In the Canadian Parliament

Threats Against Quebec Party Leader Reveal Impotence of Establishment Forces

On October 25, a lengthy session took place in the House of Commons as Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet introduced a motion on the ties between the Canadian state and the British monarchy. The majority of Members of Parliament (MPs), Liberals and Conservatives especially, were incapable of producing any arguments of substance on the topic at hand. Their inability to engage in serious discussion by contributing arguments of substance reveals a lack of respect for the views of those who do not agree with them. It also, one might say, reveals an intolerant and anti-Quebec prejudice towards those who uphold positions of principle important to the constituents they represent.

The refusal to debate the issue of the ties between the Canadian state and the monarchy, and between Canadians, Quebeckers and Indigenous Peoples and the monarchy does not in any way strengthen the Canadian democracy they so loudly claim to be defending.

The meeting culminated with threats issued against the leader of the Bloc Québécois on the grounds that he did not sincerely pledge allegiance to the sovereign when he took his seat in the House of Commons and therefore, he should lose his seat. It was a boorish deliberate misinterpretation of the remarks of the leader of the Bloc who was explaining that the oath of allegiance to the King of England is a violation of the conscience of MPs. Some demanded that, since his oath of allegiance to the monarch upon taking his seat in the House was, in his own words, not sincere, he should be thrown out of office. The most hysterical assault on the leader of the Bloc was made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House Kevin Lamoureux.

Congratulations to Niki Ashton for intervening in the debate politically and explaining the merits of the Bloc position. The vote on the Bloc motion took place the next day and it was voted down. About all one can say about the low-level calibre of the majority of MPs was that, the more it goes, the more the need for the democratic renewal of the political process and modernization of the constitutional foundation of Canada is revealed.

The threats issued by the Parliamentary Secretary amount to boorishness, diversion and obfuscation of the issues under debate, which require sound arguments from all quarters, not pot shots. Should the Commons decide to remove the Bloc MP for speaking his mind, it will deepen the constitutional crisis faster than fast can be. As it is, attempts to criminalize opinion in the House of Commons not only brand the likes of the Parliamentary Secretary as unworthy opponents but as cowardly as well.

For Your Information

The Bloc Québécois motion reads as follows:

"That, given that, (i) Canada is a democratic state, (ii) this House believes in the principle of the equality of all, the House express its desire to sever ties between the Canadian state and the British monarchy, and call on the government to take the actions necessary to do so."

In support of the motion, the leader of the Bloc essentially said that Parliament is a democratic institution, which can be seen from the fact that it is the citizens of Quebec and Canada who, through their elected representatives, riding by riding, make the decisions. The people choose the elected officials. They did not elect King Charles III. Yet voters are told that although it is the very pinnacle of power in the structure of Canada's Constitution, the monarchy is not important, it is not a priority, and that the House could be doing other things.

Blanchet pointed out that the issue is all the more important if Canada's leader is a conquering foreign king, which means that Canada cannot be seen in the world as a modern state.

The monarchy is not a symbol, he continued. It costs Canadians $70 million a year that could go to seniors, social housing, etc.

The proof that the subject is important is that to resolve the issue, the Constitution must be reopened. The fear of reopening it, he said, is that no one is comfortable with its content, with the fact, for example, that the British Crown is protected on the backs of Indigenous Peoples whose rights are denied.

It is all the more important for Quebec, he added, because the King of England is the king of the conquering empire. It is important because Quebeckers are still a conquered people, who must swear an oath to the King of England, an oath that comes from the time of the British Empire, which was racist and slave-owning.

Thousands of people in each riding who vote for a member of parliament and therefore for the head of state are more important than a king who knows nothing about the people, he said. Canadians and Quebeckers have a right to know whether the oath is to the British Crown or to the Canadian people.

Blanchet argued that Bloc Québécois MPs cannot be sincere when they swear an oath to the British monarch because it is a coerced oath, and they are obligated to do it if they want to oppose the abandonment of the environment by the Canadian government whose ultimate allegiance it would seem is to the lobbies, if they want to oppose the lack of respect of this government for Quebec, for French, for equality and secularism, etc.

Ensuing Debate

In the ensuing debate, the Liberals took the lead by saying first of all that reopening the Constitution is not a priority, that Canadians have other priorities in mind -- seniors, the health care system, jobs, etc., as if the Canadian government is defending the rights of the people on all these issues. Others went on to say that Canadian democracy is alive and well, as a constitutional monarchy, and the proof is that it was the Queen of England who signed the 1982 Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which are the pillars of Canadian democracy.

They denied even the fact that this 1982 Constitution was never signed by Quebec, that the old constitutional order imposes a power on the people that is above them, a power that operates on the basis of police powers to criminalize the struggles of the people. They claimed that constitutional monarchy would in fact be a source of political stability for Canada

The Conservatives followed by essentially repeating throughout the debate that Quebeckers are concerned about more important issues such as the cost of gas, food, heating, immigration at Roxham Road, etc.

The NDP continued on a diversionary path, but with a different angle. Its first debater said that he supports the part of the motion that says "Canada is a democratic state" and that we believe "in the principle of equality for all." He then launched into the diversion that it is the electoral system that should be attacked, not the British monarchy, pointing to the disproportion between the number of votes obtained and the number of seats in the House.

However, Niki Ashton, the NDP member for Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, offered a different view. She said she would support the Bloc's motion because it is necessary to move to a new stage and strengthen democracy by ending the Canadian state's ties to the British monarchy.

She added that Canada needs to look at its own institutions and processes. That the need, for example, for true reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples shows that the path of decolonization must be pursued and that this must include ending Canada's ties to the British monarchy, which is a symbol of colonialism for Indigenous Peoples and many people who have come from all over the world to make a life for themselves in Canada.

The debate went off on another tangent when the Liberals began to question the right of the leader of the Bloc Québécois to take his seat in the House because he said he was not sincere when he took his oath to the British monarch. The most hysterical was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Kevin Lamoureux. He said:

"I rise on a very serious matter. The Member for Beloeil--Chambly today made a very disturbing statement when he clearly stated that his oath of allegiance to the Crown was not sincere. If it was not sincere, it is as if he never took it. As such I believe the Speaker should look into the appropriateness of the member continuing to sit in this place. We all know the Constitution states that each member must take an oath or make a solemn affirmation and that breaking this would be a very serious offence."[1]

The Speaker of the House said he would study the matter and bring it back to the House with a ruling.

On October 27, 2022, the Speaker gave his ruling, which in fact did nothing to substantially address any of the points raised by MPs in the House or to advance discussion on the matter, but in fact sidestepped the matter in favour of maintaining the status quo. He stated that by swearing the oath of allegiance MPs are "swearing an oath to the constitutional principles of our country. A member's role includes important duties and responsibilities, and the oath reminds us of them."

He went on to reiterate his remarks from October 25 when he "quoted the third edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, and I referred to a similar situation that arose in 1990. The Chair would like to reiterate the conclusions of the decision Speaker Fraser made on this subject on November 1, 1990. I will now quote from page 14970 of the Debates:

"'Your Speaker is not empowered to make a judgment on the circumstances or the sincerity with which a duly elected member takes the oath of allegiance. The significance of the oath to each member is a matter of conscience and so it must remain.'

"All members of this House are honourable members and the Chair expects that they act accordingly, in words and in deed.

"In the same ruling cited from November 1, 1990, Speaker Fraser reminded the House, at the same page of Debates, that 'only the House can examine the conduct of its Members and only the House can take action if it decides action is required.'

"It is therefore the House itself that has authority over its members. It is for the House, not the Chair, to pass judgment on their conduct. That said, some matters should be approached with a great deal of caution. We may have here a convincing example of such an issue, on both sides."

This article was published in
Volume 53 Number 6 - June 2023

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