Second reading of Bill C-311, An Act to amend the Holidays Act (Remembrance Day)Published on 20 September 2017 Hansard and Statements by Senator Joseph Day
Hon. Joseph A. Day (Leader of the Senate Liberals):
Honourable senators will see that this bill stands in the name of Senator Bellemare, and I thank her for receiving the bill at first reading.
Colleagues, it is my honour to sponsor and speak to Bill C-311, an Act to Amend the Holidays Act (Remembrance Day).
That is private member’s bill that was put forward in the other place by Colin Fraser, Member of Parliament for West Nova, in Nova Scotia. I want to commend him for his initiative in bringing forward this bill and for his hard work in getting it to this stage in the parliamentary process.
There has been some confusion as to what this bill would do, so I propose to first set out what it does and, equally importantly, what it doesn’t do. Then I will explain why I believe that this bill deserves our support.
This bill is short and straightforward. It would amend the Holidays Act to change the wording and status of Remembrance Day to that of a “legal holiday,” bringing this important day of remembrance in line with the two other holidays set out in the Holidays Act. The Holidays Act itself is a very short statute — one page, colleagues, consisting of four clauses. It provides that Canada day is a “legal holiday.” It says that Victoria Day is also a “legal holiday,” but Remembrance Day — the only other holiday provided for in the act — is for some reason described only as a “holiday” and not a “legal holiday.” Many believe this was the result of a drafting oversight or error.
Bill C-311 would fix this and declare Remembrance Day a “legal holiday” of equal stature to the other two holidays set out in the statute. This is an important message, colleagues, but that is all that this bill would do. It is a very important message that can easily be rectified.
Some have objected to the bill, believing that it would make Remembrance Day a statutory holiday across the country. Colleagues, let me be very clear on this. Nothing in this bill would do that. Whether or not Remembrance Day is a statutory holiday is a matter of provincial and territorial jurisdiction, and nothing in this bill would change that. In fact, some of you may be surprised to learn that Victoria Day, a “legal holiday” under the Holidays Act, is not a statutory holiday in four provinces across Canada. It is a non-statutory “general” holiday in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. In Quebec, the National Patriots’ Day is commemorated on that day. Right now, Remembrance Day is a statutory holiday or a similar holiday in the three territories and in all but two provinces. So Remembrance Day is, in fact, a statutory holiday in a large part of Canada.
I said “or a similar holiday” because Nova Scotia and Manitoba — provinces always have difficulty getting together on this terminology — don’t designate Remembrance Day as a statutory holiday. Rather, they have a separate way of addressing it. For example, Nova Scotia has the Remembrance Day Act. But the effect is the same. Namely, that schools and businesses, in general, are closed to mark the day, but in other provinces, particularly Quebec and Ontario, they are not closed.
In fact, many of us who live in the provinces where Remembrance Day is a statutory holiday can attest that it works very well. This is the case in my province of New Brunswick, where attendance at Remembrance Day ceremonies is strong and indeed has been growing significantly over the years. Two years ago, November 11, 2015, saw a record attendance of 6,800 people at a Remembrance Day ceremony in Saint John — a record that was then broken this past Remembrance Day when over 7,000 came out to pay their respects.
New Brunswick is not alone in seeing growing attendance at Remembrance Day ceremonies. I understand that this is the experience across the country. A number of members in the other place took the opportunity during consideration of the bill in committee, and indeed in the chamber, to comment on the seriousness of the observance of the day that they have seen in their provinces. From Newfoundland and Labrador, through all the Maritime provinces, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, MPs spoke with passion about this important recognition and how important that day has become.
Some people — obviously these are people from Ontario and Quebec — worry that if the schools were closed in their province, that would diminish the understanding and observance of the day. Fortunately, that is not our experience in New Brunswick, and others have said the same for other provinces. In fact, in my province, schools and veterans work hard in the days leading up to November 11 to educate our young people on the meaning of Remembrance Day. Then the day itself is set aside for families to come together to observe it as a family with their community. I can picture families standing in the rain listening to the service.
I am proud to say that young Canadians are very knowledgeable about Remembrance Day and committed to observing it and honouring our veterans.
This was very evident a few months ago when more than 25,000 Canadians, many of them young Canadians, travelled to France to attend the April 9 ceremony at Vimy. Many of them worked hard to fundraise, to pay for their own way to Vimy to attend the ceremony. Another encouraging fact. Last November, right after Remembrance Day, Ipsos released a survey that found that people in aged 18 to 34 years — so-called “millennials” — are actually the most likely to say that they attended a Remembrance Day ceremony, 35 per cent compared to 26 per cent overall. We can always do better. But the experience across the country — in all the provinces and territories where Remembrance Day is a legal holiday — is a strong indication that Canadians’ commitment to and observance of Remembrance Day do not depend on the schools being open on November 11.
I spent some time talking about that issue of closed and open schools as the Royal Canadian Legion unfortunately does not support the bill. Dominion Command here in Ottawa didn’t support this bill when they were before committee in the House of Commons, but they were under the impression that it might lead to the schools being closed in Ontario and Quebec, like they are in other areas. And then they said, “Well, that will naturally lead to people treating this as a day off to go away somewhere and to not observe Remembrance Day the way it was intended.” Clearly that’s not the case in all of the other parts of Canada where it is a statutory holiday.
To return to this bill, colleagues, Remembrance Day is the third pillar in the national trilogy— Victoria Day, Canada Day and Remembrance Day — standing as a critical reminder to us all of the Canadian men and women who fought for and stood up for the freedom that we enjoy, the rights and freedoms we cherish that define us as a nation. Our enjoyment of them is thanks in no small part to their sacrifice. So the wording is an important symbol of that recognition. The wording should be the same for Remembrance Day as it is for the other two holidays of our national trilogy. That is all that this bill does, and I believe it is deserving of our support as a statement of our support for our veterans.
Hon. Joan Fraser: Would Senator Day take a question?
Senator Day: I would be pleased to.
Senator Fraser: That was fascinating. I had no idea about this distinction between legal and statutory holidays. Can you tell us where much of the other holidays fall? I’m thinking of Labour Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas.
Senator Day: Senator Mercer’s birthday is recognized in one household in Nova Scotia, but we’re pleased with that.
The statutory holidays, a statute passed to create this as a holiday, will define schools closed, stores closed, liquor stores open, whatever it might cover. That’s provincial jurisdiction. With Labour Day, for example, provincial statutes across the country will deal with closures of whatever aspect of daily activity is going on. For federal employees, that would be the federal legislation. The Canada Labour Code would define whether that is a holiday, a workday or not a workday. You have to analyze the jurisdiction in relation to each of these matters to determine what it is. I haven’t done a survey of all of the holidays, but I appreciate the sensitivity between provincial decision for a holiday and a national recognition of something like a Remembrance Day.