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Canadians are warming to updated O'Canada lyrics, survey finds

Lyrics in the national anthem were amended from “thy sons” to “all of us”
There is no unanimity in the perceptions of English-speaking Canadians on the new national anthem | Carlos Bezz/Moment/Getty Images

In early 2018, some of the lyrics to the English version of “O Canada” were amended.

The modification, endorsed by the House of Commons and the Senate, had been introduced by Liberal Party member of Parliament Mauril Bélanger in a private member’s bill two years earlier.

For the past five years, the national anthem has had gender-neutral lyrics in English. The second line of “O Canada” is now “in all of us command,” instead of “in all thy sons command.”

A survey I conducted in February 2018 outlined some skepticism from English-speaking Canadians: Almost half (48 per cent) disagreed with the modification and a smaller proportion (42 per cent) welcomed it. In addition, a majority (54 per cent) expressed a preference for “thy sons” instead of “all of us.”

Research Co. and Glacier Media recently asked English-speaking Canadians about the anthem, and the needle appears to be moving. This year, 48 per cent of respondents agree with the decision to make the lyrics to “O Canada” gender-neutral, while 34 per cent disagree and 17 per cent are undecided.

The results show some momentum for the new lyrics, albeit just short of a majority. The popularity of “in all of us command” is strongest among English-speaking Canadians aged 18 to 34 (57 per cent) but drops among their counterparts aged 35 to 54 (42 per cent) and aged 55 and over (45 per cent).

Majorities of English-speaking Canadians in Ontario (52 per cent) and Alberta (51 per cent) agree with changing the second line of the national anthem. The proportions are lower among those who reside in British Columbia and Quebec (48 per cent each), Saskatchewan and Manitoba (46 per cent) and Atlantic Canada (41 per cent).

English-speaking Canadians who voted for the Liberal Party (62 per cent) and the New Democratic Party (NDP) (57 per cent) agree with the decision to modify the lyrics to “O Canada.” Conservative Party supporters are not on the same page: Only 30 per cent think this was the right course of action, while 59 per cent disagree.

When we asked Canadians to rate the two lines side-by-side, there is still a preference for “in all thy sons command” (47 per cent) over “in all of us command” (38 per cent). Men, or sons, are more likely to gravitate towards the previous lyric (52 per cent) than the new one (34 per cent). Women are almost evenly split (43 per cent for “sons,” 41 per cent for “all of us”).

The political divide is also present on this question. Two-thirds of English-speaking Conservative voters (67 per cent) choose “in all thy sons command.” Fewer Liberals (43 per cent) and New Democrats (36 per cent) feel the same way.

There is no unanimity in the perceptions of English-speaking Canadians on the new national anthem, but momentum appears to be on the side of change. Agreement with the amendment is up six points since 2018, and preference for the old version is down by seven points.

There are questions being raised about another component of the national anthem in English, which became louder after the latest National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star Game in February. Inside an arena in Salt Lake City, Utah, Canadian singer Jully Black delivered the line “our home on native land” instead of “our home and native land.”

English-speaking Canadians are divided when they ponder this new modification: 41 per cent agree with replacing “and” with “on,” 44 per cent disagree and 14 per cent are not sure.

There is a noteworthy generational gap on this new proposal, with a majority of English-speaking Canadians aged 18 to 34 (55 per cent) looking forward to the change, compared to 42 per cent of their counterparts aged 35 to 54 and just 28 per cent of those aged 55 and over.

When these results are analyzed by ethnicity, one component is unique. English-speaking Canadians whose origins trace back to Europe are not pleased. Only 36 per cent of them welcome a national anthem where the country is described as “our home on native land,” while 53 per cent would reject it.

The results are vastly different among three other groups. More than three-in-five English-speaking Canadians of Indigenous descent (64 per cent) like the plan to change another line of “O Canada” and they are joined by most English-speaking Canadians of South Asian and East Asian heritage (68 per cent and 51 per cent respectively).

A petition circulating online has surpassed 9,300 signatories at the time of this writing, but the federal government has not launched any new consultations about the national anthem. We will have to wait and see if this is seriously pursued by a federal government aching to reconnect with young Canadians, but wary about pursuing an issue that is already polarizing.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from July 20 to July 24, 2023, among 1,572 English-speaking Canadian adults. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error – which measures sample variability – is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.