moved that Bill C-311, An Act to amend the Holidays Act (Remembrance Day), be read the third time and passed.
Madam Speaker, it is certainly a pleasure to rise in the House this evening to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-311, an act to amend the Holidays Act with respect to Remembrance Day.
I want to sincerely thank the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage for examining my bill, listening to witnesses, and making changes to the bill that I completely agree with. In fact, at second reading, I had mentioned that I would be suggesting those changes to the committee, and those changes were recommended by the committee.
My bill changes the wording and status of Remembrance Day in the 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 that currently has different language regarding Remembrance Day than the language used for Canada Day and Victoria Day.
I believe it is important to fix this inconsistency and properly recognize Remembrance Day in our federal legislation as a federal legal holiday. More than simply correcting this inconsistency, however, I believe it is important that we continually examine how we are remembering the sacrifice of our fallen heroes and honouring the service of past and present Canadian Forces members.
I hope my bill will also have the added ability of affirming Parliament's commitment to this important solemn day of remembrance right across Canada. It is important to ensure that we shine a bright light on Remembrance Day and remembrance-type services at any opportunity we get.
Last month, I had the honour to attend the Vimy 100 commemoration in France as part of the Canadian delegation. It was an amazing experience to share with veterans and youth, as well as other fellow parliamentarians who were with the delegation.
We toured battlefield sites and cemeteries to remember our fallen. The interaction between the youth and the veterans was an amazing thing. There were two youth from each province and territory in Canada. It was wonderful to experience how they worked together to honour the sacrifice of our brave soldiers who fell in duty in World World I at Vimy, but also how they were able to share stories and engage in conversation with veterans who were on the trip and also, in many cases, family members of those who had fought at Vimy Ridge. I think it is important to celebrate at every opportunity, to make sure that our history is remembered for generations to come.
One of the interesting veterans on the trip was Ed Peck. I had an opportunity to speak to Ed on a couple of occasions during the trip. He is from British Columbia. He is a veteran of the Second World War, and participated in the liberation of Holland. He told me about his father, whose name was Cy Peck, who was actually a sitting member of Parliament during World War I and fought at the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
This amazing connection between generations and between people who serve in this place, as Mr. Peck did, is an incredible testimony to the dedication in service to our country. Mr. Cy Peck was the only sitting member of Parliament to ever win the Victoria Cross at the Battle of Amiens, I believe, in 1918. It is an amazing story which, upon reflection, ties very well into what my bill is attempting to do in elevating the status of remembrance in our country, and ensuring that our history is remembered for generations.
The ceremony on April 9 at Vimy was also an incredible opportunity as a collective experience for young people and veterans alike to share with all Canadians. There were more than 25,000 Canadians, many of them youth, from across our country who were able to attend that ceremony. Many of them had fundraised on their own in order to participate. This is a wonderful symbol for many years to come, a remembrance of sacrifice by our veterans, that will be in good hands.
Whenever we as Canadians have an opportunity to raise the profile of Remembrance Day and shine a light on its significance for our country, I believe it is worthwhile.
The bill was sent to the Canadian heritage committee, which oversees the Holidays Act. There were a number of proponents who spoke in favour of the bill. Some of them had the opportunity to explain why they thought it was important to insert the word “legal” into the context of the Holidays Act.
Mr. Dave Geddes, upon being asked what he thought adding the term “legal” to the term “holiday” would mean, said:
First, I think it would show our veterans that the government really does care. I understand that you people do, but to do this on our 150th birthday, for the veterans.... I think you would get 100% support from them.
Mr. John FitzGerald from Newfoundland and Labrador said:
I agree. Yes, I think changing would help. It gives it prominence. It gives it an importance and a weight—or I can use the word “gravitas”—that it deserves, and that our history and our duty to remember and honour our veterans and those who put themselves in harm's way even today in our Canadian Forces deserve.
That's my short answer.
Also appearing was Wilma McNeill, who has been a champion of modifying or making language consistent in the Holidays Act for many years. She is a strong supporter in favour of the bill. She said:
Yes, I agree that putting it up in the status with Canada Day and Victoria Day will help. Maybe it will wake up some of the provinces and they'll come on board. I think it's very important that we have it, and then it will be there forever. It won't be taken away.
This is the time to do it, as everybody is making celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the birth of Canada. Wouldn't this be a great way to honour our veterans once and for all for the sacrifice? When we think of what they did for us.... We live in a democracy, free, and we can do whatever we want, and it's because of the veterans.
Those were some of the testimonies given at committee in support of the bill.
Comments were made by a representative of the Royal Canadian Legion Dominion Command as well. We talked about this at second reading, the fact that it had not supported the idea behind making it a statutory holiday in all jurisdictions. It was certainly saying that to the committee. However, the main point it raised was twofold. First, schoolchildren should be in school on November 11 to ensure they were learning about Remembrance Day. Second, if it were made a day off for everyone, people would treat November 11 as just another day off.
I have the utmost respect for the Royal Canadian Legion, and I have canvassed this issue with many legion members at the legions in my riding and across Canada. Many of them, and all of them in my riding in particular, support the bill.
The Royal Canadian Legion Dominion Command put forward those two reasons for not supporting my bill. I believe it is in error. The bill has nothing to do with giving people the day off work or school. It cannot do that. It is not within the purview of Parliament to pronounce or legislate on such things. That is up to the provinces. The bill does not and cannot encroach on the jurisdiction of the provinces. Therefore, it is a moot point.
However, if we take the arguments themselves on their merits in any event, in jurisdictions where it is a day off for schoolchildren, it works very well. In Nova Scotia, in Veterans Week and leading up to November 11, many veterans are able to come into the schools to participate with schoolchildren and explain to them why remembrance is so important. The children then have the opportunity on November 11 to attend a cenotaph with family and with veterans and share in that collective experience, as I mentioned before when I saw the students and veterans participate in at Vimy on April 9.
Becoming just another day off is another argument used for people getting the time off work. Again, this has no ability to do that and it has nothing to do with it. That is completely up to the provinces. This is simply modifying language in the federal act to make it consistent with other days.
We see increasing numbers at Remembrance Days services across Canada, most particularly in Nova Scotia. Because of the Remembrance Day act in that province, they have the ability to attend those services.
Therefore, I would respond that the possibility people would take it for granted and just treat it as another day off is incorrect. I believe that year after year people are showing more reverence, and more importance and emphasis is being placed on Remembrance Day. The more we can use education and ensure that children are being taught why Remembrance Day is so important, the better off our country will be. This is a valued and important day of reflection for many Canadians. I think that because of increasing attendance, especially in jurisdictions where people do have the day off work, that is not a proper argument for not supporting this bill, especially since it does not do what is claimed it would do, which is to give people the day off in any event.
The other aspect of this bill that I would like to highlight is that at committee I was asked by some members who did not support the bill at committee stage why this was not simply brought as a motion rather than a bill if all it is to do is elevate the status and shine a light on it. The reason is quite simple. In addition to shining a light on this important day, and ensuring that Canadians know that Parliament is affirming its commitment to honouring and commemorating this important day of November 11, it actually does something tangible. It fixes an inconsistency which may well have been a drafting error made many years ago in the Holidays Act by leaving out the word “legal”. The word “legal” holiday is there for Canada Day and Victoria Day. I would submit that it should be there for Remembrance Day as well.
In conclusion, I believe this bill is well reasoned and is a modest bill in what it actually does. It adds consistency of language in the Holidays Act. It elevates Remembrance Day to the same status as Canada Day and Victoria Day in federal statute, and it does affirm Parliament's commitment to ensuring that this very important day of reflection and gratitude to our fallen and all of those who serve is given its due respect. Therefore, I would ask all of my hon. colleagues to support my bill, Bill C-311, and ensure its passage.