TORONTO — Members of Ontario's legislature began a new tradition Monday of singing "God Save the Queen" in the chamber, which an Indigenous politician called a step backward for reconciliation.
The legislature recently adopted a host of procedural rule changes, including singing the royal anthem in addition to the Canadian national anthem on the first Monday of each month. It was sung Monday for the first time since the new rule went into effect, and marks the first time ever it will be sung on a regular basis, according to the legislature's procedural services.
New Democrat Sol Mamakwa, who represents the northern riding of Kiiwetinoong with a majority Indigenous population, said it was hurtful to hear the anthem.
"As a First Nations person, as a colonized person, it's a step backwards when we talk about reconciliation," he said.
Mamakwa, a Kingfisher Lake band member, said he would prefer instead to see some type of acknowledgment to First Nations people in Ontario.
"I see the revival of 'God Save the Queen' in this house as a step backwards, a shift from modern reconciliation to a past that celebrated the colonialism, that sought the destruction of cultures, languages and communities," he told the legislature before question period.
"For me, singing 'God Save the Queen' is a celebration of a hurtful and violent colonial past. I cannot be part of it."
Government house leader Paul Calandra said singing the anthem is a show of respect for the Queen of Canada, who has served for decades.
"I believe that Her Majesty...was the first person to show reconciliation to the First Nations," he said. "Many of our past monarchs didn't do that. But Her Majesty, over 68 years, has had and continues to have a very special relationship with our First Nations."
Calandra noted that the NDP didn't flag it as an issue during debate over the rule changes, though the Liberal and Green members raised it with him in private.
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said he tried to get Calandra to backtrack on the proposal, but was told it was "non-negotiable."
"In an era of reconciliation I don't know if that's something we should be bringing forward," he said. "I think we should be looking forward and not looking back in terms of our practices."
Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said he flagged it for Calandra as an issue likely to be contentious.
"It just wouldn't be my first choice as a new thing to do," he said. "I think it is a recognition of history and the role of the Crown and it's very traditionalist. Again, it's the government's prerogative."
The new procedural rule changes also give more speaking time to independent members, which includes the Liberals and Greens as parties without official status in the legislature.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2020.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press