Once again this business of swearing an oath to the monarch has popped up in Parliament. It’s one of those issues that never dies but never works up quite enough interest or emotion to generate change.
In order to participate in the business of the House of Commons, i.e. in order to do their jobs, every newly elected or appointed parliamentarian must, in accordance with Section 128 of the Constitution, take the following oath: “I A.B. do swear, That I will be faithful and bear true Allegiance to His Majesty King Charles III.”
New Brunswick Liberal MP René Arseneault is not amused. Arseneault has submitted Bill C-347 for consideration by the House. The Bill would only require MPs to swear an oath of office.
Arseneault has something of a record on the issue. He was the first lawyer in New Brunswick not to swear such an oath after challenging the requirement for the province’s lawyers to take it when joining the bar.
He is following the lead of fellow Acadian Pierre Vincent who won a years-long battle to have the oath dropped for federal bureaucrats. Vincent is a member of Citizens for a Canadian Republic, an organization committed to “replacing the British monarch as our head of state with a resident, democratically-selected Canadian!”
Arseneault is no radical. He has no interest in reopening the Constitution, nor does he think it is necessary in order to change the oath. Constitutional lawyers, he says, have assured him of this. The Quebec National Assembly has passed legislation to drop the oath requirement.
What Arseneault does want is an oath that isn’t uncomfortable for Canadians who have come from countries that were colonized under the British crown, the very monarchy they are now asked to swear allegiance to. His Acadian background is no doubt a major influence.
My immigrant forebears were British, nonetheless I sympathize with Arseneault. Swearing to the Crown is in effect serving at His Majesty’s pleasure, and as a democrat I find that objectionable. In fact it’s upside down. The head of state should be serving at the peoples’ pleasure.
According to the Parliament of Canada website, “When a Member swears or solemnly affirms allegiance to the King as Sovereign of Canada, he or she is also swearing or solemnly affirming allegiance to the institutions the Queen represents, including the concept of democracy.”
If that’s true, then why not say so. Let the parliamentarians swear an oath to faithfully serve their constituents and the Constitution, not some over-privileged English chappie.
If I were to be elected to the House, I would of course take the oath. It’s the only way to get through the door. But my fingers would be crossed behind my back. And I can’t help but wonder how often the oath is taken just that way, or at least in that spirit.
There is an advantage to a neutral head of state, someone above the muck of party politics, someone who represents all of us, but an unelected foreigner chosen by birthright rather than merit? Come on Canada, we can do better than that.