Bill to make O Canada gender-neutral moves to next stage
Published Friday, June 10, 2016 2:01PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, June 10, 2016 3:22PM EDT
MPs will vote next Wednesday on a bill to change the words to O Canada.
They spent about half an hour Friday wrapping up debate on the bill after a terminally ill Liberal MP arrived in the House to keep the legislation moving.
Mauril Bélanger, who was diagnosed with ALS last fall, had to move third reading via a written note to the House of Commons Speaker. The last time he was in the House, he used an iPad voice generator to speak.
The Conservatives could have slowed down proceedings today, by asking for a standing vote before the motion, but they allowed it to be done by a simply yay or nay voice vote instead.
The Conservatives argue there hasn't been enough consultation on the move to change two words in O Canada. Bélanger would like to see the lyrics say "in all of us command" rather than "in all thy sons' command," which were the original lyrics until a change in 1913.
If the bill passes third reading vote next week, it will then move to the Senate.
Bélanger has long discussed the change, which would only affect the English version since the French lyrics are already gender-neutral. The Liberals and NDP support the bill, as does Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, giving the legislation enough support to pass easily.
The Liberals asked Thursday for unanimous consent to transfer the bill from Bélanger to party whip Andrew Leslie so that Bélanger wouldn't have to be in the House to move third reading. Under House rules, the sponsor of the bill has to be physically present to propose the next stage of debate. The Conservatives denied unanimous consent.
ALS is usually terminal within two to five years.
The change in Bélanger's appearance is surprising. He’s lost a great deal of weight since last fall and his mobility is clearly reduced. A month ago, Bélanger used a walker to enter the House as honourary Speaker for the day. On Friday, he was confined to a wheelchair, his head tilted back on the headrest, with a staffer and a family friend seated next to him. His wife watched from a gallery above the Commons. Bélanger appeared to have trouble closing his mouth and moving his hands. His facial expression didn't change as his colleagues gave him a standing ovation.
Conservative MP Candice Bergen said the Conservatives weren't delaying the bill.
"I’m thinking about the bill and our job that we have to do here as far as representing our constituents," she said outside the House before Bélanger arrived. "All of us obviously feel a lot of affection for Mauril and feel very, very sorry for what he’s going through, what his family is going through... For me, it’s about the bill and being able to debate it fully."
New Democrat MP David Christopherson said he's a close friend of Bélanger's, and called on the Conservatives not to delay the bill further.
"I don’t know why my Conservative colleagues are being like this. It’s not about politics now. This is about humanity. It’s about decency. It’s about respect. So yeah, this one’s a little more emotional and personal than usual."