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Speech at 2nd Reading of Bill C-311 - Amending the Holidays Act (Remembrance Day)

Hon. Donald Neil Plett: Colleagues, I rise today to speak to Bill C-311, An Act to amend the Holidays Act (Remembrance Day).

I want to thank Senator Day for bringing this legislation forward, and in fact for all the work that he does to honour our men and women in uniform, and especially our veterans. Few people in this chamber, if any, are more dedicated to this cause.

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.

Remembrance Day in Canada is currently listed as a “holiday” and not a “legal holiday,” some suggest, because of a drafting error or oversight. Victoria Day and Canada Day are the only two occasions currently listed as “legal holidays” in the Holidays Act. Bill C-31 reports to make Remembrance Day a legal holiday in Canada.

I read the debates in the other place and the witness testimony at committee with interest. The notion that we could find a way to commemorate or celebrate Remembrance Day in a more profound way is certainly appealing, but I do not believe that this legislation will achieve that. Senator Day is correct in his explanation that this bill will not make Remembrance Day a statutory holiday or give Canadians an additional day off from work or a new long weekend. Statutory holidays in Canada are determined by the provinces and territories, and thereby differ from province to province. Many provinces and territories already recognize Remembrance Day as a statutory holiday.

For example, Remembrance Day is currently a statutory holiday in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, the Northwest Territories, the Yukon and Nunavut. Nova Scotia has the Remembrance Day Act and the effect is the same as if it were a statutory holiday. In Manitoba, while it is not listed as a statutory holiday, most industries are not allowed to operate that day, with some specified exceptions.

Ontario and Quebec do not have a similar holiday, which may explain why the few vocal critics seem to hail from those two provinces. For example, while there was a lot of support for this legislation in committee in the other place, I know there were some concerns raised that this change could encourage the provinces to move forward making Remembrance Day a statutory holiday and thereby creating another day off of work or ridding schools of the opportunity to properly educate students on the sacrifices of our cherished veterans.

While this is a valid concern, there is no reason to believe that this would have an impact on how the provinces act. For example, even Victoria Day is not a statutory holiday in four provinces, even though it has legal holiday status federally. In the provinces that already have Remembrance Day as a statutory holiday, there does not appear to be any marked diminished appreciation from the residents, as can be seen by the increasing numbers of attendees at Remembrance Day ceremonies across the country.

In Senator Day’s home province of New Brunswick, attendance at Remembrance Day ceremonies is strong and growing significantly. Senator Day explained how the students in New Brunswick receive a thorough education and understanding of Remembrance Day and the sacrifices of our veterans by having local veterans come to the schools on the weeks and days leading up to Remembrance Day. Then, on Remembrance Day itself, the children have the opportunity to attend the local ceremonies with their families and their communities.

Whether that is the best approach is certainly debatable. However, regardless of our feelings on whether schools should be open or closed on November 11, this bill will have no impact on that. Provinces have the choice of whether to make Remembrance Day a statutory holiday now, and they will have that same choice should this legislation pass.

As for why we would make this change, some are suggesting that by changing the word “holiday” to “legal holiday,” that it would elevate the status of Remembrance Day and encourage Canadians to take the holiday more seriously. While that is an admirable goal, I cannot see how making this change will accomplish that.

Certainly, according to a recent Ipsos poll, millennials are already leading a gradual resurgence of interest when it comes to attending Remembrance Day ceremonies. Thirty-seven per cent of Canadians aged 18 to 34 attended a local Remembrance Day ceremony this year, which is up from previous years and well above the generations of their parents.

Historica Canada believes that the surge in interest in attending Remembrance Day ceremonies may be the result of an increased effort to share veterans’ stories in schools and other public spaces, exposing younger generations to real-life accounts of time in combat. The Historica CEO told CTV News that ready access to information beyond Canada’s borders may also play a role. He stated:

We are more aware of our place in the world, and that translates into greater appreciation of sacrifice in a global context . . .

I would venture to guess that if you asked these patriotic millennials what kind of a holiday Remembrance Day is, whether it is statutory, legal or otherwise, the vast majority would not have any idea. I would further presume that it would have little to no impact on an individual’s likelihood of attending a Remembrance Day ceremony.

Younger generations are becoming increasingly more patriotic and measurably more interested in commemorating our services. I do not think this legislation will have any impact on the significance of Remembrance Day in Canada.

However, whether the failure to make Remembrance Day a legal holiday rather than just a holiday was a drafting error or oversight, or whether it was to demonstrate a slightly lessened significance as compared to Canada Day or Victoria Day, that should be corrected, even if simply for the sake of consistency.

More importantly, if veterans and veterans’ groups feel that making this small change elevates the status of this important holiday and represents a symbolic and meaningful statement of support, I have no issue with that and indeed support that.

For those reasons, colleagues, I believe that this bill deserves further study at committee and will support it moving forward at second reading. Thank you.

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