S oon, likely this fall, our national anthem will finally acknowledge the existence of more than half our population. “O Canada” will lose “in all our sons command” in favour of “in all of us command.”
The federal Liberals, NDP, Green Party and several Conservatives endorse the change. Most Conservatives do not.
It shouldn’t be an issue. The change makes our anthem inclusive and it’s long overdue. It’s recognition that roughly 51 per cent of our population is female.
But that’s not good enough for the Official Opposition. They are using arguments about history, heritage and heraldry to delay passage. They conjured up a series of far-fetched, hypothetical situations during debate as justification to block the bill.
Its sponsor, longtime Ottawa MP Mauril Belanger, is dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Those Conservatives arguing against passage conveniently forget they proposed to modernize “O Canada” in 2010 but withdrew plans in the face of constituents’ opposition. If there is public opposition this time, it is extremely muted.
The Tories also forget that the words were changed to “in all our sons command” at the start of the First World War as a tribute to soldiers heading overseas. Or that the words and lyrics have been tweaked several times over the years. Or that “O Canada” was only officially adopted as the national anthem in 1980. So much for tradition and history. The Conservatives argue that changing a national symbol can spark emotional debate and that people are reluctant to give up traditions. Really? Belanger’s changes will actually bring the words closer to the original English text of “thou dost in us command.”
How many Canadians know there are three other stanzas - which are rarely sung - or have a clue as to what the words are? It’s perhaps just as well, because many of us have trouble with the first verse.
When “O Canada” is sung at public functions, especially at sporting events, the words should be displayed on the scoreboard or replay screen for the benefit of singer and fans. Nothing is more embarrassing than when the soloist stumbles and fans mumble the words.
Despite Conservative stonewalling, Bill C-210 passed second reading in the Commons this week in a free vote of 219-79. It almost certainly won’t pass both the Commons and Senate before Parliament adjourns for the summer.
The bill is significant for Canadian women. This year marks the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote. They can run for public office and die in combat. Next year is the 150th anniversary of Confederation.
It’s time to stop excluding women from their national anthem.
The bill will pass. “O Canada” will be gender neutral. Women will finally be able to sing the lyrics without cringing.