Canada’s national anthem has too many problems that to discuss them all would take an article so long that no one would bother to read it. For one thing, there’s no bass. How the hell are we suppose to twerk if we can’t find the beat? More importantly, some people are upset that “O Canada” continues to use gendered language. That may be too broad; there is one gendered term in the song, and a few people want to replace it with a gender-neutral one. This week, a Liberal MP proposed that the federal government do just that. Unfortunately for him, the Conservative majority refused to make the change.
On Monday, Mauril Belanger, Liberal MP for Ottawa-Vanier and Denis Coderre look-alike, told the House that “O Canada” would better serve Canadians if the line “in all thy sons’ command” were replaced with “in all of us command.” His argument was simple: Canadians are not all male, so the use of male-specific language disenfranchises roughly half the population. Belanger said that the change to gender-neutral language would honour female contributions to Canadian history, and would make the modern anthem more closely resemble its original lyrics, “thou dost in us command.” Belanger’s speech was moving and his idea was interesting, but it was clearly not viable.
On his quest to rewrite the anthem, Belanger overlooked one detail. Forgetting Kim Campbell’s brief run as Prime Minister, Canada has had a male Prime Minister since Confederation. While the original lyrics of the song had to leave open the possibility that a woman might rule for some time (there had been several Queens of England), the modern anthem can ignore such a possibility. Men are entrenched at the top. If anything, the most viable change would be to include the word “white” before “sons’”, since every Prime Minister has also been white. If the gender-neutral crowd is still upset, perhaps we could simply replace “sons’” with “whites.’” It is gender-neutral and depressingly accurate.
Oddly enough, it seems this logic didn’t occur to the Conservative majority. Rather than simply tell it like it is, the Conservatives decided to do something they have never done before: they respected public opinion. Conservative MP Costas Menegakis said it wouldn’t make sense to change the anthem because public opinion polls show that “Canadians across our country, men and women alike, are against the change.” He continued, “supporting this bill would be telling them, loudly and clearly, that what the majority of Canadians want does not matter and that their opinions do not matter to the government.” No, that isn’t a paraphrase. Those were his exact words. For those of us with functional brains, it was too much to handle.
Changing the anthem must be the biggest wedge issue of them all because it forced this government to do what the people want. Forget wasting money on fancy planes, supporting pipeline construction, appointing crooks to the Senate, rewriting election laws to discourage people from voting, refusing to modernize marijuana laws, and the litany of other actions this government has taken in spite of public opinion. The issue of two words in the national anthem will bring the government back down to Earth. Unreal.
Does this mean change is on its way? Did Canadians wake up on Tuesday in a country run by a government that suddenly respects their opinions? You can answer that one yourself. If you’re confused, consider a few facts: a supermajority of Canadians supports parties other than the Conservative Party of Canada and a clear majority disapproves of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s performance. In light of this information, an internally consistent Conservative Party would turf Harper and call it quits.
Something tells me Harper won’t be booted out, and that’s why Monday’s showing was so appalling. There are several good reasons to change the anthem and several reasons why it might be better left as it is. Even if the government refuses to change its mind, Canadians would benefit from a thorough debate on the issue. The government’s decision to hide behind public opinion rather than debate the proposal on its merits stinks of cowardice—and most would agree that cowardice isn’t particularly Canadian.