As I stand here today, I have to ask myself if it is 2015. As I was getting ready for this speech, I noted that a Conservative member would be speaking to the bill before me. I wondered what Conservative members would say in opposition to the bill. What could it be? This is totally a no-brainer. This is about gender equality. This is about a minor word change in our national anthem that would reflect our whole country.
I thought this would be a unanimous situation and that the bill would go through, which would have been great, but lo and behold, the parliamentary secretary stands up on his principle that no government could vote against the will of the people. Then I think back to that terrible omnibus bill on voter suppression; that bill was certainly against the will of the people.
The Conservatives say they cannot vote for this legislation because it would mean that the opinion of Canadians does not matter. That is just utter nonsense. This is about reflecting the present-day nature of our society.
I presume that the Conservative member is reflecting the general view of the government, although maybe not the view of individual members. What I find really disturbing is that the Conservatives seem to be resting their argument on upholding tradition, even though the original version from 1908 of our national anthem, as the member sponsoring the bill has pointed out, states “True patriot love thou dost in us command”. Even though the original version was gender-neutral, the Conservatives are stuck on the idea that when the wording was changed in 1980 to “True patriot love in all thy sons command”, those words suddenly became tradition, and they do not want to variate from that tradition.
What is tradition? Tradition is something that we value, and it is important, but tradition also evolves. Tradition evolves based on the diversity of society. Some traditions are really bad. If we rested on tradition and we use that as the principle of an argument as to why we would vote against the bill, we would not have seen same-sex marriage or racial intermarriage. God help us, we would not have seen women or aboriginal people voting. That would have been sticking with tradition at the time when those issues were debated.
This idea that somehow we cannot deal with this issue because it is about tradition and a legacy is absolute nonsense. I would hope that Conservative members, or at least every woman on the other side of the House, will support the bill before us today. It is offensive that the national anthem that we treasure, the national anthem that we sing on so many occasions, does not reflect who we are.
O Canada is sung many times in my community in East Vancouver at community events. It is sung many times on Canada Day. I already incorporate this change, as do many other people. We heard from the member for Ottawa—Vanier about some of the choirs that already do that, which is wonderful. This practice is already taking place. This idea that Canadians are not behind this idea does not reflect what is taking place in practice across the country.
We have noted that the change would not affect the French version and that this is a debate about the English version of our anthem, and I happen to think that the symbolism of the national anthem is important in this country. If we recognize the role and sacrifice of women in the Canadian Armed Forces and we recognize, support, and uphold the role and the value of women in our society generally as Canadians, then this kind of symbolic change is very important.
I want to appeal to the Conservative members to stick to the plan they had in 2010 when this issue was mentioned in the Speech from the Throne by the Prime Minister. I appeal to them not to suddenly retreat from what was a good position, a logical position, a position of respecting tradition while also respecting diversity. They are not mutually exclusive. I want to encourage members of the Conservative side to look at the bill and to think about history and who we are as a society, and to remember that we are approaching the 150th year of this country. This is a very timely and appropriate debate as we approach that very important anniversary.
I am very proud to say that members of the NDP get this. We understand that it is a very important symbolic but simple initiative, and it needs to be undertaken by this House. What are we here for? We are here to display leadership.
If we listen to what our Conservative members are saying, at least the parliamentary secretary, every time there is a poll and somebody says, “I am not sure about that. Do not do that. It is about tradition”, we would just do nothing, is that it? We would just all pack it up and go home and do everything by poll, which I really have to wonder about, being from B.C., where polls have become pretty suspect when we look at elections, for example, and even here in Ontario.
This is not legislation by poll. This is not about being a member of Parliament by poll. This is about reflecting on what our country is about and reflecting that it is 2015 and not 1980, and that women are not only prominent in this country but also need to be more prominent. If the national anthem cannot reflect us as women, then heck, we really have not come very far.
Let us get rid of the illusions. Let us get rid of the smokescreen of these polls and the idea that the Conservatives do not wish to go against the will of the people. We can all think of examples of the Conservatives throwing in the face of the Canadian people anything that they believed in to motivate their own political agenda.
I want to end on a positive note and say thanks to the member for Ottawa—Vanier for bringing this matter forward again. The fact that it has come forward on a number of occasions means that it is an enduring issue. It means that it is something that needs to be dealt with, and it will keep coming forward until the folks on the other side, or those who are nay-sayers, understand that we need to be in a modern-day society and that this change in our national anthem is long overdue.
I really hope, because it is a private member's bill, that individual members from all sides of the House will think about the bill, think about who they are, think about women in this country, and think about what this national anthem actually says. On that basis, they will come to what I think is the only conclusion that one can come to, which is that we should be supporting this change. We should be going out and celebrating that change. We should be talking to our constituents and the people who are worried about tradition. We have so many arguments to show how tradition itself evolves and can represent the diversity of Canada.
I thank the member for the bill. I look forward to hearing from other Conservative members and I hope very much that they will accept a modern-day bill and not be stuck in a sexist and discriminatory frame of mind. I hope that they will support the bill.