Last year, Liberal MP, Mauril Belanger proposed a bill that would change the lyrics to ‘O Canada’ to make them gender-neutral. At the time, he received a less-than-positive reaction from the opposition side of the government. The National Anthem act, brought forth in May 2016, would change the anthem’s iconic lyrics from ‘in all thy sons command’ to ‘in all of us command’–two two-letter words that would open the anthem to represent all of Canada instead of just 50 percent of it. As simple as that seems, it’s the government, so obviously we’ve been debating this for over a year.
Belanger had been battling ALS for a year at the time he proposed the bill and passed away last August, before he could pursue the bill any further. In his place, Senator Frances Lankin has taken it upon herself to make that lyric change. The bill has been stalled in the senate for the past year and though Lankin was hoping to have it passed for Canada Day this year, it’s pretty unlikely. While in general, Canada is generally inclusive, many people are not eager to permanently alter such a long-standing and traditional symbol of Canada. And so the debate rages.
‘Who we are today is a country that believes in gender equality and our anthem doesn’t reflect that,’ Sen. Lankin told Your Morning, ‘It’s a beautiful, historical piece of music and lyrics, but I want my three-year-old great-granddaughter to feel part of this when she sings this song.’ Those in favour of the change are coming from the point of view that as a changing and evolving nation, our symbols and representation must also change to reflect that.
The bill is being held up in the senate by those who oppose this change to a national symbol and those who don’t support the new wording. A group of conservative MPs have been making several sub-amendments to the bill which has kept it in the debate stage rather than letting it go to a vote. One of those amendments is to the proposed lyrics themselves. Sen. Tobias Enverga suggested ‘in all of our command’ which is grammatically correct, but changes the meaning of the line.
The big fear for supporters of this bill–and of the inclusive lyric change–is that it may get scrapped altogether over the summer. Parliament is on its summer break currently, meaning that everything is on hold until they return in September. During a hiatus like this, it is possible for the Prime Minister to prorogate parliament. That’s a made-up-sounding politics word that basically means wiping the parliamentary slate clean and any bills not passed before the break ‘die on the order paper.’ So the fate of the anthem depends on whether Trudeau decides on a prorogation.
Sen. Lankin assures that this isn’t the last Canadians will see of this lyric change. She says they’ll be right back with either this bill or a new one in September. She’s encouraged by Canadians she’s heard throughout the country opting for the gender-neutral lyrics before the bill is even passed. That wouldn’t be the first time the people were ahead of the government when it comes to progress. Keep on being Canada, Canada.