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Conservatives Denied Using Repetition To Delay A Bill. You Be The Judge

Was it a planned effort or just people thinking alike that delayed a vote on the "O Canada" bill?

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Conservative MPs adamantly insist they were not intentionally delaying a dying MP's bill to change the lyrics of the national anthem last week.

BuzzFeed Canada reported Friday that the Conservatives ran out the clock on Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger's bill to change the lyrics to "O Canada." The bill would replace the words "in all thy sons command" to the gender-neutral "in all of us command."

The delay does not affect the bill's chances of passing but it does make it less likely that Bélanger, who is battling ALS, will be healthy enough to carry it forward.

We reported that the Conservatives appeared to be using talking points to run out the clock.

But some Conservative MPs passionately rejected the idea that they used delay tactics to obfuscate a sick MP's final bill.

Jason Kenney insisted it was a normal debate. Michelle Rempel denied talking points were used and wrote a Facebook post saying that what happened Friday was just honest discussion.

"What irks me is what's really being said here is that opposition voices aren't relevant on this bill," she said on Twitter.

So we looked closer at the speeches and found that Conservative comments did contain a fair amount of repetition, as originally reported. We give some examples below but first, here's the background.

Bélanger tried to change the anthem under the last government, but Conservative MPs voted it down. With the Liberals now in power, it looks like this time it might pass.

Bill C-210 is his own bill, not government legislation, and only a limited amount of time is set aside for private members' business.

The first of two possible hours of debate started Friday. If debate concluded, MPs would vote on whether to move the bill forward to have a committee study it. If debate was still going at the end of an hour, a second hour and the vote would be scheduled this fall.

It appears that given Bélanger's health, the Liberals and NDP decided get things moving now. They put up only one speaker each during debate. (There would still be two more rounds of debate when the bill comes back from committee.)

Some Conservative MPs oppose changing the anthem, but rather than vote against it they prevented a vote by talking until time ran out. Five Conservative MPs used up about 45 minutes of the hour-long time slot. When the Liberals asked for unanimous consent to go into the second hour of debate, the Conservative MPs said no.

“It’s ridiculous. It’s unacceptable,” Liberal MP Greg Fergus told the Globe and Mail.

“There’s no guarantee he’s going to be here on September 19, and they know that.”

Conservative MPs insist that they were not using talking points or trying to run out the clock, but bringing forth the concerns of their constituents.

But some observers noted that Conservative MPs kept repeating things.


Huh. Harold Albrecht -- up now -- also brings up the beaver and the tartan. It's like there were talking points passed around.

We checked the Conservative speeches against debate from a year ago when Bélanger last tried to change the anthem. Several lines seemed to be reused.

For example, on February 23, 2015, Conservative MP Costas Menegakis said:

Our symbols are as diverse as Canada's history and include the coat of arms, our motto, the national flag of Canada, our official colours, the maple tree, the beaver, the national horse of Canada, our national sports, the tartan and, of course, our national anthem.

Last Friday, Conservative MP Karen Vecchio said nearly word-for-word the same thing:

We need to remember that Canada has more than one symbol, and they are as diverse as our history. They include the coat of arms, our motto, the national flag, our official colours, the maple tree, the beaver, the national horse, our national sports, the tartan and, of course, our national anthem.

Harold Albrecht and Harold Maguire also gave shorter versions of this passage, though Maguire got sidetracked on a joke about changing the tartan for people who don't look good in plaid.

Though talking points have become ubiquitous in Ottawa in recent years, sometimes MPs do just have the same things to say. It's hard to know whether, say, a reference to opening Pandora's box is a planned talking point or if multiple MPs just had the same thought.

Rick Dykstra, 2015:

Supporting the bill would also open the door to
further proposals to change the national anthem. It would open Pandora’s box and weaken the anthem as a symbol.

Larry Maguire, 2016:

Is it worth opening a Pandora’s box of changing
the symbols of our great nation in the name of political correctness?

Karen Vecchio, 2016:

Opening up the anthem would open up Pandora’s box.

The Conservative speeches do have their differences (in particular, the 2015 speeches tend to highlight what the then-government was doing for equality, which wouldn't make sense in the 2016 speeches.)

But if there was no coordination and they just happened to come up with the same debate points, it happened several times.

For example, a nine-sentence, five-point passage from Costas Menegakis in 2015 was echoed several times Friday.

On national symbols.

Costas Menegakis, 2015:

These pillars of national cohesion are key in building awareness and appreciation of shared experiences and pride. National symbols represent the country and its people.

Larry Maguire, 2016:

The symbols, events, achievements, and yes, even
the lyrics of our national anthem are what bind us together in Canada.

Karen Vecchio, 2016:

The lyrics to our national anthem are a great
source of pride for Canadians and a symbol for all Canadians.

Harold Albrecht, 2016:

I must remind members of this House to consider
the importance of the national anthem of Canada as a symbol of national identity, a source of national unity, and a reason for national pride.

Peter Van Loan, 2016:

What Canadians were telling is is important,
which is that symbols matter. Those things we use to create our national identity matter.

On the anthem not changing since it became official in 1980 (in response to the argument that the lyrics have changed before).

Costas Menegakis, 2015:

The lyrics of the national anthem have remained untouched since it was adopted as the official national anthem in 1980.

Harold Albrecht, 2016:

However, since the adoption of "O Canada" as the official national anthem in 1980, it has remained unchanged.

Peter Van Loan, 2016:

It must be mentioned that no changes have been made to the English version since its adoption.

On how previous attempts to change the anthem have failed.

Menegakis, 2015:

Although many bills have been tabled seeking to
modify the national anthem to make it gender neutral, none of the bills was successful.

Larry Maguire, 2016:

Remember that every time legislation has been
introduced to change the lyrics, the idea has been defeated in this House for over the last 100 years.

Kelly Block, 2016:

Since 1980, there have been 10 private member’s
bills introduced in Parliament to change the second line of the English version of the anthem, for both personal and technical reasons. I believe that all
these attempts have failed…

On the Conservatives once contemplating to change the anthem themselves.

Costas Menegakis, 2015:

In the 2010 speech from the Throne, our
government committed to looking at changing the lyrics for gender neutrality. However, following this speech, the public strongly expressed its opposition to
changing the anthem and the government opted not to modify it.

Larry Maguire, 2016:

We should also remember that the last government
attempted to start the process of changing the anthem, and after listening to Canadians who thought the idea was offside, dropped the process.

Peter Van Loan, 2016:

A proposal to change the words was raised by the
previous government, in which I served, in a throne speech in 2010. The public response was strong, and it was negative.

On a particular 2013 poll that managed to get the existing words to "O Canada" wrong by saying it was "in all her sons command" instead of "thy sons."

Costas Menegakis, 2015:

A 2013 study found that 65% of Canadians
opposed the change. Only 25% supported the change and 10% had no opinion on the issue.

Rick Dykstra, 2015:

A 2013 study found that 65% of Canadians oppose
the change, including 61% of women. Only 25% supported the change to gender neutrality.

Kelly Block, 2016:

A 2013 study by Forum Research found that 65% of
Canadians opposed the change; only 25% supported the change, and 10% had no
opinion at all on the issue.

Harold Albrecht, 2016:

A definitive study conducted by Forum Research
in 2013 indicated that voer 65% of Canadians, both men and women alike, believed the national anthem should not be changed.

There are other examples, but whether these are talking points or coincidences is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. There’s no way to definitively prove if this was a coordinated plan to draw out the clock, or if it was innocent discussion. Regardless, now there is a lot of bad blood between the Conservatives and Liberals on the anthem debate.

What happens now? Bélanger does have one option. If he can get another MP to swap private members time slots with him then his bill could be back in the House sooner than scheduled.

But if Bélanger becomes too ill to show up in the House of Commons, MPs will need to unanimously vote to allow it to continue on with another sponsor.

Paul McLeod is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Paul McLeod at

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