Canada will mark Queen Elizabeth’s funeral with a day of mourning and a holiday for public servants on Monday, but provinces are taking different approaches, stock markets will be open for trading and banks are not required to close.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that the Queen’s funeral on Sept. 19 will be a federal holiday and a “National Day of Mourning” in the country. That set off a flurry of activity as companies from banks to stock markets scrambled to decide how to respond, mindful of potential risks to financial markets from a hasty closing.
For some of Canada’s largest companies, a federal holiday declared with only a few days of notice presented a dilemma and set off a scramble. Banks, which were caught off guard by the announcement, are likely to stay open. The government quickly clarified that federally regulated businesses such as banks, telecommunications and interprovincial trucking companies are invited to join the day of mourning, but not required to shut down.
By then, financial-sector executives were already concerned that observing the holiday would require a huge amount of co-ordination with stock exchanges and payments systems providers as well as extensive outreach to clients who have bill payments or property transfers scheduled for Monday.
The holiday for federal workers won’t be repeated annually and doesn’t apply to provincial workers. Mr. Trudeau said he would work with provincial leaders to try to get them on board. While some provinces are electing to close government offices and schools, Ontario declared a day of mourning but not a public holiday, and Quebec said provincially regulated employees won’t be off work.
“We will be working with the provinces and territories to try to see that we’re aligned on this. There are still a few details to be worked out,” Mr. Trudeau said Tuesday in New Brunswick when he announced the holiday. “But declaring an opportunity for Canadians to mourn on Monday is going to be important.”
After Mr. Trudeau made his announcement, Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan clarified on social media Tuesday that federally regulated companies “are welcomed to follow suit, but they are not required to do so.” CBC and Radio-Canada employees will mark Sept. 19 as a holiday.
Early Tuesday afternoon, the Canadian Bankers Association (CBA) sent an internal note to senior bankers, obtained by The Globe and Mail, that recommended federally regulated banks stay open on Monday and operate on a “business-as-usual basis.”
CBA president and chief executive officer Anthony Ostler said in the internal note that the holiday the government declared “is not a statutory holiday,” because it has not been approved in legislation, which poses “significant operational risks.”
“The risks of operational errors to the industry are far greater than the reputational risks with remaining open,” Mr. Ostler said in the note, though he added that the CBA could reconsider its stand if all markets, payments and settlements providers agreed they would close.
That won’t happen. TMX Group Inc., owner of the Toronto Stock Exchange, confirmed in a statement its markets will be open for trading Monday with regular hours. And the CEO of the Canadian Securities Exchange, Richard Carleton, said in an interview that “we will be open.”
“It’s certainly unique in my experience that we’ve had this level of uncertainty,” Mr. Carleton said.
Payments Canada confirmed its systems and operations will be running Monday, which will allow banks to settle large financial transactions. The Bank of Canada will postpone an auction of 10-year government bonds until Sept. 22, but maintain regular operations that support payment and settlement systems as well as financial markets.
The CBA declined to comment and a spokesperson for Bank of Montreal declined to comment. Spokespeople for other major banks did not immediately provide comment, and National Bank of Canada referred questions to the CBA.
British Columbia will give public-sector employees a day off and close schools, asking businesses to find a way to honour the day. Prince Edward Island is declaring Sept. 19 a one-time statutory holiday for all provincially regulated workers. In New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, government offices and schools will be closed on Monday, but it will be up to individual private businesses to decide how to mark the occasion.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in a statement that residents may choose to observe a moment of silence at 1 p.m. Saskatchewan’s government proclaimed Monday a “day in tribute and commemoration” to the Queen, but will not designate it a provincial statutory holiday. Manitoba will close non-essential government services and offices, but keep schools open. Alberta has yet to make a decision.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) urged provinces not to follow the lead of the federal government, saying it would cost the economy billions and be unfair to small businesses with only six days’ notice.
In an interview with The Globe, CFIB president and CEO Dan Kelly said a paid day off for all employees would either result in lost productivity or additional wage costs for businesses that are still struggling to recover from the pandemic. Instead, Mr. Kelly said businesses should be supportive of individual employees who would like time off to mourn or view the funeral and ensure they can take a vacation day.
A nationwide statutory holiday is estimated to cost the economy between $2-billion and $4-billion, Mr. Kelly said. Assuming schools would also be closed, Mr. Kelly said those who still need to work in the hospitality industry or essential services would be required to find an alternative arrangement for child care, which could result in additional costs for families.
“It would be, I think, a huge hardship to employers if provinces decided today or tomorrow to declare a statutory holiday just a handful of days away,” Mr. Kelly said. “Fewer than 50 per cent of small businesses are back to normal sales, all are dealing with huge increases in their costs. I’m not suggesting this in and of itself is going to cause businesses to close their doors for good, but it sure doesn’t help.”
The Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, which represents 6,900 independent grocers, is urging all provincial governments to make the day a commemoration but not a statutory holiday, and welcomed the approach Ontario and Quebec are taking, spokesperson Gary Sands said.
With reports from Alanna Smith, Temur Durrani and The Canadian Press