Madam Speaker, I rise today to address Bill C-311. This bill seeks to make changes to the Holidays Act as it pertains to Remembrance Day.
I am pleased to advise the House that we will be supporting the bill with the amendments that were made at committee. I would also like to take this occasion to congratulate and thank the member for West Nova, who has shepherded the bill through committee in a very deliberate and thoughtful way. The passion that he feels for this subject has been very evident in the manner in which he has approached his work throughout in connection with this piece of legislation.
First allow me to explain the origins of the Holidays Act. It is a consolidation of three previous statutes: the Dominion Day Act, the Remembrance Day Act, and the Victoria Day Act. The main purpose of the Holidays Act is to establish the date of these holidays. Although other legislation, such as the Canada Labour Code, refers to Remembrance Day, the Holidays Act is the only place where the date is defined as November 11. When the Holidays Act was put in place, it incorporated the existing wording of all three of the previous statutes, which explains why Canada Day and Victoria Day are referred to as legal holidays and Remembrance Day is referred to simply as a holiday.
The bill before us today proposes to change the Holidays Act to add the word “legal” before “holiday” as it pertains to Remembrance Day. Changing the reference to Remembrance Day to be the same as the term used for Canada Day and Victoria Day will provide consistency in the Holidays Act.
It is important to note, however, that adding the word "legal" before “holiday” in the Holidays Act will not make Remembrance Day a paid non-working holiday for all Canadians across Canada. At the federal level, the Canada Labour Code determines paid non-working holidays for employees under federal jurisdiction. Employees who do not work under federal jurisdiction are subject to provincial and territorial legislation. This change would be a symbolic reflection of the continued commitment of our government to honour veterans and remember their sacrifices.
It is fitting that these discussions about Bill C-311 are occurring in the year when we are commemorating significant anniversaries, including the 100th anniversary of the battles of Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele and the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe raid. Through major events here in Canada's capital at the National War Memorial and overseas at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France, we are turning Canadians' attention once again to these pivotal moments and the sacrifices that were made for our freedom.
Remembrance Day is more than just a date on the calendar. Observed on November 11, the anniversary of the armistice that formally ended hostilities at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, Remembrance Day is a national annual commemoration that keeps alive, in our collective memory, the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who served. They served in the air, they served on land, and they served at sea, and millions more contributed on the home front.
Canada pays tribute to our heroes. Canada's national flag, a paramount symbol of our nation, is flown at half-mast on Remembrance Day. The act of half-masting is a dramatic visual statement that speaks to the sense of shared loss. The flag on the Peace Tower is lowered at 11 a.m. on Remembrance Day, in synchronization with the flag at the National War Memorial.
Flags at other locations across the country are also flown at half-mast on Remembrance Day. Each year, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, Canadians across the country gather at the National War Memorial, in memorial parks, community halls, workplaces, schools, and homes to observe a moment of silence, collectively stand in honour of all who have fallen in the service of their country, and acknowledge those presently serving.
There is a profound value in pausing to remember and in setting aside time to participate in remembrance activities. It is easy sometimes to take for granted the many freedoms we enjoy in Canada: the freedom of thought, of religion, of expression, and the right to equality, liberty, and security. These freedoms are enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights, and the charter forms part of our Constitution.
On April 17, 2017, we marked the 35th anniversary of the charter. The Prime Minister reminded all Canadians:
The Charter protects the rights and freedoms that are essential to our identity as Canadians. It allows us to express ourselves as individuals and to celebrate our differences, while bringing us closer as a country.
In 2017, as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation, the 100th anniversary of the First World War, and the 35th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights, let us address the long-standing inconsistency in the Holidays Act and use the same language for Remembrance Day that is used for Victoria Day and Canada Day.
On Victoria Day we honour our sovereign, Her Majesty The Queen; on Canada Day we show our pride in being Canadian; on Remembrance Day we pause to remember, to reflect on the value of our freedom, and to honour our brave Canadian men and women in uniform who have served and continue to serve our country.
Though changing the Holidays Act to identify Remembrance Day as a legal holiday would be symbolic, it is an important recognition of the significance of that date. Symbols are powerful, as they have an impact on identity. As Canadians, we hold our veterans and our serving members in high esteem, and we set aside time on Remembrance Day to show our respect and gratitude.
This change to the Holidays Act would reflect the continued commitment of the Government of Canada to honour our Canadian values of freedom and equality and would serve as a reminder that Remembrance Day is a time to appreciate our hard-earned freedom. The men and women who fought and continue to fight deserve our respect and admiration. We need to keep their stories alive and pass them on to the next generation.