Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
It's a great honour to appear before the committee today.
I am very pleased that my Bill C-311 was passed unanimously at second reading in the House of Commons, so that it is before you today.
I want to thank you and acknowledge the efforts over the years of many members from all parties who in previous parliaments brought forward bills similar to this one as private members' bills. I would note that in particular Dan Harris, a member of the New Democratic Party, worked on this in the last Parliament. The bill made it to third reading in the House before dying on the Order Paper before the last election call.
I want to preface this with some remarks about the importance of Remembrance Day. Our beautiful and peaceful country did not happen by luck. It was built, brick by brick, by those who have gone before us, those who have protected and defended our liberties, values, and rights. The people who have served our country in our armed forces deserve our utmost respect.
November 11 is Remembrance Day. That marks the day in 1918 when the Great War, World War I, ended. It has come to symbolize and to solemnly remind us of those who have paid the supreme sacrifice in service to our country. From Ypres, Flanders Fields, and Vimy Ridge in World War I; to Dieppe, Italy, Africa, Normandy, and the Pacific in World War II; and to Korea, peacekeeping missions, the Gulf War, Afghanistan, and other conflicts around the world, there is a continuum of bravery and dedication by our Canadian Forces. Past, present, and future, we must honour them and their sacrifice. It is right that a grateful country appropriately pays tribute and thanks, and remembers our fallen and those who serve.
I therefore believe that Remembrance Day is very important for our country and for all Canadians. I think we should be raising its profile where and when possible, and we should ensure that it is being marked appropriately.
I note in special reflection that in April of this year, 2017, we mark the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge. It's a day that marks a special place in many Canadians' minds. It will be celebrated properly but remembered solemnly by our whole country. I think it's appropriate that we have this discussion the same year that we mark the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge.
You've all been provided with materials relating to my private member's bill, Bill C-311. I want to talk a little bit about the mechanics of the bill.
First, if you look at the provisions that it seeks to amend in the Holidays Act, you'll note that it seeks to add the word “legal” before the word “holiday” with reference to Remembrance Day in the Holidays Act. Other holidays that are specifically mentioned in the act are Canada Day and Victoria Day, which are, in that act, noted as legal holidays. For Remembrance Day, it is noted as just “holiday”. Proposed subsection 3(1) in my bill seeks to add the word “legal”.
With regard to proposed subsections 3(2) and (3), as I mentioned in my speech in the House of Commons, I propose that they be deleted, that they be struck from the bill entirely. My intent in bringing this bill forward was to elevate the status of Remembrance Day to ensure that we are giving it its due and putting it on a level equal to the other days in the Holidays Act. Proposed subsections 3(2) and (3) do not achieve these goals. I have realized since submitting my bill for consideration that they are problematic.
For example, proposed subsection 3(2) basically says that when November 11 is on a Saturday or Sunday, it would then put the holiday to the Monday. I don't believe that is the right thing to do. November 11 is Remembrance Day, and that is the day it should always be marked. It is not about having a holiday, so proposed subsection 3(2), I would suggest, should be struck.
Proposed subsection 3(3) refers to the flag at half-mast. It seemed like a good idea. I was advised that bringing this forward and then deleting it would be easier than trying to add it afterwards. However, having reflected on this, I realize it's problematic.
The proposed subsection reads as follows:
(3) On Remembrance Day, the Canadian flag on the Peace Tower shall be lowered to half-mast.
It's problematic in that if, for example, the Queen were in Ottawa that day to mark Remembrance Day, then her standard, by protocol, would fly over the Peace Tower. It would conflict with this provision. I therefore have no difficulty asking for this provision to be struck as well.
To remove proposed subsections 3(2) and (3), either your committee can vote them down at clause-by-clause or I can draft an amendment, which I'd be happy to do, to remove these provisions.
I'll now turn to what this bill does and what it does not do. This is a really important part of my presentation, because there's been some misinformation, or misunderstanding, about this.
First, what does the bill do? It's a modest measure to add consistency to the language in the federal Holidays Act to add the word “legal” and ensure that the same language that is used for Canada Day and Victoria Day is used for Remembrance Day. I believe this elevates the status, but at the very least it adds consistency to the language in our federal Holidays Act.
I believe it also affirms Parliament's commitment that November 11 is a very important day in Canada, an important day of solemn remembrance and reflection for those who have sacrificed for our country. I also believe it gives pause for us to reflect on the ways in which we honour the service of our service members, and ensures that we are appropriately remembering their service and appropriately honouring Remembrance Day.
What doesn't the bill do? This is really important. It doesn't make a national holiday. It can't. It's not within purview of Parliament to do that. It is up to the provinces to determine whether there is a statutory holiday, a day off, for their jurisdiction.
It doesn't give anyone the day off who doesn't already have it. Anybody in the federal civil service already would have November 11 as a day off because of collective agreements that have been reached. It may clarify, I suppose, at the federal level that this is to be the case, but it wouldn't give anyone the day off who doesn't already have it.
Third, it doesn't give any students a day off school who don't already have that day off school by virtue of provincial statute in their jurisdiction. Many provinces in Canada already have the day as a statutory holiday. Ontario and Quebec do not have it as a statutory holiday. Manitoba has a different law in place. Nova Scotia has the Remembrance Day Act, which in effect gives people the day off, but it's not technically a statutory holiday.
This bill will not make it a national holiday, will not give anyone the day off who doesn't already have it, and will not give any students the day off school who do not already have it. That is within the jurisdiction of the provinces.
The two main arguments that I've heard in opposition...and I know that Mr. White from the Dominion command will be testifying today. It's right to think about this, and I totally respect the Legion Dominion command's point of view, but I disagree. Their argument is that the children should be in school on Remembrance Day to ensure that they are marking the solemn occasion.
What I would say to this is that, first of all, this bill doesn't have anything to do with that, because it doesn't make it a day off. It can't. That's up to the provinces. But in response to the children being in school on Remembrance Day, November 11 is sometimes on a Saturday or Sunday. I don't think anyone would suggest that it would be a problem for schoolchildren to have veterans coming in the week leading up to Remembrance Day to mark the occasion, learn about it, and then perhaps have an opportunity to attend the cenotaph with their parents.
Second, in Nova Scotia, where I come from, Veterans' Week, in the days leading up to Remembrance Day, is well marked. Veterans come into the schools, mark the occasion, teach children about Remembrance Day, and then the children have November 11 to attend with their family.
The other argument is that it could be just another day off. Again, this bill has nothing to do with giving people the day off, but to that I would say that we've seen increasing attendance at Remembrance Day ceremonies in jurisdictions where this is a holiday. That's particularly true in Nova Scotia, which I can attest to, and we'll hear evidence relating to that on Thursday, I believe.
I would also say, though, that we must ensure that it does not become just another day off, that it does not become like Victoria Day, for example, which is always on a Monday for a long weekend. We must ensure that education goes along with any change in provincial ways of marking the occasion.
In conclusion, I'd like to say that I believe this bill is well reasoned and is a modest bill in what it does. The fact that it adds consistency in language and elevates Remembrance Day to the same level as Canada Day and Victoria Day in federal statutes is appropriate, and it affirms Parliament's commitment to ensure that this very important day of reflection and thanks to our fallen is given its due respect.
With that, Mr. Chair, I'm happy to answer any questions. Thank you.