Death of Queen Elizabeth II an opportunity to some to revisit Canada’s monarchist ties
OTTAWA – A New Brunswick MP says he’s preparing a bill to scrap the requirement for parliamentarians to pledge allegiance to King Charles III, and instead give politicians the choice to swear an oath to Canada.
René Arseneault, a Liberal representing Madawaska-Restigouche, has successfully lobbied for that change elsewhere.
Before entering politics, he became the first lawyer in New Brunswick not to swear the oath after challenging the obligation for the province’s lawyers when joining the bar.
“I want to make it optional for MPs and senators,” Arseneault said in an interview with Brunswick News. “I think it’s something that will be generally accepted.”
Members of Parliament and senators, among others, serve at His Majesty’s pleasure and must first take the Canadian Oath of Allegiance. It includes a pledge to “be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty King Charles the Third, King of Canada, his heirs and successors according to law.”
The obligation is part of the Constitution Act of 1867.
If MPs don’t take the oath, they’re not allowed to sit or vote in Parliament.
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Arseneault said he’s still working out the potential language of a new oath that he hopes to present in a private member’s bill next month, but that it would instead see members have the option to pledge to “exercise their role as an MP or senator in the best interest of our country and the people of Canada.”
Arseneault, an Acadian, said the country is made up of generations of immigrants who chose to live in Canada, often from countries that faced colonialism from Britain’s imperial past.
“Some of those came from Africa, for example,” he said. “You have Irish and Scottish people, Acadians, those whose homeland is India.
“Of course they would want to pledge allegiance to the country and the institution (and not the King).”
Arseneault said he’s heard of politicians crossing their fingers while giving the oath to symbolically negate what is being said.
“Keeping the oath optional will respect the feelings of everyone,” he said.
Asked about his thoughts on whether Canada should have a constitutional monarchy as a form of government, Arseneault said that it’s a “much larger question with too much trouble to change it.”
“It’s too much work to reopen the Constitution,” he said. “No politician, no prime minister, no federal political party wants to reopen that.
“And Canada’s history is Canada’s history. There are good things and bad things, but we’re a great country, one of the best in the world.”
However, he contends there are ways to “modernize it.”
That said, he realizes that even his proposal might be difficult to do.
There are good things and bad things, but we’re a great country, one of the best in the world.
Liberal MP René Arseneault
Arseneault said he has spoken with constitutional lawyers who say the change is possible without amending the Constitution, a complex process that would need the unanimous consent of all the provinces plus the two houses of Parliament.
He pointed to a clause in the 1982 Constitution Act that allows Parliament to make laws amending the Constitution that only impact the Senate and House of Commons.
The death of Queen Elizabeth II has presented an opportunity to some to revisit Canada’s monarchist ties.
In December, the Quebec National Assembly unanimously passed a law scrapping the oath requirement for its elected members.
A similar move hasn’t been pushed in New Brunswick or in any other province, although Arseneault suggested that may be because the Constitution doesn’t allow it.
Private member’s bills usually have long odds of making it into law.
The other difficulty facing Arseneault is how his bill would be introduced.
While the House of Commons spends most of its time on government matters, a limited amount of time each week is allocated to private members’ business, a chance for backbenchers of all political stripes to introduce their own legislation.
A private draw is held to rank every MP who is not a cabinet minister or parliamentary secretary — some 260 names in all — that decides an order.
Arseneault drew 89th.
It means his name could come up as early as next month.
Bills can be fast-tracked if they have wide-ranging support. Several other MPs, including Quebec Liberal MP Joel Lightbound and Ontario NDP MP Charlie Angus, both recently publicly questioned the oath after the Queen’s death.
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