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nov. 11

A Royal Canadian Legion member pins a Remembrance Day poppy on a woman's coat at Toronto's Eaton Centre on Nov. 8, 2010.Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

With the centennial of the First World War fast approaching, opposition MPs are calling for Remembrance Day to be declared a statutory holiday.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae and NDP veterans critic Peter Stoffer say it's now time to honour veterans by making Nov. 11 a truly national Canadian holiday.

"I think there needs to be more recognition of the day, and while the federal government itself shuts down (and Parliament takes a break), otherwise life proceeds apace," Mr. Rae told The Globe, arguing the 100th anniversary of the First World War will "trigger an outpouring of feeling here and all over Europe."

Mr. Stoffer has long supported the idea, too.

"I just think that's the one day we should put the mercantile system away and just reflect," the Nova Scotia MP said in an interview. "And have some fun. Go to your local legion hall ... sit down with these folks and have a couple of 'pops,' as Don Cherry would say. And talk to them, just let them tell their stories. Buy them lunch and just be with them for awhile."

Mr. Rae noted that the provinces and veterans groups would have to be consulted and he acknowledged there may not be consensus. "But my own feeling is that more recognition is richly deserved, and a greater sense of our history, which is one of courage and sacrifice, needs to happen," he said.

Reaching consensus may be difficult. The Royal Canadian Legion, for one, is not in favour of the idea. Spokesman Bob Butt said his organizations favours the status quo, which gives each province's veterans the choice.

The existing Holidays Act, he said, "denotes the day as a federal holiday but leaves it up to the province to declare it as a holiday."

Mr. Stoffer understands – but doesn't agree with – with the legion's position. He noted that another argument against the statutory holiday is the belief that children learn about, and recognize, the day in their schools. A statutory holiday would take away from this as, critics argue, Nov. 11 would just become another day off and the reason behind it would be lost.

But he said he's already been to several schools in his riding since they honour Remembrance Day a day early so kids can go to ceremonies at war memorials and cenotaphs on Nov. 11. (Nova Scotia is one of a handful of provinces that recognizes the day as a holiday.)

"We can't tell Ontario and Quebec to close their schools. That is up to the individual provinces, themselves," Mr. Stoffer said. "We would hope that right across the country that we could get actually get together and do this."

Still, he remains optimistic and is hoping the legion will have a "change of heart," since he believe the federal government would move on the issue without the organization's buy-in.

The government, meanwhile, fully supports "any initiative that encourages Canadians to pay respect and honour our nation's veterans who sacrificed everything so that we can enjoy peace and freedom," said Codie Taylor, a spokesperson for Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney. "We respect provinces right to make the decision for their respective jurisdictions."