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Daniel Dickin is a columnist for The Prince Arthur Herald. He obtained his B.A. in law and political science from Carleton University in 2011 and is in his second year of M.A. studies at Athabasca University. @DanielDickin

Liberals have dragged national anthem into a debate of process

Why shouldn’t Canada’s national anthem be changed? 

It’s quite simple: “in all thy sons command” was written to honour the Canadian soldiers (yes, Canadian men) who died during World War One. It’s not sexist or exclusionary to recognize what should be a proud but somber moment of Canadian history – as Barbara Kay opined three years ago.

But if such a concise explanation can be offered in two sentences, this debate would have long been over, and the Liberal Party wouldn’t be using a dying MP to push its agenda.

Instead, the debate has become larger than Canada’s national anthem: it’s become about the Liberals’ abuse of parliamentary process. The Liberals have broken almost every rule in the book to shove these changes through Parliament without giving Canadians a say.

As Conservative MP Peter Van Loan pointed out during third reading debate on June 10, the Liberals have broken almost every rule as they ram this bill through the Commons. The bill was referred to the heritage committee and, on less than 48 hours’ notice, could call but one witness to testify about the bill – for about 40 minutes. That was enough, declared the Liberals, who shut down any other witnesses or any other dates to hear testimony.

And when normal things happened – like Conservatives using their rightfully-allocated time to actually debate the bill, or standing rules requiring that the bill’s sponsor be present to move their bill – criticisms ran wild, condemning the “blocking” of this “dying MP’s” private member’s bill.

Not once did the Liberal government consult with Canadians about whether they want to see their national anthem changed. Many reasonable questions can be asked of this bill:

·         Is it “time” to change Canada’s national anthem? Why? Why not?

·         Shouldn’t Canadians have a say in determining their national anthem? Whether that means the ability to appear before a parliamentary committee or a nation-wide referendum, shouldn’t Canadians get something?

·         With heavy Liberal government support, why are national anthem changes being pushed through a Private Members’ Bill and not a government bill?

·         If the national anthem is indeed “open” for modernization, what about references to God? Native land? What about the French version’s references to Christianity? Where does this insanity stop?

·         Since when does an MP’s health status influence the urgency of his or her pet projects becoming law?

Unfortunately, these questions cannot be asked or answered because the Liberals won’t allow them. Interestingly (for many reasons) it will likely take the Senate once again standing up to the government to put its foot on the brakes and say “hey, slow down.”

As Van Loan pointed out, he was initially in favour of making the lyrics “gender-neutral” and was prepared to support the Conservative 2010 Throne Speech that would have done just that. Remember, just six years ago the Conservative government was in favour of doing the same thing. The difference is that the Conservatives did it right: the non-partisan Governor General announced the intent and the government was prepared to hear from Canadians on the issue. And hear from Canadians they did: within 48 hours they heard from thousands of Canadians, and some estimates say 90% of that feedback was to keep the anthem as it was.

That should really drive home the point that such crooked tactics by the Liberals have tainted this bill and made it unsupportable.

What do Canadians think about it this round? According to this poll with almost 27,000 responses, 91% are in favour of keeping the anthem as it is. Could there be polls showing more or less support? Yes – but we won’t know if the government won’t allow testimony or hear evidence.

Canadians should be disgusted with the Liberal government for dragging Canada’s national anthem into this debate – on the back of a dying MP. If this bill passes and the national anthem is changed, its legacy will forever be that it was forced through Canada’s Parliament – against all rules – without hearing from Canadians. Is that what Mauril Belanger wants to be remembered for?

The Prince Arthur Herald