moved that Bill C-311, An Act to amend the Holidays Act (Remembrance Day), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise this evening to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-311, an act to amend the Holidays Act (Remembrance Day). At the outset, I would like to express my thanks for the work done on similar bills in previous Parliaments, most recently by former New Democrat MP Dan Harris, in the 41st Parliament, but before that by former Conservative MP Inky Mark and former NDP MP Chris Charlton.
In the last Parliament, in November 2014, Dan Harris's bill passed second reading in the House with near unanimous support. The 41st Parliament ended before the bill could be voted on at third reading.
The bill changes the wording and status of Remembrance Day in the federal Holidays Act by making it a legal holiday, like Canada Day and Victoria Day. It is intended that this amendment will correct the Holidays Act, which currently has different language for Remembrance Day than the language used for Canada Day and Victoria Day. I believe that it is important to fix this inconsistency and properly recognize Remembrance Day in our federal legislation as a legal holiday.
More than simply correcting this inconsistency, however, I believe it is important that we continuously examine how we as Canadians remember the sacrifice of our fallen heroes and honour the service of past and present Canadian Forces members. In so doing, I am hoping that the bill will start a conversation across Canada about whether we are doing enough to appropriately recognize Remembrance Day.
Personally, I believe that it would be appropriate for Remembrance Day to be a statutory holiday in every province and territory in Canada so that it is marked from coast to coast to coast as a national holiday and a day of solemn remembrance. However, I completely respect that it is not within the purview of Parliament to enact such a law, and of course, the bill does not do so.
Nevertheless, I believe that if the bill is passed and our Parliament reinforces in this way the importance of November 11, it can give the provinces that do not already do so a good opportunity to revisit whether they want to mark Remembrance Day as a statutory holiday in their jurisdictions.
Bringing this forward makes us pause to reflect on why Remembrance Day is so important. Canadians are rightly proud of their country. We are so blessed to live in such a beautiful, diverse, and free society. We must never take for granted everything we are blessed with in Canada. We are 36 million people, but we are less than one-half of one per cent of the world's population, and we are so very fortunate to live here.
Our beautiful and peaceful country did not happen by luck. It was built by those who have gone before us, those who protected and defended our liberties, values, and rights, those who have served in our Canadian Forces.
Remembrance Day is on November 11, because that is the day in 1918 when the guns fell silent and the Great War ended. It has come to symbolize, mark, and solemnly remember those who paid the supreme sacrifice in the service of our country. From Ypres, Flanders Fields, and Vimy Ridge in World War I, to Dieppe, Italy, Normandy, and the Pacific in World War II, to Korea, peacekeeping missions, the Gulf War, and Afghanistan, along with other conflicts in tormented places around the world, our brave men and women have made us proud. We continue to honour them and the sacrifices of others who have gone before them. It is right that a grateful country such as Canada pays tribute and remembers our fallen.
For decades, Remembrance Day has given us an opportunity to gather together and pay tribute to all those who died while serving our country and to recognize the courage of current and former members of the Canadian Armed Forces.
All too often, we take for granted our values, institutions, freedom of association, freedom of speech, and right to make our own political choices without fear of reprisal. Our veterans, including many Acadians in my region, went to war overseas because they believed that the values and beliefs that we still share as Canadians were threatened. They were determined to protect, at all costs, vulnerable populations who were being oppressed by radical ideologists.
Remembrance Day reminds us of the importance of preserving this sense of freedom that our heroes wanted to protect and of our responsibility to keep the peace for which they fought.
Growing up in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Remembrance Day was instilled in me to be a solemn day. My family always went to the cenotaph on Main Street for 11 o'clock on November 11. There were a lot of people who did so.
However, I must say that it is encouraging to see that the numbers of those attending such ceremonies right across my riding, all across Nova Scotia, and indeed, across Canada, have been increasing over the last number of years.
The main Remembrance Day ceremony in Yarmouth is now in the Mariners Centre, a hockey arena that is more accommodating of the large crowd and also for the many veterans who have mobility issues and cannot attend at the cenotaph. The cenotaph still has an excellent ceremony and there are a lot of people who attend at each place. I look forward to attending the Mariners Centre this year in order to share the occasion with many veterans from my area and also many citizens who will be there to mark the solemn occasion.
As important as these ceremonies are on November 11, I will never forget the veterans who would come into my school, when I was a child, in the days leading up to November 11. They would tell us their stories of sacrifice and valour, but also in their message was pride for our country and their love of peace over war. It touched me profoundly to see their emotion when talking about the horrors of war and about the terrible loss of a comrade. I believe these stories need to be taught throughout the year to our young people. However, it is at this time of year, in particular, near Remembrance Day, that they are especially poignant and meaningful.
A few years after high school, I was extremely fortunate to be selected to work as a tour guide at Vimy Ridge, France. The Canadian monument at Vimy and its place in our country's history are awe-inspiring. My time at Vimy Ridge and learning the history of Canadians who fought there reinforced, in my mind, the significant debt of gratitude our country owes to our forces and to our veterans.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge was fought in April 1917, and in only a few short months, we will be marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. It is significant that it is also in the year Canada will be celebrating its 150th anniversary as a country, as Vimy Ridge was the first time that Canadians from across our country fought together, shoulder to shoulder, as a cohesive formation and achieved a remarkable victory. Many believe that out of this event with its success but tragic loss, Canada's national identity and nationhood were born.
As members of Parliament, we will each be returning to our ridings next week and on Friday of next week, November 11, will be attending Remembrance Day ceremonies and events.
I know that there are many activities planned throughout my riding of West Nova throughout the whole day. Last year, I had the pleasure to attend the moving Remembrance Day ceremony at Kingston, Nova Scotia, and visited various events throughout the Annapolis Valley, home to 14 Wing Greenwood. I am so privileged to represent those members of the Canadian Forces and also the veterans who have contributed so richly to my community.
Like many of my colleagues, I will also be attending ceremonies in the days leading up to November 11. For example, on November 8, at the Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School, and on November 10, at Meadowfield elementary school, I will be attending Remembrance Day ceremonies with students and staff, as well as veterans, to honour and share in solemn remembrance those who have sacrificed so much for Canada.
In many schools next week, it is in fact marked as Remembrance Day week. Students learn about the history of our men and women in service to Canada and pause to reflect on their sacrifice. These are just a couple of the many ways that Remembrance Day is marked at schools in West Nova and in the days leading up to November 11. It is encouraging to know many young people will also attend Remembrance Day ceremonies with their families on November 11, or perhaps as part of the memorial club in Yarmouth, whose young members throughout the year, but particularly on Remembrance Day, demonstrate their pride in Canada and gratitude for our veterans.
I am very pleased that many veterans in West Nova and across Canada are supporting the bill. They believe, as I do, that it is important to draw attention to the significance of Remembrance Day.
One of the legions in my riding is the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 155 in Wedgeport, Nova Scotia. Over the past several months, I have been fortunate enough to attend two different ceremonies, where a member of a branch has been received into the French Legion of Honour for their incredible service and as a sign of France's respect for their contributions to the combat that led to the liberation of France in World War II.
Bernard Smith and Vernon Doucette joined two other members of the Wedgeport legion, Alcide LeBlanc and Wesley Spinney, in receiving the French Legion of Honour for their part in the liberation of France. Western Nova Scotia is very proud of these four gentlemen and their service to Canada in the cause of freedom. It is, indeed, very special that one small legion branch has four such heroes who have been recognized in this significant way.
There are so many other stories like theirs across my riding and across our country. We honour their sacrifices and living legacies, and also remember the many men and women who have donned a Canadian Forces uniform in our history, who did not return home, and who did not have the chance to have us thank them for their valiant and brave service to Canada.
As it relates to the bill, in addition to modifying the language to make Remembrance Day a federal legal holiday and have the same status in the Holidays Act as Canada Day, the bill also purports to do two other things.
First, subclause 3(2) provides that if November 11 falls on a weekend, similar language to that of Canada Day be used to make the following Monday a holiday.
Second, subclause 3(3) provides that on Remembrance Day, the Canadian flag on the Peace Tower shall be lowered to half mast.
Upon reflection and consultation with my colleagues, I realize that both of these provisions are, unfortunately, problematic. I am, therefore, very open to these provisions being deleted from the bill by amendment at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, where the bill will be referred to should it pass a vote in the House after second reading. In fact, I am very happy to propose them directly to the committee if this is to be done.
The main objective of the bill and the motivation I had in putting it forward in the first place is not furthered by either of these provisions.
Let us, in this 42nd Parliament, do what is right. Let us recognize Remembrance Day as a federal legal holiday, put it on the same level in the Holidays Act as Canada Day and Victoria Day. We can also provide the occasion to the provinces that do not already recognize Remembrance Day as a statutory holiday to revisit how Remembrance Day is observed in their jurisdiction.
From McRae's famous poem that echoes through the ages:
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields
Let us then do our duty and not break faith with those who have died for Canada. Let us do all we can to ensure we honour their sacrifice. I believe Bill C-311, in a modest way, would help in that cause, and that is why I ask for the support of my colleagues.
I ask all Canadians right across our country to please show their respect for our veterans and our fallen, wear a poppy, and attend a Remembrance Day ceremony next week.
Lest we forget.