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This article was published 8/9/2021 (337 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
With three weeks to go before the new National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Ontario has said that Sept. 30 will not be a provincial statutory holiday.
That means only federally regulated businesses and organizations and most Ontario public servants will get the day off.
While other provinces had already announced their plans, until Wednesday Indigenous leaders and the business community were still waiting to hear whether Ontario would make the day a public holiday.
Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Reg Niganobe said he was disappointed, but not surprised, that the Ontario government chose not to make Sept. 30 a provincial statutory holiday.
The fact that several provinces have already made that same decision exemplifies a lack of respect for the day, he said, adding that the day will be a very important one for Indigenous peoples across Canada.
The day should offer opportunities for people to learn, said Niganobe — but it’s hard for people to do that if they don’t have the day off work.
“If the government doesn’t take the day seriously, then why shouldn’t the rest of the average citizens?” he said.
The new federal holiday was announced this year in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action. The day was established to commemorate the tragic effect of residential schools in Canada and their continuing impact on Indigenous communities.
The announcement came not long after the discovery of unmarked graves at former residential schools across Canada, numbering more than a thousand at last count. Indigenous leaders have said the graves are proof of what their communities had been saying all along. Meanwhile, the discoveries forced many Canadians to reckon with the physical evidence of what happened at the residential schools. Sept. 30 is also Orange Shirt Day, which began in British Columbia in 2013 to commemorate the Indigenous children forced into residential schools.
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Minister of Indigenous Affairs Greg Rickford said that the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation will not be a provincial public holiday in Ontario, but that “employers and employees may agree to treat this day as such, and some may be required to do so if it has been negotiated into collective agreements or employment contracts.”
However, “Ontario Public Service employees will be observing a day of commemoration, similar to Remembrance Day and Easter Monday,” said spokesperson Curtis Lindsay.
“We are working in collaboration with Indigenous partners, (s)urvivors and affected families to ensure the respectful commemoration of this day within the province,” said Lindsay.
Government spokesperson Sydney Stonier said tight timing was an issue when it came to planning the day, but she said the door is open for further formal commemoration next year and into the future.
As a federal holiday, federally regulated workplaces such as banks and federal agencies will be closed on Sept. 30. However, it’s up to individual provinces to decide whether they will do the same.
British Columbia “formally recognized” the day, with many schools and public sector workplaces closing or working reduced hours. Manitoba and Nova Scotia will do the same. Other provinces, including Alberta, Saskatchewan, and now Ontario, have not recognized the day, prompting anger from Indigenous leaders.
Jason Rasevych, board director of the Anishnawbe Business Professional Association and a member of the Ginoogaming First Nation, said Indigenous leaders and elders wanted to see Sept. 30 made a statutory holiday in Ontario.
Making Sept. 30 a provincial statutory holiday — though it shouldn’t be framed as a holiday, noted Rasevych, more a day of solemn commemoration — would lend gravity to the day, he said, providing an opportunity for the government to raise awareness and promote learning.
It should also be a day for the government itself to reflect on those calls and what it has done so far to advance reconciliation, said Rasevych.
Currently, there are only five nationwide statutory holidays which affect employees at all levels: New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Canada Day, Labour Day, and Christmas Day. There are several other federal holidays, including the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. However, many of these are also observed as statutory holidays in several or almost all of the provinces, such as Remembrance Day, Victoria Day, and Thanksgiving.
Ontario, for its part, has four provincial statutory holidays in addition to the five that are nationwide: Family Day, Victoria Day, Thanksgiving and Boxing Day.
Nationwide statutory holidays mean that statutory pay applies to all eligible employees; meanwhile, a federal holiday only applies to federally regulated employees. Federal agencies are usually closed these days. Stat pay can involve a full day’s pay for no work that day, or time-and-a-half, or even double pay.
Prior to the government’s announcement, Ontario Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Rocco Rossi said Ontario’s reticence to decide on the matter was making things difficult for businesses to plan ahead as the day approached.
Rasevych agreed that the province was also putting businesses in a tough spot, as they needed certainty about what they would be required to do Sept. 30.