Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I thank the honourable member, Mr. Fraser, for bringing this bill forward.
It's a difficult piece of legislation to deal with, because obviously we're dealing with the issue of Remembrance Day. As we heard throughout the testimony, there's not one of us on this committee who doesn't feel the highest level of respect for the work our veterans have done. We told stories of the experiences of our families and veterans: my grandfather was a merchant mariner, and my wife's uncle Jack was killed flying a Lancaster bomber over Poland. I know from my standpoint, being a representative who's close to CFB Borden and having a terrific relationship with the base and all those who serve our military, I have the utmost respect for our veterans. I'm also the critic for Veterans Affairs, which is why I'm sitting through this process of dealing with Bill C-311.
I've talked to veterans across the country and I was active in Remembrance Day ceremonies. One of the most compelling parts of what we heard over the course of the last several weeks in dealing with this bill was when we had Dominion Command come in here. Dominion Command, as we heard from Mr. White, represents about 275,000 members across the country. The testimony we heard from Mr. White suggested that they are not in support of Bill C-311.
When I spoke to Mr. Fraser initially about this bill, I told him that we would support it coming to committee so that we would hear what Dominion Command had to say with respect to the piece of legislation. I think Dominion Command, through Mr. White on behalf of the 275,000 members, spoke very clearly and succinctly of the fact that they're not supportive of this bill.
In contrast to that, respectfully, I think we had three or four people who came to the committee and said they were supportive of this bill. I respect their position. They talked about elevating the status of Remembrance Day to a legal holiday—certainly not a statutory holiday, but as we've heard, it has no legal effect. With all due respect to Mr. Fraser, and I think he testified to this as well, it was a feel-good bill.
When we pass pieces of legislation in the House of Commons, we don't do so because they feel good; we do so because they support the intent to make the lives of Canadians better. Understandably, there can be an argument that this will help elevate the status of Remembrance Day, but as we heard from Mr. White and from others, and as I can tell you anecdotally from being as involved in Remembrance Day week as I was, the status of Remembrance Day continues to grow in this country. We're seeing a significant number of Canadians participate in the remembrance of those who gave their lives in sacrifice for the freedoms that we enjoy, and as I said when we were dealing with this bill in committee, there's not a day that goes by that I, or any of us who have the privilege of sitting in the House of Commons, don't realize that those sacrifices were real, that blood was spilt, that families were torn apart to allow us the privilege of sitting in our symbol of democracy, the House of Commons.
As nice as it would be to feel good about Remembrance Day, I just don't think this piece of legislation, because it actually makes no difference, is something that we can support. As I mentioned, and as I think Mr. Waugh mentioned to Mr. Fraser, if the intent was to emphasize the importance of Remembrance Day to Canadians, we could have easily done that through a motion. We didn't necessarily need a piece of legislation to do that.
The other testimony we heard from Mr. White is the unequivocal fact that Dominion Command doesn't want this to be a statutory holiday. In fact, over the course of the last 45 years, they've dealt with this issue 15 times by way of resolution at their conventions.
I asked Mr. White for the latest resolution, which came from the 2016 convention. The subject and the briefing note to the delegates were clearly about Remembrance Day being a statutory holiday. There were several “whereas” clauses. It said in the “be it resolved” paragraph that the Legion “reconsider its position through respect for its veteran minority; hold a referendum forthwith of its Life and Ordinary members who are veterans; since the Dominion Convention has failed to act in the best interest....”
It was a resolution submitted by the Quebec Command. The resolution was non-concurred by the committee; it wasn't supported. The comments, which I'll read so they go into the record here, Mr. Chair, if you'll indulge me, are:
The holiday status of Remembrance Day has been debated at numerous Dominion Conventions throughout the Legion's history, most recently at our 2012 Dominion Convention. It was at the 2012 Convention that the Legion's position against Remembrance Day being a statutory holiday was reaffirmed.
Now, before the argument comes back to say this wasn't a legal holiday, if you recall, Mr. White's testimony said that he was concerned that this was going to open the door for statutory holidays, and frankly, that's my concern.
There were many reasons he gave, not the least of which was that schools across the country participate. Many of them that don't currently observe it as a statutory holiday participate in Remembrance Day. They've seen a growth in Remembrance Day activity and involvement, and they want that to continue. They don't want people to have a holiday, and their concern, frankly, is the fact that this bill might lead to that.
They also said in their comments:
We remain concerned that Canadians, if given the time off as a legal holiday, may not take the time to remember; that it may simply become a mid-week or just part of another long weekend. The latter situation relates specifically to discussion at the 1978 Dominion Convention which focused on how government departments of the day treated November 11th as a floating holiday for the purpose of giving their employees a long weekend. This must not be allowed to happen again. What is needed is to raise the awareness and understanding of Remembrance Day
—which Mr. White spoke about when he appeared before us—
which could be achieved through an education strategy. It is paramount that the significance of Remembrance Day be instilled in our youth and to the general population to show their respect for the sacrifices of our Fallen. To honour this day, many schools hold assemblies where they organize their own commemoration; some teachers take their students to collectively participate with their peers in ceremonies at local cenotaphs, thereby strengthening the impact of the significance of November 11th. The Legion works very closely with schools throughout the country to provide an educational component about Remembrance Day. In addition to welcoming classes at ceremonies, the Legion's Teaching Guide is another excellent educational tool, which has been viewed or downloaded from our website more than one million times. Therefore, this resolution is non-concurred by the Committee.
That was at their recent convention in 2016.
Since our last meeting, I have been in touch with Dominion Command. I asked if there was some way to go forward if we introduced a notwithstanding clause to clarify the intent of clause 1—and the intent, as far as I'm concerned, is not to have a statutory holiday—to make it very clear so that it addresses the concerns of Dominion Command and doesn't open that door, as they fear, to Remembrance Day becoming a statutory holiday, and they were not in a position to support that.
From my standpoint, Mr. Chair, I made attempts to make this work, but I have to respect, and I think we all have to respect, that as much as it feels good to support this bill and as much as the argument will be made to elevate it to legal status, which means nothing in terms of the Holidays Act, it's a feel-good piece of legislation.
My preference would have been that this be a motion and not a piece of legislation, because it means nothing. We're not in the business—some would argue that perhaps we are—of enacting legislation that means nothing and has no cause and no effect. I have to respect, and I hope colleagues will respect—and I don't mean any disrespect to Mr. Fraser, for I completely understand the intent of his bill—the voice of an organization, Dominion Command, that represents 275,000 members, not two or three or four.
Last week, Mr. Chair, I was down in Washington, D.C., and I was privileged to meet with the commander-in-chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, with 1.2 million members. I was also privileged to meet with the commander-in-chief of the American Legion, with 2.4 million members. They speak on behalf of veterans. They're the voice of veterans in Washington, and they're a very powerful voice.
In Canada, it's Dominion Command. We have to respect the wishes of Dominion Command. If they're not supportive of this piece of legislation, it doesn't diminish Remembrance Day in any way. In fact, it is Dominion Command that leads Remembrance Day ceremonies and has seen it grow. We have to respect their position on this, and their position is not to support clause 1 to raise this to a legal holiday, for the reasons that I stated.
Out of respect for Dominion Command, we cannot support Bill C-311, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you for your time.