As King Charles prepares for his coronation at Westminster Abbey on Saturday, some senators and Liberal, NDP and Bloc Quebecois MPs want to abolish the federal requirement that parliamentarians pledge loyalty to the monarch. Instead, they say, office-holders should have the option of swearing an oath to Canada, or the Canadian people.
MPs and senators have to swear or affirm an oath to “be faithful and bear true allegiance” to the British monarch before taking their seats in Parliament after an election. They can’t sit if they refuse. The obligation dates back to the Constitution Act of 1867.
The oath is also taken by people with official positions across Canada, including judges, RCMP officers and members of the armed forces. New Canadians likewise pledge loyalty to the Crown at their citizenship ceremonies. The oath used to be sworn to Queen Elizabeth, until her death last year. It is now sworn to the new King.
Quebec Liberal MP Joel Lightbound said he has sworn an oath to the monarch three times since first being elected. “Having an alternative to swearing allegiance to the British Crown would have made me very happy,” he said.
“In my opinion federal elected officials should have the choice to swear or not swear allegiance to the Crown in future.”
Ontario NDP MP Charlie Angus said he was “personally astounded” when he first found out he had to swear allegiance to the British monarch as a requirement of taking his seat in Parliament. He said he imagined his late Scottish grandmother, an avowed republican, striking him with lightning for doing so.
He said it is “simply not credible” that the only obligation in the oath is to the Crown, not Canadians.
Reviewing the oath is a “very legitimate conversation” to have as the new King is crowned, he said.
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Ontario NDP MP Matthew Green agreed. “An oath to an overseas monarch in perpetuity is increasingly outdated,” he said.
He added that he and many other Canadians “would be more comfortable with an oath that reflects the allegiance to the Constitution and the people of Canada.”
“While tradition is an important part of our culture and identity, from time to time it’s healthy to review these traditions and determine whether or not they still reflect our current values,” he said.
Senator Tony Dean, a former head of the Ontario Public Service, also said an oath to the monarch “seems dated” today.
“Of course the oath could be refreshed or replaced,” he said. But he noted that, because the oath is entrenched in the Constitution, changing it could require a constitutional amendment.
Michael Wernick, a former head of the federal public service and a former a senior official in constitutional affairs, said revisiting the oath with 220 parliamentary sitting days left until the next election would be “a huge waste of energy.”
“There’s more important things to focus on,” he said.
But New Brunswick Liberal MP René Arseneault, who is of Acadian heritage, said creating an alternative to the oath for MPs and senators who don’t want to swear allegiance to the Crown is “doable.”
Mr. Arseneault successfully challenged a requirement to swear an oath to the Queen when he joined the bar in New Brunswick. He was the first lawyer in the province not to do so.
“In 2023, there must be a way to modify this,” he said. “For me the best solution is a choice.”
Bloc Quebecois MPs want Parliament to follow the lead of the Quebec National Assembly, which in December unanimously passed a law scrapping the oath requirement for its elected members. Three members of the Parti Quebecois had refused to swear the oath after the October provincial election, and had been barred from sitting as a result.
Bloc House Leader Alain Therrien said Canada is “becoming more and more anti-monarchist,” in part because Canadians don’t feel the same attachment to the King as they did to the Queen. He said there should be a debate about Canada’s ties to the monarchy, including the oath.
“We are against having to swear this oath,” he said. “The monarchy is an institution that is out of date.”
Quebec Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne also questioned the need for the oath. “The time has come to at least have a choice … to swear to the monarch or to Canada,” she said.
“I would prefer to swear to the people of Canada.”