MPs vote down Bloc motion to scrap daily reading of prayer from House procedure

MPs in the House of Commons have voted overwhelmingly against a Bloc motion calling for the elimination of the daily prayer — read out before the start of the parliamentary sitting — in favour of a moment of reflection.

Motion failed by a vote of 266 to 56

MPs stand for a moment of silence in commemoration of D-Day in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill on Thursday, June 6, 2019. MPs today voted down a Bloc motion to scrap the reading of the morning prayer from the House of Commons' daily proceedings. (The Canadian Press/Fred Chartrand)

MPs in the House of Commons have voted overwhelmingly against a Bloc motion calling for the elimination of the daily prayer — read out before the start of the parliamentary sitting — in favour of a moment of reflection.

The motion, which was introduced in the House and debated on Tuesday, failed by a vote of 266 to 56 Wednesday.

All Bloc MPs voted for the motion, as did both Green Party MPs and most of the NDP caucus. All Conservatives voted against the motion or abstained, as did all Liberals except for Nathaniel Erskine-Smith. 

The Speaker, MPs and table officers are required stand during the reading of the prayer, which is done before the doors to the chamber open to the public and the press and before the House cameras are turned on. 

While the prayer, followed by a moment of silence, is usually a closed-door affair, the prayer was televised on Oct. 23, 2014 — the day after the shooting at the National War Memorial and inside Parliament's Centre Block.

The prayer reads:

"Almighty God, we give thanks for the great blessings which have been bestowed on Canada and its citizens, including the gifts of freedom, opportunity and peace that we enjoy. We pray for our sovereign, Queen Elizabeth, and the Governor General. Guide us in our deliberations as members of Parliament, and strengthen us in our awareness of our duties and responsibilities as members. Grant us wisdom, knowledge, and understanding to preserve the blessings of this country for the benefit of all and to make good laws and wise decisions. Amen."

The motion's failure to pass the House was not surprising. During Tuesday's debate, MPs from the other major parties said they were opposed to the motion and argued there are more pressing issues facing MPs.

Liberal MP Mark Gerretsen said during debate that the Bloc had refused to explain why the prayer was more important than other issues gripping the country.

"I've never once has this topic been brought up with me, not a single constituent has ever called me and said, 'I want to talk to you, MP Gerretsen, about the prayer that's being said every morning when the House starts at the beginning of the day," he said.

Not an issue, MPs say

Gérard Deltell, the Conservative MP representing Louis-Saint-Laurent in Quebec, told the House that the job of MPs is to address critical issues facing Canadians.

"Maybe I'm wrong, but I think in my riding people are more concerned about inflation, about housing, about affordability. Those are issues that are very concerning to all Canadians," he said.

"I'm not quite sure that the prayer that we have to say here in the House of Commons off-camera is very important for our people that we represent."

While most NDP MPs voted in favour of removing the prayer, Charlie Angus, the MP for the Ontario riding of Timmins—James Bay, did not. During debate, he also questioned the reasons for raising the issue.

"I'd like to ask my honourable colleague ... how important it is at this time, that we are debating key issues that matter to people as opposed to the regulations in the House of Commons that nobody has ever paid attention to," he said.

The prayer has been part of the daily House proceedings since 1877 and was codified in standing orders in 1927.

In 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a municipal council in the Quebec town of Saguenay could not continue to open its meetings with a prayer. The unanimous decision said reciting a Catholic prayer at council meetings infringed on freedom of conscience and religion.

Following the decision, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson replaced the prayer at the beginning of city council meetings with a moment of reflection. Parliament is protected by parliamentary privilege and is able to set its own rules.