Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak on Bill C-597, on the last day of the 41st Parliament. This bill would amend the Holidays Act to make Remembrance Day a legal holiday. That is an important distinction. People watching and listening to this debate might be a little confused with the words “legal” and “statutory”. It is not calling for a statutory holiday. A statutory holiday would be a holiday like Canada Day, a day off that celebrates Canada right across the country. That is not what this bill is asking for.
It is simply asking for a one-word change to section 3 of the Holidays Act. I will read that section with the change in it. After this bill passes, section 3 would read as follows:
November 11, being the day in the year 1918 on which the Great War was triumphantly concluded by an armistice, is a [legal] holiday and shall be kept and observed as such throughout Canada under the name of “Remembrance Day”.
It would simply add one word, “legal”. Again, I have to emphasize that we are not talking about a statutory holiday; we are talking about a legal holiday. I will say a few more words about that in a moment.
Remembrance Day is important, and this change is important. There are four reasons why I think this change is important and I will go through each of them. The first is to commemorate and honour our fallen soldiers and veterans on a national level. Remembrance Day is celebrated and talked about in many different ways across the country, and there is no real unanimity. As we know, every year the number of veterans from past wars diminishes, and I think it is time that we show our support on a national level. Modern and wartime veterans are to be thanked for preserving the democracy that we live in and thrive in today.
I can only go by the experience in my own riding of Thunder Bay—Rainy River of what happens on Remembrance Day now. It is interesting to note that with the one-word change, things would likely not change in my riding.
In 1970, Thunder Bay became the city it is today from two separate cities. My riding encompasses the south side of Thunder Bay, which is the old Fort William. In Fort William Gardens every Remembrance Day, without any exaggeration, there are 3,000 to 4,000 people. The complete ice surface, which then is a cement surface, is covered with veterans, presenters, wreath layers, honoured guests, and so on. It is a wonderful celebration of what Remembrance Day means to so many people in Thunder Bay.
On the other side of town, in Port Arthur, there is also a celebration on Remembrance Day, which happens at exactly the same time. However, what is interesting is what happens in the rest of my riding on that day. I attended the Atikokan ceremony last year. I have to pick and choose each year and rotate where I am at 11 o'clock on Remembrance Day. I was in Atikokan last year, where there was a wonderful event put on by the legion. I should also mention that in Thunder Bay the legions are terrific, both on the day before Remembrance Day and the day of, in terms of how they treat everyone who attends to be part of Remembrance Day with them.
In the far west of my riding, at 11 o'clock, Fort Frances has its Remembrance Day ceremony. That is supported and organized by the legion. As one goes down Highway 11 to the end of my riding in Rainy River, the Remembrance Day ceremonies are staggered so that when I am in the west end for a ceremony, I can actually get to Fort Frances, Emo, Stratton, all the way to Rainy River without any problem to be part of the Remembrance Day ceremonies.
When I am in Thunder Bay, I attend the 11 o'clock ceremony. That is eastern time, do not forget. We gain an hour going to the west end of my riding because it is central time. I then hop in my car and drive all the way to the other end of my riding, 500 kilometres, to be at the legion supper in Rainy River. I know that many other MPs do the same sort of thing when they have large ridings.
The point of my talking about that is to emphasize that under this bill what happens now for schoolchildren attending and everybody else making time to be part of the various ceremonies right cross my riding. It would not really change under the bill because we are not talking about a statutory holiday; we are talking about a legal holiday.
A legal holiday would help to provide an equal opportunity for everyone in Canada to observe November 11. It is really a symbolic change and hopefully it would entice provinces that currently do not observe November 11 as a holiday to change their practice. Six provinces and all three territories already observe November 11 as a holiday. Again, the bill would not force the rest of Canada to have a holiday, but it would give it a slightly different status by using the word “legal”, which is an important distinction.
Many people in constituents in my riding, young and old, all attend Remembrance Day ceremonies. It is a solemn time in my riding. Members may or may not know that thousands of young men and women have been involved in war efforts over the years, including, most recently, in Afghanistan. There is a real understanding in Thunder Bay in particular of the importance of Remembrance Day.
While a lot of people already do attend, the bill would go further to encourage all the provinces to give an opportunity for everyone to attend Remembrance Day ceremonies.
My last point is that it important to have an additional opportunity to educate the next generation. I want to say just something very briefly about that. The school boards right across my riding make a terrific effort to have veterans come into the schools. The children enter the poster contests with the legions and so on. There is not one schoolchild in my riding who does not have an understanding and appreciation of Remembrance Day and what that means. The education of the next generation is already happening, and the next generation after that. I suspect it is much the same right across the country in just about everybody's riding. A lot of things would not change with the bill, but it would increase its status somewhat, and I that is important.
I am going to finish off with just a brief recap of the bill and bills like it, and what the history has been in the House. I hope people will get the idea that it is high time to give support a bill like this.
I will talk about the NDP first. The NDP has put forward similar bills in the past. In 2006, our MP for Hamilton Mountain brought forward Bill C-363. She did the same in 2009 with Bill C-287. There have also been two motions in the past: Motion No. 424, in the year 2000 by Nelson Riis; and Motion No. 27, in 2006 by our member for Sackville—Eastern Shore.
It is also interesting that in the past the Conservatives have brought forward similar bills. Inky Mark brought forward two bills: one in 2004, Bill C-295; and one in 2006, Bill C-354.
The Liberals have also brought forward bills that are much the same in the past. They brought in two bills and a motion. Ronald MacDonald from Dartmouth brought forward Motion No.699 in 1990, another one in 1991, and another in 1994. Roger Gallaway from Sarnia—Lambton brought forward Motion No. 298 in 2002.
Given the history I have ended my speech on, I can see no reason why we cannot get unanimous support right through the House for this.