Feds consider new stat holiday remembering legacy of residential schools

Georgina Jolibois is running in the provincial by-election for Athabasca under the NDP banner. File photo.

The federal government is in consultation with Métis, Inuit and First Nations groups to determine the date for a federal statutory holiday dedicated to residential school students, however the Saskatchewan government isn’t entirely on board.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the government was in discussions to create a new holiday, which would fulfill a Truth and Reconciliation report recommendation. There is no firm date set for the new holiday, and no timetable for when it will be announced.

“The date of that holiday and how exactly it’s named and framed and all that will be done in the spirit of reconciliation in full collaboration and consultation with Indigenous peoples,” Trudeau said during a media scrum in Saint-Eustache, Que. “We are going through that process right now. We’re listening to what the Metis Nation, what the First Nations and what the Inuit have to say and how they would like to see this day of reconciliation move forward, and when we’ve finished our consultations we will announce what we are doing.”

However, talks between the federal government and Indigenous groups won’t be the only discussions going on. Premier Scott Moe said Saskatchewan will not automatically observe the new holiday, but added that no final decision would be made until they had meetings of their own.

“We’ll have to have those discussions on whether or not we implement it as a full statutory holiday here in the province, what the cost to employers would be, understanding the government of Saskatchewan also is a large employer here in the province,” he explained.

Moe added that the government still supports reconciliation efforts, even if it doesn’t officially observe the federal holiday.

“There’s actually four provinces that have not adopted Remembrance Day as a statutory holiday, Manitoba being one of those,” he said. “I think it’s fair to say that the people of Manitoba very much respect Remembrance Day and everything that it signifies, but it is not an actual statutory holiday with the payments that come with that to employers in that province, so we’ll have those discussions on whether or not it will be a provincial stat holiday here in the days and weeks ahead.”

While Remembrance Day is not a general holiday under current Manitoba labour laws, most industries are only allowed to operate under specific circumstances. For example, retail stores must be closed between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. unless they provide professional health services, gasoline and motor oil, vehicle parts and services for emergency repairs, or meals and other services connected to living accommodations. Employees are also automatically paid for half a day’s work, even if they only come in for one or two hours.

In a media release on Thursday, provincial NDP leader Ryan Meili said he was disappointed with Moe’s decision to focus on employer costs instead of the residential school legacy.

“Saskatchewan had many residential schools, and thousands of survivors of those schools and their families continue to live with the negative impact,” Meili said. “What message would it send if the rest of the country recognized this day but Saskatchewan refused to do so?”

Jolibois surprised by news, but pleased with response

Few people were more surprised by the federal government’s announcement than Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River MP Georgina Jolibois.

The Northern Saskatchewan NDP MP already has a private member’s bill on the floor that would make June 21 a statutory holiday to “respect and acknowledge the historical impact of the residential school system,” and to demonstrate some of the current achievements made by Indigenous people.

When she left Parliament Hill in June, Jolibois said parliamentary assistants and Liberal MPs told her the federal government would not support the bill. However, the CBC has reported that the government is open to backing the bill as it makes its way through parliament.

“To some extent, it shows that the Prime Minister is listening,” she said. “Now, if he can encourage government or show leadership, that his government and the Liberals do support selecting June 21 as a National Indigenous People’s Day, that would be even more encouraging.”

Jolibois added that she’s not sure that June 21 will be the official date, but she’s encouraged by the support.

She also said she’s disappointed, but not surprised by Premier Scott Moe’s remarks. Still, she remains hopeful he’ll change his mind.

“I will continue, and the supporters of the bill will do what we can to continue, to encourage the Saskatchewan government to support it,” she said.