Another day. Another dollar. Another Liberal politician attacking the British monarchy.
OK, I admit the last sentence was included for shock value! A fair number of Liberal politicians have either been monarchists or defended the monarchy since this nation was founded. That being said, one member of the Liberal government has proposed something that’s a direct attack on our British lineage – and should be defeated by all parliamentarians who respect our history and traditions.
Every new Canadian politician, elected and appointed, swears an oath of office before taking his or her seat in Parliament. This is specifically covered in Section 128 of the Constitution, which reads as follows: “Every Member of the Senate or House of Commons of Canada shall before taking his Seat therein take and subscribe before the Governor General or some Person authorized by him, and every Member of a Legislative Council or Legislative Assembly of any Province shall before taking his Seat therein take and subscribe before the Lieutenant Governor of the Province or some Person authorized by him, the Oath of Allegiance contained in the Fifth Schedule to this Act; and every Member of the Senate of Canada and every Member of the Legislative Council of Quebec shall also, before taking his Seat therein, take and subscribe before the Governor General, or some Person authorized by him, the Declaration of Qualification contained in the same Schedule.”
René Arseneault, a backbench New Brunswick Liberal MP, tabled a private members’ bill last year that would end this time-honoured tradition. Bill C-347, or An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (oath of office), would amend Section 128 and afford members of the House of Commons and Senate to “choose to take and subscribe the oath of allegiance, an oath of office or both.” His bill passed first reading in the House of Commons on June 21, 2023. It was placed on the order of precedence on Sept. 20, 2023, and is inching closer to an inevitable second reading.
“Canadian monarchists say the bill is republicanism by stealth,” CBC News’s John Paul Tasker wrote on Jan. 3. It’s viewed as “part of a larger effort to slowly chip away at the Crown’s standing in Canada without actually scrapping the monarchy through a protracted constitutional fight with the provinces.”
John Fraser, president of Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada, specifically described it as a “stupid idea.” In his view, “doing away with the oath – it’s all based on emotionalism. I don’t think we should marginalize something that is an integral part of our system of government.” Fraser also told Tasker, “We live in a constitutional Crown system and trying to break it up piecemeal is not a good way to run a country.”
Conversely, Pierre Vincent, a former federal bureaucrat of Acadian descent who refused to take a similar oath in the public service and won his case in 2001, is onside with Arseneault’s bill. The parliamentary oath, he told the CBC, is “colonial, medieval stuff that does not coincide with our modern views of diversity and inclusion.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for his part, may see the issue a bit differently.
After the March 2021 bombshell interview between U.S. talk show host Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, a reporter asked the PM whether Canada should reconsider its ties to the monarchy. His response? “If people want to later talk about constitutional change and shifting our system of government, that’s fine. They can have those conversations. But right now, I’m not having those conversations.”
Trudeau also praised King Charles III last May as being “deeply aligned with some of the really fundamental priorities of Canadians.” The PM suggested that His Majesty is “someone who has been deeply committed to protecting and preserving nature, as someone who has shown a remarkable opennesss, understanding of the challenges of the colonial history that the Crown has been wrapped up in.” He also highlighted the King’s work “in reaching out to Indigenous leaders over the past number of years.”
Let’s be frank. Trudeau believes King Charles III’s values match his own values. Would the PM feel the same way if the UK’s head of state thought differently about Indigenous communities and the environment? Maybe yes, and maybe no.
Putting this aside, there’s no indication that Trudeau’s opposition to scrapping the monarchy has changed. It’s highly unlikely he’ll support Bill C-347. Many Liberal MPs and cabinet ministers will likely follow suit and join with Conservatives to vote down the private members’ bill on or before the third reading.
That’s a good thing.
There are certain historical traditions that should always be protected by our political institutions. The oath of office is one of them. Our country is of British lineage. We use the Westminster model in Parliament. Swearing allegiance to the reigning British monarch keeps a small amount of our roots and history intact. The oath doesn’t even affect our nation’s sovereignty, which is protected by the Constitution Act, 1982.
Meanwhile, how does swearing an oath of office before taking your parliamentary seat affect your personal and political beliefs? It doesn’t. Choice is always a good thing in a democratic society, but a ceremonial pledge isn’t a life-or-death experience that will take away your personal liberties and freedoms. I’m not a monarchist – although I believe in protecting and maintaining the historical traditions of the institution – and I wouldn’t have the slightest concern about swearing an oath to King Charles III. I strongly doubt most newly elected and appointed Canadian MPs would feel much differently.
The day’s end is almost nigh. The dollar has nearly been earned. The Liberal politician’s attack on the British monarchy will hopefully fade away in short order.
Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.