moved that Bill C-401, an act to amend the Holidays Act (Flag Day) and to make consequential amendments to other acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise today to discuss Bill C-401. This is not the first time I have introduced this legislation. It is not even the first time that similar legislation has been presented before the Chamber. I had an identical bill in the previous parliament that was votable but unfortunately it died on the order paper when the election was called.
For members here and for those watching us tonight, some may immediately jump to the obvious conclusion that there is such a thing as a flag day. Flag day is the third Monday of February or February 15. My legislation talks about making it the third Monday. Flag day is recognized on the February 15, which is the very day the flag rose over our nation in 1965 for the first time. Indeed the current Prime Minister proclaimed a day called flag day. The difference between that and my bill is that my bill seeks to make flag day a national holiday. That is to say that people would have the day off work to celebrate this event.
The background of this has a lot of history in this Chamber. It goes back as far as 1980 when my colleague in a previous session, Warren Allmand, presented a bill much the same as this. Back in those days they called this heritage day and indeed we have a heritage day as well which falls on the third Monday of February. This of course causes some confusion among people. I look at flag day as being a culmination of heritage day to recognize the heritage of all cultural groups in Canada under one flag.
Then there is a string of similar suggestions by the New Democratic Party. Stanley Knowles presented this legislation at one time, as did Ian Deans. A special consideration for my former professor. I have a bachelor of commerce degree but I always took political science just down the road here at Carleton University and in those days my political science professor for about three of those years was Dr. Pauline Jewett, which I know rings a happy note with some of my colleagues across the way. I can say that Dr. Jewett was somewhat responsible for leading me into the area of politics. It took a long time for me to remember some of her words and come back to this place, but it is in somewhat of her honour that I am able to stand in my place and present her very bill, although I now call it flag day as opposed to heritage day.
Mr. Speaker, sitting on either side of you is the Canadian flag. I have been very happy, every day I have been in the House, to wear this lapel pin, the Canadian flag. I have been very proud of my country and its symbols.
The flag is more than a simple piece of coloured cloth. It is the epitome of who we are as a country. It is a symbol. Canada is very much a young country. For some of us 1867 may seem like a long time ago but in reality, when we compare it to countries like Greece or European countries, our history is quite young. It is very important that a country, as it is evolving, evolves symbols of its unity as symbols of its people. I do not think there is any stronger symbol in Canada than our flag.
I know all of us have travelled to foreign countries and there is no question of the identity, when one is wearing that flag, of who one is, where one is from. Most important, it is not about geography, it is about what kind of people that represents, caring people who created this incredible country on the north half of the North American continent, the second largest geographical country in the world with tremendous democratic traditions over a short period of time. It has become the envy of the world. The Prime Minister often refers to the United Nations accreditation that Canada is deemed the best country in the world for its social services and so forth. This is really about agreements that we make with one another.
I was talking to some Cape Bretoners last night. Taxation came up. I said people like to talk about Ottawa, about money coming from Ottawa and going to Ottawa, but in reality what is really happening is that these are all agreements we make among ourselves. We agree in this place to share money with other citizens of this country for a variety of reasons.
I think these are the great things that Canada is about and why this symbol is so important to me and the Canadian people.
The flag debate has had a great tradition. I was a little younger but I can remember the flag debate in the House. I can remember the very day the flag went up the flagpole on this Chamber. Governor General Georges Vanier, Lester Pearson and hundreds of thousands of Canadians watched that momentous event. I also remember at that time the leader of the official opposition, Mr. Diefenbaker, with a tear in his eye watching the red ensign come down. It was a traumatic event in our history. It was a recognition of how we had changed. It was not about throwing out our old traditions.
A lot of people get involved in the monarchy thing. They always think we are tearing something apart. We are throwing something in the garbage. Our history cannot be stolen. Nobody can steal our traditions. What we can do is build on the strength of those traditions and move forward. I believe that is what the flag does.
I have not argued why I feel this should be a national holiday which is significantly different from what the Prime Minister did only a short few years ago. It should be a national holiday because it is a time that Canadians can reflect on their heritage, their culture and the things that make this a great country.
I know some people will suggest what is Canada Day if not that. I agree. Canada Day is another similar day on which we recognize our country. But flag day is unique in that it marks the evolution of our country in 1965. An argument a lot of people will bring is that we cannot afford flag day. That is another day off. People will not be working. Employers will have to pay for it. That is a lot of the argument brought up.
To give a comparison, Australia has 11 statutory holidays; Austria, 12; Finland, 12; France 11; our chief trading partner the United States, 11; Canada, only 10. In the scheme of things we can see there is room for another national holiday.
I will touch very briefly on the cost of that. It is a fair question and people are going to raise that issue. I have made a basic estimate of the labour costs for that national holiday of $1.5 billion. People will say that is a lot of money in lost productivity. It represents .16% of our economic activity. More important, it does not attempt to analyse what economic benefits would be gained by a national holiday.
Members may ask what benefits could there possibly be. Everybody will be sitting at home or hopefully going to flag day celebrations. How is that going to have an economic impact? I do not have to tell the House that we have Winterlude going on right now in Ottawa. People would use this to promote tourism and events and celebrate the flag. When people do that they have a tendency to go out and spend some money and so forth. So there is a direct economic benefit to Canadians to have this national holiday.
It is very timely that we are having this debate because Monday, February 15 is flag day. The time between New Year's Day and the next holiday, Good Friday, is about 91 days. In other words, it is over three months without a holiday. Many of my constituents and other people have said we need a break in the middle of winter. Winters are long and the days are short. It would be nice to celebrate our country and make something very important about that.
I have mentioned Canada Day. One problem I have with Canada Day is that it is in the middle of the summer. Invariably the very people we want to interest in this cultural evolution are our youth. Unfortunately they are out of school at the cottage or wherever and Canada Day kind of works but it does not work as well as I think it could.
That is why in my own riding I have been promoting flag day. It started off with one school the first year that the Prime Minister proclaimed that day. We went to the school and had a ceremony. We raised the flag and we talked about the great and wonderful things in this country. It was a wonderful thing to watch all these students with their Canadian flags singing O Canada. They were very proud of their nation and about who they are.
There was a teacher retiring. He was 55. He said “That is the culmination of my career. I have never been so proud to be a teacher at this school as this day”. That tells something about the emotion people feel about this event.
I have attempted with the help of the people on the school board to promote this because it is such a wonderful thing. Now it is at the point where I cannot go to all the flag day ceremonies in my riding. My whip is annoyed with me and other members as well because I will be away on Monday. I have three ceremonies that I am going to. Our biggest problem is supplies. We have to find hundreds and hundreds of paper Canadian flags.
It is a great event because we talk to those young people about the importance of Canada because it is their country. Clearly they are going to be the inheritors of this great nation.
We are all getting a little older and one of these days we are not going to be here. It is these young people who will step forward in our place and advance the cause of Canada. It is to these people that we are trying to promote the importance of this great nation.
We just had a debate on Bill C-55. I do not really want to get involved in that, but that is the whole issue that we are talking about, Canadian culture and our identity.
I think I have touched on most of the points that I wanted to raise. I wish this were a votable motion. I think it is a very important issue for all Canadians to identify the symbols which unite them as a nation and to honour them and make them even more important in their lives. If all of us did that on a day to day basis this would be a greater country.
I see some of my colleagues from the Bloc looking at me very auspiciously. It is a great experiment that we are all involved in here. We cannot unite under monarchial flags. It is time to realize we have a central purpose in this country and that is our flag. Our flag identifies that purpose.
I will close on that and I hope we have a very nourished debate about what I consider a very important issue.