A federal private member's bill that is being sold in some media as legislation turning Remembrance Day into a national statutory holiday is, frankly, no such thing. The sponsoring MP, New Democrat Dan Harris, would be the first to admit it. His Bill C-597 is really more of a conversation starter than an enabling act of Parliament, which is unusual, to say the least. But it's a worthwhile conversation.
The bill – which has full government support – amends the Holidays Act, surely one of the shortest acts ever passed by Parliament. Its four brief clauses mention only Canada Day, Victoria Day and Remembrance Day. The first two are declared "legal holidays," while Remembrance Day is referred to as "a holiday." Bill C-597 would make it a "legal holiday" like the other two. (It would also add a subclause stating, "On Remembrance Day, the Canadian flag on the Peace Tower shall be lowered to half-mast.")
Problem is, making Remembrance Day a "legal holiday" in a federal act will change nothing. Statutory holidays are creatures of Ottawa, the provinces and the territories; the country is consequently a province-by-province mishmash of days off. People living in most of the country might be shocked to learn that Victoria Day, even if it is a "legal holiday," is not a paid statutory holiday in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and PEI. Remembrance Day itself is a stat in six provinces and the three territories but not in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and Nova Scotia – except if you are a federal civil servant. Then it's a day off no matter where you are.
Mr. Harris hopes the bill, if passed, will prompt the final four provinces to elevate Remembrance Day to a statutory holiday. Not everyone likes the idea. Some veterans worry that people would use the day to sleep in late, and they like it that schoolchildren are in class and can take the moment's silence together.
The government and Mr. Harris want people to be free to attend Remembrance Day ceremonies. They also believe making it a nationwide statutory holiday is a reflection of the day's importance, and that it would bring more attention to the sacrifices made by Canada's men and women in uniform. For much of the country, that's how Remembrance Day already works. Making it a common experience across Canada is a good idea. Whether the provinces will be induced by this bill to do so, however, is a whole other question.