moved that Bill C-597, an act to amend the Holidays Act (Remembrance Day), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I rise this evening to speak to and in favour of my private member's bill, Bill C-597, an act to make Remembrance Day a national statutory holiday, tabled in this House on May 14, 2014.
This act would seek to give Remembrance Day the same legal status as Victoria Day and Canada Day, the two legal holidays listed in the Holidays Act.
The act also contains a second clause that seeks to codify that on Remembrance Day the flag on the Peace Tower would be flown at half-mast. Later in my speech, I will come back to that second clause and elaborate on deliberations with my fellow MPs from all parties in that regard.
Remembrance Day has always been a special day and has had a very special meaning to me and my family. Like so many other Canadians, we cherish the commitment made by the brave men and women who have donned Canada's uniform since even before our founding as a nation. It has great personal meaning for our family and has shaped our personal history, starting with my great-grandfather, Harold Riley, who served in both world wars. My great-grandmother immigrated to Canada as a First World War bride.
That service continues through to today, with family members who did tours in Afghanistan. Our story, though, is hardly unique.
Our country has been blessed by the courage and dedication of generations of armed forces personnel who have stood and fought and died, or come home broken, to defend Canada,
I am far from the first to suggest making Remembrance Day a national statutory holiday. Currently six provinces and the three territories already have legislation in place to make November 11 a holiday. Indeed, similar versions of this bill have been introduced in previous parliaments by the current member for Hamilton Mountain, at the behest of local legions, and by former Conservative MP Inky Mark.
My bill varies from previous incarnations in a small but substantial way. Other versions called for a day off on the Friday before or the Monday after if November 11 falls on a weekend. Before introduction, I removed this clause, because to me, the 11th is the 11th is the 11th.
Canadians I have spoken with wish to be able to attend ceremonies to pay their respects and to engage in this important act of Remembrance.
Earlier in my speech, I said I would come back to the second clause, which is about having the flag on the Peace Tower flown at half-mast. To most Canadians, that clause would seem entirely reasonable, as it did to me until recently.
During several discussions with colleagues from all parties, the issue of protocol was raised. This clause, as written, does not allow for flexibility so that the flag can be lowered to half-mast at a specific time of day, like 11 a.m., nor does it allow protocol to evolve as times change. It would also be unnecessarily complex to attempt to enumerate the facets of protocol so as to properly capture the sentiment and meaning conveyed by this clause. As such, should this bill pass second reading, I will wholeheartedly endorse an amendment at committee to remove the second clause.
There are also arguments against making Remembrance Day a national statutory holiday. Many businesses fear a loss of revenue or additional payouts, and that is worth considering. I was, however, pleasantly surprised, in discussing the issue with many local businesses and several nationwide operations, that many favour its implementation. Some believe productivity would increase if their staff had another day off. Others have family members who served, and they would like the opportunity themselves to attend services and honour them. A few weeks ago, I was speaking to a CEO, who said to me, "Consumers only have so much money to spend. If they cannot spend it today, they will spend it tomorrow”.
The most compelling argument I have heard for not making November 11 a statutory holiday is that kids should be in school to observe services. This is a very compelling argument. However, I am drawn back to the provinces where it is already a holiday, such as Newfoundland and Labrador, where kids learn about it during the week leading up to the 11th and on the 11th can put what they have learned into practice.
I am also drawn to what happens here in Ontario, where it is not a statutory holiday, though it used to be, when November 11 falls on a weekend. Most schools have services the last school day before the 11th.
At our local cenotaph in Scarborough, every year, a class of kids from Cliffside Public School comes to the ceremony and sings “In Flanders Fields”. It would be a shame to lose that. I believe that they would still continue to do that, given the opportunity, and that they would bring their parents along to see them.
I also believe that it would be easier to get more veterans into schools if their services took place on the last school day before November 11, because where are veterans on Remembrance Day? They are at ceremonies and cenotaphs and services across the country.
In Scarborough, we also hold a service on the Sunday before November 11, at the Scarborough Civic Centre. The sight is spectacular. During the ceremony, air, naval, and army cadets line each level of the Scarborough Civic Centre, and when we look up and see them standing there, we are filled with pride, hope, and faith in Canada's future while we remember the past. Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, Sparks and Brownies also assemble to sing at these ceremonies. Our schools are not the only place we should be educating the next generation.
The education of our children around Remembrance Day is important, and it could be argued that it is the most important act of our remembrance. Just as the decision whether to observe November 11 as a holiday rests with the provinces, so does the curriculum. The Royal Canadian Legion, other veterans organizations, Veterans Affairs, and the Government of Canada already enrich that curriculum, but there is always room to do more.
Like many Canadians, I would like to see more, but that critical component will not be addressed through this bill, nor could it be. Each province chooses how to commemorate. In Manitoba, for instance, retail stores may operate on Remembrance Day, but cannot be open between the hours of 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Our neighbour to the south observes Remembrance Day as Veterans Day. The federal government passed a bill to make it a holiday within federal jurisdiction, and all 50 states passed their own bills so that its application is universal across the United States of America. We can achieve the same here in Canada. A united voice from Parliament would be a big encouragement in that regard, while still respecting each province's ability to choose for itself.
Remembrance Day is a very important day for my family and for this country. I believe that it is our duty to do what we can to honour our men and women in uniform.
It is also important to point out that many of the individuals who fought in the Second World War did not choose to go; the state chose to send them. Still, they did their duty and fought for their country, their province and their values on behalf of us all.
Canadians in uniform have always placed themselves in harm's way for us and deserve to be honoured, whether it be on battlefields 100 years ago and on the other side of an ocean or two weeks ago a few hundred metres from where I stand, in sight of this building, on ceremonial guard over the fallen.
Whether hundreds of kilometres away or in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, our women and men in uniform are always there to defend us and it is our duty to remember them.
In my opinion, Bill C-597, which I am introducing, is an opportunity to emphasize the importance of remembering our veterans and paying tribute to the 40,000 of them who returned from Afghanistan.
The face of veterans is changing. We have 40,000 brave women and men who returned from Afghanistan who are as equally deserving of our support and respect as are all of those who came before them.
It is also the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, which gave birth to Remembrance Day as Armistice Day. I believe that it is time to make November 11, Remembrance Day, a national statutory holiday.