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

Hon. Donald Neil Plett: Before I say a few words about this amendment, let me welcome our new colleague to this chamber. I have had the opportunity to read at least one of the senator’s books and am only a few pages away from finishing the second one. Indeed, if those two books are any indication, certainly Facing the Hunter is a marvellous book, and I have enjoyed reading it and look forward to reading more of what you have written.

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Senator Beyak’s amendment on Bill C-210, An Act to amend the National Anthem Act (gender).

Now, I have spoken to this legislation a few times. However, today I would again like to offer some insight into why I believe there has been some delay on this bill reaching a vote.

Honourable senators, we in this chamber are not so different from the parliamentarians in the other place. Members of Parliament and senators alike are chosen to represent the people of their riding, their province and chiefly the people of Canada. Our bicameral legislature was first enacted to ensure that every piece of legislation that would go on to receive Royal Assent would truly be the will of the Canadian people. For any bill initiated in either chamber, we parliamentarians have a sworn duty. We have the duty to debate and improve the legislation in a way that will serve our country best.

When and if that legislation is passed, it is sent to the chamber opposite for the same thoughtful consideration. In the case of Bill C-210, MP Mauril Bélanger introduced the bill in January of 2016. This bill received very limited debate and committee time in the other place and was very quickly passed along to this chamber.

Honourable senators, I would submit to you that it is for these reasons that we have a flawed initiative before us. While this bill is not flawed in the same legal or contextual sense as other pieces of legislation, it is flawed in that it is not the will of the Canadian people.

As Senator Wells pointed out when we last debated this legislation, real, hardworking Canadians are adamantly opposed to this change in our anthem; whether it be in the Maritimes of Nova Scotia or the Prairies of Manitoba, the Canadian people take very seriously the idea of tradition and take offence at those who wish to alter it.

Throughout the course of the house and Senate committee hearings on this legislation, none of the few witnesses that were heard can honestly say that their opinion represents the will of all or even most Canadians. The sponsors of this bill, both in this chamber and in the other place, have not conducted opinion polls or research studies, let alone a referendum, to state unreservedly that this bill is a change that would be welcomed by the citizens of Canada.

Canadians deserve to have their voices heard on all legislation, especially on a bill that would alter the song and poem that every Canadian holds dear. However, this discussion goes beyond merely altering the words of the national anthem. The result of this debate will have a lasting effect on Canada and will dramatically change the way we view our shared traditions.

Again, as Senator Wells previously stated, traditions like these are part of our shared foundation.

Honourable senators, this is not the first time such a change has been proposed within our Parliament. Bill C-264 in 1996, Bill S-39 and Bill S-3 in 2002, Bill C-626 in 2011 and C-624 in 2014 were all proposed and were all rejected. Why? Because it was not the will of the Canadian people. Yes, Senator Lankin, this is the sixth bill brought forward on this matter in the last decade, and the wishes of Canadians have remained unchanged. Many amendments have been submitted to this chamber for consideration, and all have been discounted by my colleagues opposite.

For example, my amendment was set forth in order to appease both sides. It would have adhered to the values of integrity and tradition that most, if not all, Canadians value. It would have achieved the original intent of the bill. Only a bill that satisfied these conditions would have been agreeable to myself and many of my colleagues that sit on this side of the chamber.

This bill has been delayed not because of a handful of senators, as Senator Lankin has stated, rather this bill has been and will likely continue to be delayed to ensure that the wishes of our citizens are heard and respected. If similar legislation is brought forward at a later date, after a proper and thorough consultation with Canadians has taken place, then that would be something for us to consider. However, I maintain that this anthem does not belong to any senator in this chamber. It belongs to the Canadian people, and it is not ours to change.

An Hon. Senator: Hear, hear!

Motion in Subamendment

Hon. Donald Neil Plett: Therefore, honourable senators, in amendment, I move:

That the motion in amendment moved by the Honourable Senator Beyak be amended by replacing the words “the later of July 1, 2017 and the day on which it receives royal assent” with the words “November 1, 2017”.

The Hon. the Speaker: On debate.

(On motion of Senator Woo, debate adjourned.)

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