Tories Thwart Bid To Ensure Passage Of Mauril Belanger's Gender-Neutral Anthem Bill

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Conservatives blocked an attempt to ensure the passage of a bill tabled by a dying Liberal member of Parliament — even if he isn't well enough to ever again set foot in the House of Commons.

Hours later, Liberals responded with clever move on their colleague's behalf.

UPDATE: Belanger made it to the House of Commons Friday and his bill will move on.

C-210, a private member's bill from veteran politician Mauril Bélanger seeking to make the English version of Canada's national anthem gender-neutral, is due for third reading and debate Friday.

Bélanger suffers from the incurable amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and, according to The Hill Times, his condition has worsened enough that he may never return to the Commons.

The bill — which passed in second reading by a vote of 219 to 79 — will die if Bélanger is not present for the last debate.

mauril belanger
Ottawa-Vanier MP Mauril Belanger uses a tablet with text-to-speech program to defend his proposed changes to neutralize gender in the lyrics to "O Canada" in the House of Commons on May 6, 2016. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

After question period on Thursday, chief government whip Andrew Leslie sought unanimous consent to put the bill under his name and move it forward in Bélanger's stead, should it come to that.

That request was denied by Conservative MPs on the other side of the House. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May took to Twitter to call it a "shame."

Liberal MP Sonia Sidhu jumped online to say that denying consent was "just sad."

Leslie, however, seemed to suggest to reporters that he did not hold the decision against the Tories.

"They have certain members, the Conservatives in their party, who have strongly held beliefs and that is their right to do so," he said.

Leslie said Liberals would do all they could to help Bélanger get to the House in time, "subject to his medical safety."

"If the member is not there to move it, the bill dies," Leslie said.

But the whip added that if Belanger can't make it, there are other "techniques" he might try to move the third reading to next Wednesday.

"I won't go into details because there's not unanimous consent for that."

Late Thursday, the government gave notice of a motion to change C-210's title — a debate that Bélanger wouldn't need to attend and one that may give the government some needed time.

'It's about the bill itself'

Tory House Leader Andrew Scheer told reporters that members of his party "all love and support Mauril" as he battles his illness.

"But it's not about Mauril, it's about the bill itself," Scheer said. "The vast majority of our caucus (is) opposed to the bill. They've heard from their constituents. I think the vast majority of Canadians feel they haven't even been consulted or even informed that this change to their national anthem is even happening."

andrew scheer
Tory MP Andrew Scheer scrums with media in Ottawa on Wednesday, March 9, 2016. (Photo: Matthew Usherwood/CP)

Scheer said he told the Liberals long ago that his caucus would not help facilitate the passage of a "flawed" bill.

He said the government should first consult with Canadians before making changes to the anthem, and that all legislation should be judged on its merits.

Bill would change two words

The bill seeks to replace the lyrics "all thy sons" with "all of us." The debate over C-210 grew highly emotional after Tories blocked a bid to speed up its passage last month.

A few Tory MPs have suggested that revising the anthem could be a slippery slope which may result in other symbols being changed.

During debate on the bill last month, Tory MP Larry Maguire suggested, for example, that botanists might one day take issue with the shape of the maple leaf on the flag.

Bélanger and others have all pointed out that the original, gender-neutral wording of the anthem — "thou dost in us command" — was changed to "all thy sons" in 1913.

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With a file from The Canadian Press


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