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O Canada: two differing opinions from Stephen Harper's alma mater

Canadians celebrate by singing the Canadian national anthem at the Eternal Flame in Ottawa February 28, 2010.


Tom Flanagan is baffled. The former chief of staff and mentor to Stephen Harper can't figure out why the Prime Minister wants to make O Canada gender neutral.

He also thinks it's a "bad idea."

"I have no idea where this is coming from," says Mr. Flanagan, a political science professor at the University of Calgary. "I never heard it discussed in my time with the party."

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Mr. Flanagan says that to change to "True patriot love/Thou dost in us command" is difficult to pronounce.

""O Canada" is already hard enough to sing. "True patriot love/in all of us command" is pronounceable but less vivid than the present wording," he says.

The government announced yesterday in its Speech from the Throne that it wanted Parliament to consider changes to the national anthem to make it gender sensitive.

Mr. Flanagan says opening up this up is opening up a whole host of other issues.

"Most of all, it's a bad idea to start rewriting national anthems and other national symbols every generation in response to passing trends in public opinion," he says.

"Once you start, the atheists will want to get God out, and the pacifists will object to standing on guard, and aboriginal activists will want to know who owns this native land."

That's his view. But Dr. Lisbeth Donaldson, a professor emeritus at the University of Calgary, is thrilled.

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Dr. Donaldson taught the Women and Education graduate course for years at the University. For her, language is so important in how society is viewed.

So important, in fact, that she sent Prime Minister Harper an email after the Canadian women won the Olympic gold medal hockey game last week about the gender bias in the anthem. This was days before the suggestion to change was made in the Throne Speech.

It was a prescient email.

"It hurts to see women such as Hayley W. (Wickenheiser) sing the national anthem using "all our sons command" during the Gold medal Olympic ceremonies," said Dr. Donaldson.

"Given that women comprised 43 per cent of the total Canadian contingent and received about 80 per cent of the total medals …isn't it time to change the Canadian national anthem to be more inclusive?"

She says many Canadian women have been quietly singing "All of us command" for many years now.

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"Including us in the anthem is long overdue. Women soldiers have died in Afghanistan; women athletes are world best; women professional and business leaders are on top of their respective games. And - so is the country."

She says that words "represent our collective imaginations -- how our society is imaged or conceptualized."

"I do not think that girls and women will achieve greatness until they are more gender sensitive with respect to the biases of the English language. We will always be imitative males unless we think about how our language excludes us from public life and we are not as empowered as men until we quit pretending to be male in our professional and public lives," she says.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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