A Liberal MP is preparing a bill to scrap the requirement for parliamentarians to pledge loyalty to King Charles III, giving them the choice to swear an oath to Canada instead.
Parliamentarians have to swear to “be faithful and bear true allegiance” to the British monarch, who is also Canada’s head of state. They can’t sit if they refuse. The obligation is written in the Constitution Act of 1867.
New Brunswick MP René Arseneault wants parliamentarians to have the option to swear loyalty to Canada and its peoples instead, while allowing those who want to take an oath to the King to be able to continue to do so.
Early in his legal career, Mr. Arseneault successfully challenged the obligation of New Brunswick lawyers to swear an oath to the monarch when joining the bar there. He was the first lawyer in the province not to have to swear the royal oath, setting a historic precedent.
He told The Globe and Mail he expects widespread support for his private member’s bill, which he wants to introduce before Parliament’s summer recess.
The bill would give MPs and senators the option to swear or solemnly declare to exercise their duties in the best interests of Canada, its institutions and the people of Canada.
He said the bill was not a challenge to the role of the monarchy in Canada but about “giving MPs and senators an option not to swear allegiance to the King if they don’t want to.”
“This reform is long overdue and really about modernization,” he said. “I think all Liberal MPs would support it, as well as Bloc and NDP MPs. I think they would be in favour of choice.”
The MP has consulted constitutional lawyers who say the change is possible without amending the Constitution, which would require the House of Commons, Senate and all the provinces to approve the change.
A clause in the 1982 Constitution Act says Parliament may exclusively make laws amending the Constitution relating to the Senate and House of Commons.
Parliamentarians’ obligations on the oath have been adjusted before. In 1905, a change allowing MPs and senators to make a solemn affirmation instead of an oath to the monarch was introduced.
In December, the Quebec National Assembly unanimously passed a law scrapping the oath requirement for its elected members.
Bloc Québécois House Leader Alain Therrien said his party wants Ottawa to follow the assembly’s lead. He thinks Canada is becoming more anti-monarchist in part because Canadians don’t feel the same attachment to the King as they did to the Queen.
Senator Tony Dean, former head of the Ontario public service, said “having an option on the oath would be a positive step” which he believes would ”be welcomed by many” and not opposed.
Private member’s bills struggle to become law without the government’s blessing to speed them through the various parliamentary stages. Sometimes the government supports them or adds their objectives to a government bill.
Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne is among the parliamentarians in favour of a choice to swear to the monarch or to Canada, as is Quebec Liberal Joël Lightbound, and NDP MP Matthew Green.
NDP MP Charlie Angus told The Globe and Mail he imagined his late Scottish grandmother, an avowed republican, striking him with lightning bolt when he first took the oath to the Queen.
Mr. Angus thinks MPs should have an option to swear allegiance to Canadians, and said a review is a “very legitimate conversation” to have after a new monarch is crowned.
Other MPs and senators say they have no problem swearing an oath to King Charles.
Senator Paula Simons said the oath was sworn to the monarch as a figurehead representing Canada. “You are not swearing an oath to Charles the person, you are swearing an oath to the Crown,” she said.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said she does not mind swearing allegiance to King Charles, whom she has met several times. She said there are “a million more important things” such as global warming, fires and social injustice for Parliament to deal with, than oath reform.