Canadians could be singing a slightly different version of the national anthem this Canada Day as the House of Commons prepares to support a dying MP's efforts to make the lyrics gender neutral.
Mauril Bélanger, the Liberal who has represented the riding of Ottawa-Vanier for 21 years and who has been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), was pushed into the Commons in a wheelchair on Friday to ensure that his private-member's bill to change the words to O Canada moves forward.
Mr. Bélanger is trying for a second time to change the English version of the anthem from "true patriot love in all thy sons command" to "true patriot love in all of us command" – a proposal that is almost certain to be approved when it is put to a final vote of the Commons next Wednesday.
Liberal politicians wiped away tears and MPs of all stripes rose to their feet on multiple occasions to applaud Mr. Bélanger's legacy as a politician, even though many Conservatives do not support his bill.
The once outspoken MP, who was diagnosed with the fatal disease last fall shortly after winning re-election, can no longer speak or physically acknowledge those around him. He sat slumped in his chair, his mouth slack and his head not moving, as Conservatives argued against the changes to the anthem while a New Democrat and a Liberal defended them.
Earlier in the week, the Conservatives refused to allow another Liberal MP to be substituted for Mr. Bélanger when the bill was introduced back to the House on third reading – a concession that required unanimous consent of all parties. That meant he had to be in the Commons to see that take place, despite his failing condition.
But the Tories gave up the fight after a little more than a half hour of debate on Friday. With the final vote in the Commons now imminent, it will be up to the Senate to decide whether it will be passed into law by July 1.
The Conservatives say the public has not had adequate opportunity to debate the bill because the Liberals have rushed its passage. It was before a parliamentary committee for just one meeting before being approved by the Liberal majority and sent back to the House for the final stages.
"If a change in the anthem is what Canadians want, that will be demonstrated by them clearly through a robust public discussion. However, no such debate has taken place here," Peter Van Loan, an Ontario Conservative MP, told the House.
Mr. Van Loan pointed out that the former Conservative government floated similar changes in 2010 but backed away because the negative response was "overwhelming."
Brad Trost, a Conservative from Saskatoon, said he opposed changing the anthem because to do so would be tantamount to admitting that it had been discriminatory for 100 years.
But Jenny Kwan, a New Democrat from Vancouver, thanked Mr. Bélanger for his perseverance and said the proposed changes mean the anthem will reflect all Canadians "whether it is a man, or woman, or however one self-defines their gender." Ms. Kwan also reminded the House that the anthem was gender-neutral when it was composed in 1908 but was changed several times in subsequent years, with one of those new versions incorporating the word "sons."
Randy Boissonnault, the Liberal MP who is the parliamentary secretary to the Heritage Minister, said the debate is about bringing the anthem into the 21st century. "It is 2016. This is about gender neutrality. This is about the future. What else could be more Canadian?" asked Mr. Boissonnault.
Mr. Bélanger appeared in the Commons on May 6 when he sat in a wheelchair and used an iPad to explain why he believes the changes to the anthem are necessary. But his condition has deteriorated significantly since that time. It is unclear whether he will return next week to see the bill get final approval by MPs, but his presence is not necessary for it to move forward.