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Will we be singing a new song?

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/3/2010 (3886 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA -- All those renditions of O Canada during the Vancouver Olympics seem to have the Prime Minister's Office singing a new tune.

Maybe it was all those women athletes on the podium that did it.

Whatever the cause, the Conservative government is not standing on guard for O Canada and has proposed re-examining the anthem's reference to "all thy sons command."

One of the surprises in Wednesday's speech from the throne was a promise to "examine the original gender-neutral English wording of the national anthem."

While a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper later insisted the government is not taking a firm position, Andrew MacDougall did confirm they are referring to an examination of the phrase "in all thy sons command."

"We are simply suggesting that a parliamentary committee examine the subject and report back to Parliament," he said.

MacDougall noted the original 1908 poem on which the lyrics were based refers to "True patriot love thou dost in us command."

Politicians have been proposing a rewording of the anthem's third line since at least 1990, but every proposal has been shot down as political correctness run amok.

"REAL Women requests the Liberal government in Ottawa to address the real problems Canadians face, especially economic ones, instead of dancing to the tune of a handful of chronically dissatisfied feminists," the right-wing organization said in a 2003 news release.

Industry Minister Tony Clement now says it is a debate whose time has come.

"The prime minister has heard from some Canadians on this and I think it's better to have a fulsome debate, rather than just shuffling it off," he said Wednesday.

"Maybe it was a bit subterranean... . (But) we got so used to singing O Canada at the Olympics, maybe it became more top of mind, I don't know."

Andrew Cohen, president of Historica Institute, said the history-promoting organization supports changing the lyrics.

"We think if you can modernize the anthem by returning to the past, it's a wonderful thing," he said. "But if you can modernize it simply by having to make a change that is inoffensive, we're for it."

The leaders of both the NDP and Liberals are endorsing the change, although with some qualifications about the government's motivation. "Anything that makes a national anthem more gender sensitive is a good thing," Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said.

"But I mean no disrespect for those who feel strongly on this issue, but for heaven's sake, we've got some very important challenges and every time the government is asked to do something real, it does something symbolic."

NDP MP Irene Mathyssen said she's been advocating the change for a long time.

"I find it interesting, though, that they're caught up in this concern about language and they're forgetting absolutely that equality is dependent on a whole number of other things that are missing from this throne speech," she said, noting there is no mention of affordable housing or child care in the Tory blueprint.

At Royal Canadian Legions in Winnipeg, opinion was mixed. Some said is was no big deal, while others needed more information.

"I guess it depends what the reason is for the change," said Larry Kisiloski, president of the West Kildonan Legion No. 30.

Even though O Canada didn't officially become Canada's anthem until 1980, he believes switching the text would not go over well with the old guard.

"These guys fought for the country. They won't like it."

-- The Canadian Press

A return to writer Robert Stanley Weir's 1908 original words means the opening lines would be:

O Canada! Our home and native land!

True patriot love thou dost in us command.

Those gender-neutral words were replaced when a different version of Weir's poem was chosen as the country's official anthem in the 1980 National Anthem Act:

O Canada! Our home and Native land!

True patriot love in all thy sons command.

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