Hon. Joseph A. Day (Leader of the Senate Liberals):
Honourable senators, I have a few remarks with respect to this particular bill, Bill C-311, which I am sponsoring. I am sponsoring on behalf of a member of the House of Commons, Colin Fraser.
As we have heard throughout our debate on this particular bill, it would amend what is named the Holidays Act, to change the wording and status of Remembrance Day to that of a “legal holiday” under that particular act.
As senators will recall from second reading, while Canada Day and Victoria Day are already designated as legal holidays under the Holidays Act, the same is not true of Remembrance Day.
So we have three different days of the year — Canada Day, Victoria Day and Remembrance Day — referred to in this rather short act, but one of these, Remembrance Day, is just referred to by the designation “holiday,” whereas the other two are designated as “legal holidays.” I thank the sponsor of the bill for bringing this to our attention. It is one of those little idiosyncrasies of the law that may not be brought to our attention, but when it is, it clearly calls out for rectification.
The proponent of the bill is Mr. Colin Fraser, Member of Parliament for West Nova. We had no way of knowing when looking at this bill if this was a drafting difference between Remembrance Day and the other holidays, Victoria Day and Canada Day, an oversight, or if it was the intention of the framers to give Remembrance Day a lesser recognition. If it’s possible that people reading this legislation would give Remembrance Day a lesser recognition by virtue of the different designation, not being a legal holiday, then I think we can all agree that it’s time we make a statement to our veterans and give Remembrance Day the same standing as the other two designated days in the Holidays Act.
Mr. Fraser, who brought forward this bill in the other place, from inception has worked hard to hear concerns from all sides and to address them. He recently appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, where he ably explained his intent and ultimate goal to honourable senators. He described the bill’s purpose as follows:
It also affirms Parliament’s commitment that November 11 is a very important day in Canada, one of solemn remembrance and reflection for those who have sacrificed for our country. I believe it shines a light on this important day, and any chance we can do that as parliamentarians is an important endeavour.
Any change we can make to rectify possible misinterpretation of the act is something we should be looking into.
While they were not in attendance at the committee hearings, The Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans, also known as ANAVETS, submitted a brief to committee members. The brief noted that they originally resisted any change in the designation for Remembrance Day, but at their meeting in 2016, their membership unanimously passed a resolution to support what this bill will achieve, so long as the observance of the holiday would always be on November 11. The implication there is they would not want to see it moved to a Monday. They would like it always to remain on November 11 because that was the day of signing of the armistice in the First World War.
Deanna Fimrite, who is the Dominion Secretary-Treasurer, explained the rationale for ANAVETS as follows:
For the membership the important distinction is while we want as many Canadians as possible to have the opportunity for remembrance, reflection and to honour those fellow Canadians that have given their lives, and those willing to do so, that we may live in peace and democracy but not to diminish the significance of the day on which we stop to give that Remembrance.
Some concerns were expressed by the Royal Canadian Legion when they appeared at the Senate committee hearing. They were represented by their Secretary-Treasurer of Dominion Command. Their concern lies mainly in the prospect that the legislation will lead to treating Remembrance Day as a statutory holiday, something they oppose. They are concerned that making the day a statutory holiday will dilute its impact, and that Canadians will treat the day as just another day off or an opportunity to create another long weekend by moving the day to a Monday.
First, with all due respect, this bill will have no impact on making Remembrance Day a statutory holiday. Statutory holidays are exclusively provincial in jurisdiction. It’s up to each individual province to decide whether Remembrance Day should be a statutory holiday. That reality will remain the same whether this bill is passed or not. It is simply not in the federal government’s power to create a national statutory holiday across all of Canada.
The fact of the matter is that Remembrance Day is already a statutory holiday in a large part of Canada. It is treated as a statutory holiday in all but two provinces, Ontario and Quebec. This legislation will not change that fact, .
As I said in my remarks at second reading, Remembrance Day being a statutory holiday in my home province of New Brunswick has certainly not hindered people’s solemn commemoration of that day. Indeed, it provides New Brunswickers and Canadians from coast to coast to coast with the opportunity to participate in ceremonies in their own communities.
I myself lay a wreath on November 11 at the cenotaph in Hampton, New Brunswick. I know other senators participate in ceremonies in their hometowns and home communities or in regional remembrances.
Senator Plett, in his remarks at second reading, provided what I consider to be an apt description of what could be a ceremony in any town across our country. Senator Plett stated:
Remembrance Day in Canada is unlike any other day, and the feeling of standing at a local cenotaph or monument surrounded by your community brings about a feeling that is unlike any other. We feel sadness as we recall those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and pride as we observe the unity demonstrated by the diverse crowds who gather together in a moment of silence to honour those who have fought valiantly for our freedoms.
Colleagues, the concern of the Royal Canadian Legion is not well founded. I think they understand it, but they come to the meetings, and when we ask for their support, they write that they just don’t want it to be a statutory holiday and moved so that it will result in a long weekend. They don’t want the date changed each year to fit into a long weekend scenario. ANAVETS, the other veterans group, had the same position: They don’t want it moved. November 11 is November 11.
This bill does not change that. This bill merely says that if for some reason in the past Remembrance Day was considered a lesser day than Victoria Day or Canada Day, then this is a chance to rectify it by making this change.
Colleagues, November 11 is the day of solemn remembrance for Canadians. Surely now is the time to give it the same respect that we give other holidays under this obscure piece of legislation entitled the Holidays Act.
I urge all senators to support the passage of Bill C-311.