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Conservatives block Liberal attempt to pass dying MP’s O Canada bill

Ottawa-Vanier MP Mauril Belanger, who lives with ALS (also known as Lou Gherig's disease) 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 Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, May 6, 2016.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Conservatives are refusing to allow a Liberal MP to shepherd though Parliament the bill of a dying colleague that would change the lyrics to O Canada to make them gender-neutral.

Andrew Leslie, the MP for Orléans in east Ottawa, asked the House of Commons for unanimous consent on Thursday to be allowed to substitute for Mauril Bélanger, the MP for Ottawa Vanier, and introduce the bill at its third stage on Friday, should Mr. Belanger himself not be well enough to attend.

Mr. Bélanger, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is trying for a second time to change the English version of the anthem from "true patriot love in all thy sons command" to "true patriot love in all of us command."

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The consent of all members of the House is required for one MP to hand off legislation to another and, if an MP is not present to move his or her own bill, it normally dies.

But many Conservatives oppose the changes being proposed by Mr. Bélanger and a number of them shouted "no" to Mr. Leslie's request, a response that was followed by calls of "shame, shame" from the Liberal benches.

Andrew Scheer, the Conservative House Leader, later told reporters that the members of his caucus "all love and support Mauril" and wish him well.

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

Mr. Bélanger, who has lost the use of his voice since his diagnosis in November, may be able to get to Parliament on Friday, Mr. Leslie told reporters. It will be up to the ailing MP, his wife and his doctors, he said.

Mr. Bélanger was in the Commons on May 6 when he sat in a wheelchair and used an iPad to explain electronically why he believes that the changes to the anthem are necessary. But his health has deteriorated since then.

If he is too ill to make an appearance on Friday, "there's a variety of other techniques" that the Liberals might use to move the reintroduction of the bill to next Wednesday, Mr. Leslie said.

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But, regardless of when and if Mr. Bélanger can get to the Commons, there is no guarantee that it will be put to a final vote before the House breaks for the summer recess. If it doesn't, the final vote would not take place before next fall, by which time Mr. Bélanger's health would be a very large question mark.

As for the changes to the anthem, Mr. Leslie said they would merely restore the song to an earlier version. The lyrics used to be "thou dost in us command." Around the beginning of the First World War, "it became 'all thy sons,' " the Liberal MP said. "Well, my daughter has fought in Afghanistan."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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