Debate brewing over what new stat holiday should focus on
OTTAWA – Canada came one tiny step closer to creating a new federal statutory holiday on Monday, with the government confirming it is supporting an NDP MP’s bill which first proposed the idea, though a debate is brewing over what the intention of the holiday should be.
On Monday, the government confirmed it would be backing NDP MP Georgina Jolibois’ private member’s bill, which proposes to create a statutory holiday to mark National Indigenous Peoples Day.
The government’s backing of the bill is being done as a way to fulfil the promise of creating a new statutory holiday to recognize the legacy of residential schools in Canada, though the bill’s the sponsor says the government would be wrong-headed to make the day all about what has been declared a cultural genocide.
Speaking in the House on Monday, Jolibois made an impassioned plea to support her call for an Indigenous-focused statutory holiday as she intended it, after her NDP colleagues raised concern over the government “coopting” existing days of celebration for Indigenous people, to focus on the past record of settler Canadians.
As proposed, her bill would make June 21 the statutory holiday. The government first signaled this summer that it isn’t set on June 21 as the date for the new statutory holiday, however, and is also eyeing Sept. 30, which is already recognized as Orange Shirt Day.
“My bill does not ask to give Indigenous people the time to perform their trauma, I’m not asking to give Indigenous people the time to accept our apologies, while we atone for our actions,” Jolibois said.
“I’m not asking to appropriate an established Indigenous holiday so that settlers will have another day off work. I’m asking if we, as the Government of Canada, will give up part of our own time so that Indigenous people across this country can celebrate what makes them truly unique.”
The idea to create a statutory holiday was one of the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to enact all of the recommendations that fall under federal jurisdiction.
Jolibois said she proposed her bill in the spirit of the TRC call to action, and raised concerns with focusing the day on residential schools, saying it wrongly defines Indigenous people by the things done to them.
“I believe that people in Canada are capable of mourning the legacy of residential schools while also thinking optimistically about the future,” she said.
At seconding reading debate in the House on Monday, Liberal MP and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism Gary Anandasangaree confirmed that the Liberal majority would back the bill to get it in to committee for further study.
There, the Liberals want to hear from Indigenous people about what date they’d prefer for the annual holiday. From there, an amendment could be made on the proposed legislation to change the date, or title, to more specifically reflect reconciliation.
“The need to achieve reconciliation is a fundamental truth and is beyond partisan politics… We look forward to working across party lines,” said Anandasangaree in the House on Monday.
“Together we will chart a path forward that advances reconciliation and builds a stronger future for Indigenous peoples and Canadians alike.”
During the debate in the Commons on Monday, Conservative MP Kevin Waugh questioned the impact adding another statutory holiday might have on the economy, and wondered if such days have the desired impact of awareness-building and learning. He also wants to see more consideration made of the existing statutory holidays and whether they need to be reexamined.
At present there are five days marked as national statutory holidays: Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, Canada Day, Labour Day, and Good Friday.
There are other federal holidays, such as Victoria Day, Remembrance Day, and Thanksgiving, but they are not recognized in every province.
Bill C-369 would amend the Canada Labour Code to enact the new statutory holiday for federal employees and industries.
In order for this proposed new stat day to be recognized nationwide, each province and territory would have to change its laws.
The vote to pass the bill on to committee was deferred until Wednesday, after a motion to agree to pass it on to committee stage on Monday was not supported unanimously.