Politics

Mauril Bélanger's bid to revise O Canada to get 2nd hour of debate May 30

Mauril Bélanger's bill to change the lyrics of Canada's national anthem has a second chance at speedy passage this spring. Caucus colleague Linda Lapointe has given up her May 30 debate slot so his bill can have its required second hour of debate and come to a vote in the Commons.

Caucus colleague Linda Lapointe swaps her time for gender-neutral anthem bill

Ottawa-Vanier MP Mauril Belanger used a text-to-speech program on his tablet to kick off second reading debate on his private member's bill to make O Canada gender-neutral. A move by a fellow Liberal MP has now given his bill a serious chance of passing before the summer. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Mauril Bélanger's bill to change the lyrics of Canada's national anthem has been given a second chance at speedy passage this spring.

Liberal caucus colleague Linda Lapointe has given up her May 30 debate slot so his bill can have its required second hour of debate and potentially come to a vote at second reading in the Commons.

Bélanger's private member's bill, C-210, would change a line in the English version of O Canada from "in all thy sons command" to "in all of us command," making the anthem gender-neutral.

The Ottawa MP, diagnosed with ALS last fall and now able to speak only with the assistance of an electronic device, arrived by ambulance last Friday and sat in a wheelchair to make his case for the legislation. He was hospitalized this spring as he continues to fight the debilitating effects of the disease.

While his proposal is broadly supported by Liberals and New Democrats, Conservative MPs will have a free vote on the bill, and several Tories said during last week's debate that they oppose changing the lyric.

At the end of the scheduled hour Friday, an attempt by Liberal MP Greg Fergus to extend the debate was denied unanimous consent, meaning the bill's required second hour of debate would normally have had to wait until its next scheduled slot in the fall.

"He risks not being here. Everyone knows that," Fergus told CBC at the time.

Hull-Aylmer MP Greg Fergus asks why some Conservatives stall Belanger's bill when he has a terminal disease 0:38

'Right move'

Commons rules do, however, allow MPs to swap spots.

A lottery conducted in each Parliament to set the order of precedence for private members' business manages the high volume of private member's bills and motions by scheduling one MP per sitting day of the Commons. Within that order, it's possible for MPs to agree to switch turns.

Lapointe's bill was scheduled to come up for an hour of debate on May 30.  But after seeing what happened on Friday, she decided to offer her spot to Bélanger to speed passage of his legislation this spring.

Her spokesman told CBC News Wednesday that the two MPs work together on the official languages committee, and she believed that because of his condition, this was the right move.

Her bill on credit card fees will take his previously-scheduled slot on Sept. 19.

Bélanger's bill now has a chance of coming to a vote as early as June 1. If passed at second reading, it will be referred to the Commons heritage committee for review in early June.

Since some MPs appear to oppose the bill, Bélanger's ability to see his legislation pass before the House breaks for summer recess will depend on a number of factors, including whether MPs attempt to amend the legislation.

Bélanger is required to be present at least one more time, to move concurrence of the bill at report stage — assuming it proceeds that far. He may also need the help of another colleague to get a slot for that to happen before the summer.

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