Madam Speaker, today I rise in this House to speak on the subject of Bill C-311, an act to amend the Holidays Act for Remembrance Day, presented by the member for West Nova. This bill seeks to modify the Holidays Act to make Remembrance Day a legal holiday, which would impact federally regulated employees but would not force the provinces to adopt it as a paid statutory holiday. For many, the main goal of this bill would be to make Remembrance Day a legal holiday as well as to encourage Canadian provinces and territories to revisit the possibility of making November 11 a statutory holiday. On a federal level, it is Parliament that decides holidays and their designations, but provinces and territories decide which days become non-working holidays in their respective jurisdictions.
First and foremost, we need to ensure that, for generations to come, the bravery and sacrifice of those who fought are celebrated, and that the horrific nature of war is remembered, and that these things are passed to our children and to theirs. Personally, I have been passionate about Remembrance Day for a long time. I have the utmost respect for serving Canadians, past, present, and future. Honouring our veterans was so important to me as a child that I wrote numerous poems on the subject and received several awards from the Royal Canadian Legion in St. Catharines for my poems from 1972 to 1974.
Each year, I participate in nearly a dozen events that mark Remembrance Week in my riding of Sarnia—Lambton. I have received countless emails and letters from constituents in my riding, outlining why they are in favour of this bill and why they would like to see me vote in favour of this legislation.
Many provinces and territories already have legislation in place that recognizes Remembrance Day as a legal holiday. Making Remembrance Day a legal holiday would simply elevate its federal status to that of Canada Day and Victoria Day. Currently, three territories and six provinces have made Remembrance Day a paid public holiday, including Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, P.E.I., Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. Nova Scotia and Manitoba have specific legislation surrounding what can and cannot be open on November 11. Only Ontario and Quebec do not consider Remembrance Day to be a paid holiday and so have no legislation regarding November 11.
One of the many concerns raised regarding this bill touched on the educational component of Remembrance Day in schools and the fear that ongoing education on this subject could be lost. I certainly believe that children in Canada should learn about our military history, sacrifice, honour, and the important military role Canada has played since its creation. Battles such as Ypres, Vimy Ridge, and Passchendaele, the Battle of the Atlantic, the Dieppe raid, D-Day, the Korean War, and the missions in Afghanistan define Canada as we know it and are recognized internationally as acts of bravery, courage, and partnership.
Creating a sense of respect for our veterans in children from an early age will help to instil a sense of pride in young Canadians, and that impact is not easily erased. The earlier our youth learn what actions and decisions shaped our country, the more equipped they are to really appreciate and participate in Canadian society. They need to learn these things in school, but they also need to experience the act of remembrance at a cenotaph. These services have moved me to tears many times, and are a most effective reminder of those who sacrificed themselves in defence of our country. In the provinces and territories where legislation regarding Remembrance Day is already in place, most schools dedicate specific time to Remembrance Day education and ceremonies. This, along with its being a paid statutory holiday in some provinces and territories, allows Canadians to congregate at cenotaphs across the country on November 11. The act of seeing a formal Remembrance Day ceremony at a cenotaph or war memorial can have a significant impact on children and youth in our communities and can instil a sense of pride and honour that only ceremonies as powerful as those mentioned can bring. I believe it is important for all Canadians to have the opportunity to attend Remembrance Day ceremonies, should they so choose.
In my riding of Sarnia—Lambton, we have a special constituent who has been advocating for the designation of Remembrance Day as a legal holiday for over a quarter of a century. Wilma McNeill of Sarnia has been actively working toward legislation such as this at both the provincial and federal level for over 27 years. With her two sons and her late husband having served in the military, Wilma has dedicated herself to seeing legislation such as this put into place.
Wilma's journey first started with a bill proposed by MP Ken James in the early 1990s. Soon after, she strongly supported Ontario MPP Dave Boushy, whose bill reached second reading. When Wilma speaks on the subject, she recalls how excited and encouraged she was when MP Ronald MacDonald presented two bills on the subject under the Chrétien government.
Wilma has fought tirelessly to reinstate Remembrance Day as a statutory holiday in Ontario and has worked with Sarnia—Lambton's previous MP, Pat Davidson, along with myself, to ensure everything is being done to encourage this bill.
Wilma has written to countless prime ministers, premiers, MPs, and MPPs on the subject and has told me that she will continue to do so until changes are made.
Wilma spoke in favour of this bill only weeks ago at committee, and has spoken in favour of a similar bill at committee in the past.
Wilma is determined to have legislation such as this passed in her lifetime. I would like to both thank and commend Wilma for her years of dedication, her constant smile, and her countless pink outfits that bring joy and encouragement everywhere she brings her message.
Not every person in my riding is in favour of this legislation. I have also heard from constituents who stand against this bill and would like to see it voted down. One of the primary concerns I heard centres around how a proposed day off, which is still up to the discretion of the provinces for the majority of Canadians, could be seen as a vacation and not a day of remembrance. Many constituents are concerned that Remembrance Day could turn into another long weekend or a day to sleep in and relax.
However, I would like to think that those of us who are committed to remembering our fallen heroes would encourage others to take the time and make the effort to pay our respects on November 11 and join our communities at the local cenotaphs.
Another concern raised was how Remembrance Day becoming a holiday could affect our children and our youth in schools. Concerns were raised as to whether this legislation would alter, reduce, or eliminate any form of education of ceremonies on the subject of Remembrance Day. The provinces where legislation already exists proves this is not the case and the education and ceremony segments are simply scheduled earlier or later in the week, permitting students to attend community ceremonies with their families, if they desire.
Personally, in my role as MP, I can truthfully say that I attend at least 11 Remembrance Day ceremonies in the week leading up to November 11. Remembrance Day is not necessarily a one-day event and can often stretch over an extended period of time. I do not believe that making November 11 a legal holiday will have a lasting impact on Canadian students as alternatives already exist and have already been successfully implemented in numerous provinces and territories.
Another concern raised was that of the position of many Legions across the country, as well as the position of Dominion Command. Not all the Legions across the country are on the same page when it comes to this subject and their opinions vary.
In addition, the Canadian military, the Merchant Navy, the Air Force Association of Canada, and the 1st Hussars all support having this day as a legal holiday.
Dominion Command, on the other hand, has clearly stated that it is not in favour of Bill C-311. Dominion Command has been dealing with these concerns for decades and its role is indisputable. It is familiar with the issue. I fully respect its stance and all the work it does for the forces and for our veterans. Having dealt with this issue 15 times in 45 years, Dominion Command has seen a growth in Remembrance Day activities and in participation. It highlighted concerns about the subject of education in schools and concerns that Remembrance Day might become another holiday that would lose meaning, and if it were to become a legal holiday, would it be treated as another time to remember and honour our fallen or just another long weekend.
Seeing as the majority of Canada already has legislation in place regarding the status of Remembrance Day, and seeing those provinces and territories are capable of providing complete in-school education and ceremonies during the week that leads up to November 11, I believe students are still receiving excellent education and interaction on this subject in school.
Allowing Canadians the opportunity to attend Remembrance Day ceremonies in their communities, or in larger city centres, would encourage Canadians to participate, which I believe is a good thing.
I recognize that not all Canadians would take advantage of the opportunity, but the question remains, should Canadians have that choice?
As such, I will be standing in favour of the bill when it comes for a vote. I will do so both in support of Wilma McNeill, as well as in honour of the countless Canadians who deserve to be remembered forever.