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Speech on Senator Enverga's Amendment to Bill C-210 (Amending the National Anthem Act)

National Anthem Act

Bill to Amend—Third Reading—Motion in Amendment—Vote Deferred

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Lankin, P.C., seconded by the Honourable Senator Petitclerc, for the third reading of Bill C-210, An Act to amend the National Anthem Act (gender).

And on the motion in amendment of the Honourable Senator Enverga, seconded by the Honourable Senator Ngo:

That Bill C-210 be not now read a third time, but that it be amended in the schedule, on page 2, by replacing the words "all of us com-mand" with "all of our com-mand".

Hon. Donald Neil Plett: Honourable senators, I rise to speak to Senator Enverga's amendment to Bill C-210. I begin my comments by saying that I have a great deal of respect for Senator Enverga and that it is always difficult for me to oppose a motion brought forward by one of my caucus colleagues.

Colleagues, artistic and literary integrity must remain a priority in a free and democratic society. The words of Shakespeare, Hemingway and Twain would have no literal or historical significance had we attempted to alter their words in the name of modernization.

The preservation of literary works allows us to remember and reflect upon where we came from and provides context for our future. Had the words of these great authors been altered by individuals other than the respective authors, there would be no reason to teach them to our children today.

I view this debate on the anthem in the same way. Judge Robert Stanley Weir penned our anthem to stand as a symbol of Canadian pride that would outlast him for centuries and millennia to come. Without Judge Weir's tireless efforts, we would not have these words that we cherish today.

I have been opposed to this bill since its genesis. As I stated in my third reading speech, symbols of a nation's heritage are meant to be static. They are not meant to be altered or adjusted as we see fit. I stand by those remarks today.

However, now, in this chamber, we are not debating whether or not to pass Bill C-210; we are debating Senator Enverga's amendment to this bill, in which he proposes the lyrics "True patriot love, in all of our command."

I am opposed to this change for the same reason that I am opposed to this bill. As Senator Fraser has stated, "We are not poets." This amendment is superfluous and does nothing to enhance literary integrity in our society, as the words that would be amended to this bill would, once again, not be penned by the author, Judge Weir.

The primary argument that Senator Enverga gave for his amendment is that it would remove the syntactical errors of the present bill. However, colleagues, I would submit that this is not, in fact, the case. Although I am not a noted grammarian, it is obvious to me that, syntactically, the word "us" is more appropriate than the word "our." Therefore, this amendment would not achieve its desired intent.

I would like to take a moment to discuss comments made by my colleagues opposite Tuesday evening. Senator Pate and Senator Lankin both made disheartening remarks in regard to the "tactics" being used by our Conservative caucus for Bill C-210. Both Senators Pate and Lankin accused not only the Conservative caucus of attempting to summarily kill the bill, but specifically accused Senator Enverga of doing the same.

Although I do not support Senator Enverga's amendment, members of this chamber deserve to have their voices heard. When we solemnly believe that legislation needs to be improved, we act. That is what we are charged to do when we take our oath, and that is what we should do each and every day. When we are talking about words as significant as our national anthem, we must ensure that we have it right. So I appreciate Senator Enverga's efforts to rectify a perceived grammatical problem.

When I presented my amendment before this chamber, Senator Lankin contacted me and informed me that she did not see a problem with my amendment, as it kept the heritage language of our anthem intact. However, when we discovered that unanimous consent would be required in the House of Commons to obtain a new sponsor for the bill, she withdrew her support.

Senator Lankin understands that it was not my intention to kill the bill, as she has stated in this chamber. However, members opposite accused me of using these same "tactics" in my amendment that they are accusing Senator Enverga of this week.

Tuesday evening in this chamber, Senator Lankin read an email that she had received in support of her efforts to amend our national anthem. She claims to have received countless emails expressing similar support throughout the course of our deliberations on this bill, and I believe her. We have received countless emails to the contrary.

Senator Lankin has not shared with you one particular email that she received from Ms. Mona Matteo. Ms. Matteo forwarded to me her email to Senator Lankin, with the subject of the email being "Thank you so much, Senator Plett. We love you!" More than one person in the world loves me.

Throughout the letter, she addresses numerous points of contention that I believe most senators would find helpful in this debate. Ms. Matteo tells Senator Lankin the following:

Canada's 150-year-old history is not open to use as a legacy gift to private bill C-210 without input from all Canadians. Use your time on pay equality for women and sexual assault harassment in the workplace. That would be helpful. All women in Canada, including French-speaking Canadians, have a legacy to be proud of, and that legacy does not include ripping away "thy sons" from 'O Canada.'

Eloquent words, from a very concerned Canadian citizen, who the government is effectively ostracizing with the passage of this legislation.

And she is not alone. Throughout the course of our study on Bill C-210, my office has received numerous emails and phone calls from Canadians who share the same sentiments as Ms. Matteo. As I mentioned in my third reading speech, this anthem is the sole property of the Canadian people, a vast majority of whom are adamantly opposed to this change.

But why did the amendment I proposed not pass? Why did members opposite oppose the amendment without question?

The killing of this bill would not have been a foregone conclusion had my amendment passed — not even close. The Independent Senators Group did not even bother to consult with any parties in the other place with respect to their willingness to allow for a change of sponsorship in the house. They did not approach Liberal members of Parliament, NDP MPs, or even Conservative caucus members. Instead, they bombastically assumed that my amendment was not made in good faith and they denied it.

The amendment was set forth as a compromise. It was set forth in order to amend the anthem to indisputably more gender-inclusive wording, while preserving the literary integrity of the author. However, due to members' opposite lack of willingness to compromise, here we are. By not allowing the amendment to be thoroughly discussed and contemplated by all parliamentarians, both in this chamber and in the other place, my colleagues opposite unequivocally put their own legislation in jeopardy. Not allowing for flexibility in the wording, and speaking against even the idea of any amendment, is ridding this chamber and Canadians of the opportunity for an improved national anthem.

As a result, we have a piece of legislation before us that the author's family cannot support, most Canadians cannot support and I certainly cannot support — all based a hypothetical concern.

Colleagues, I would discourage you from discounting Senator Enverga's amendment as a tactic perpetrated by the Conservative caucus. All senators in this chamber have a right to improve legislation and do what they believe is right. Senator Lankin has that responsibility, Senator Enverga has that responsibility, and I have that responsibility.

And because I believe it is the right thing to do, I will regrettably vote against my honourable colleague's motion to amend. Not only do I implore other senators to do the same, but I ask that all senators do what they believe is right, and it is my contention that the right thing to do is defeat this bill.

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