A motion from the Bloc Québécois is up for debate on Tuesday that seeks to replace the prayer read at the opening of each daily sitting of the House of Commons with “a moment of reflection.”
In the motion, Bloc MP Martin Champoux suggests that replacing the prayer with a moment of reflection would show respect for “the beliefs and non-beliefs of all parliamentarians and of the general public.”
He added it would affirm that the House of Commons “is committed to the principle of the separation of religion and the state, the diversity of views and freedom of conscience while upholding the secularism and religious neutrality of the state,” and make the chamber more inclusive.
“What we’re proposing today is to reflect on a practice that has outlived its time and is no longer as relevant as when it was first introduced,” said Champoux, speaking in French on Tuesday morning.
“No one has dared question the prayer, but I humbly believe this is the right thing to do.”
The daily prayer is read out before the House of Commons officially opens its doors to recordings and to visitors in the galleries overlooking the chamber.
It states the following:
Almighty God, we give thanks for the great blessings which have been bestowed on Canada and its citizens, including the gifts of freedom, opportunity and peace that we enjoy. We pray for our Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth, and the Governor General. Guide us in our deliberations as Members of Parliament, and strengthen us in our awareness of our duties and responsibilities as Members. Grant us wisdom, knowledge, and understanding to preserve the blessings of this country for the benefit of all and to make good laws and wise decisions. Amen.
Champoux said the country has changed since the prayer first started to be read, and the House of Commons should adapt to reflect a country that is more diverse and less religious than it was in 1877.
“I would quote a certain John Macdonald who in 1877, justified his motion proposing the reading of the daily prayer in the House by saying: ‘All Canadians are Christians,’” Champoux said, referencing the country’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.
“It shows that the context then was very different from today, when no member of this Parliament could go so far to claim that all Canadians are Christian.”
According to Statistics Canada data released last year, there have been “significant changes, including a decline in religious affiliation and the practice of religious activities” in the country over recent decades.
Sixty-eight per cent of Canadians over the age of 15 reported having a religious affiliation in 2019, the last year for which Statistics Canada data is available, while 54 per cent described their religious or spiritual beliefs as either “somewhat” or “very important” to how they live their lives.
However, just 23 per cent of Canadians reported participating in a group religious activity at least once a month, while just 30 per cent said they did a religious or spiritual activity on their own at least once a week.
“Overall, reporting a religious affiliation is not necessarily related to placing a high importance on religion in everyday life,” the statistics agency reported.
Statistics Canada cited data showing that from 2017 to 2019, 18 per cent of Canadians reported a religious affiliation but also said “they rarely or never participated in group religious activities, never engaged in religious or spiritual activities on their own, and considered their religious or spiritual beliefs to be of little or no importance to how they live their lives.”
BC Humanist Association concerned about prayer at council
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a practising Catholic, was asked about the Bloc proposal by journalists on Tuesday morning. He said the question was not a high priority for Canadians.
“I’ve spoken with Quebecers and people across the country, they’re focused on affordability, they’re focused on housing, they’re focused on the war in Ukraine and everything Canada can do,” Trudeau said.
“That’s what we’re going to stay focused on and that’s what, frankly, most of the conversations in the House are all about.”
Other cabinet ministers offered similar perspectives.
National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier said the proposal was “not at all a priority” and that people in her riding in Quebec’s Gaspe region were more concerned about the economy.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos suggested he wants to see how the debate in the House unfolds.
“We are going to look at the motion. We are going to debate with the other MPs. It’s a tradition that’s existed for a very long time, so we are open. We are to listen to all the points of view,” he said in French.
“I saw this motion just this morning being tabled, so I look forward to seeing the debates,” he added in English.
Mark Holland, who as leader of the government in the House of Commons is in charge of driving the government’s agenda through the chamber, said he thinks the discussion should be handled in June when MPs debate proposed changes to the rules and procedures of the House of Commons.
“That’s an opportunity for all members to have a discussion about what they think is appropriate,” he said. “This is a quiet moment of reflection that happens for every member of Parliament. They should have a say in the form in which that occurs.”
Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, who is also Catholic, was the first from his caucus to speak on the Bloc motion and called the proposal “absurd” during his remarks on the matter in the House of Commons.
He said if Champoux was concerned about freedom of conscience, “I wish he would take a stand, for instance, for people who don’t want to be forced as a condition of their profession to participate in things or to not do things that contravene their conscience.”
Genuis did not elaborate.
© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.