Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to stand in the House on our last sitting day of this session and speak to Bill C-597, an act to amend the Holidays Act, which was introduced by the member for Scarborough Southwest.
I want to congratulate him on his ability, from a House perspective, to get the bill this far through the House of Commons. I know that it is never easy. I believe we have had 40 private members' bills receive support from the House during this term, and getting to third reading is no small feat. I congratulate him on that.
The Holidays Act was created in 1970 to consolidate the Dominion Day Act, the Remembrance Day Act and the Victoria Day Act. Although all three days were designated as holidays within that specific act, Remembrance Day was not designated as a legal holiday.
Initially known as Armistice Day, and still known by that name in Newfoundland and Labrador, Remembrance Day was created by King George V to commemorate the armistice that ended the first world war on Monday, November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m.
The first Armistice Day in Canada was observed in 1919, and is still observed every year as Remembrance Day. It was a day on which we remember the men and women who have served and continue to serve our country so that we may live in peace and freedom.
For most of us, Remembrance Day is not only an occasion to remember those who gave their lives and those who continue to fight for our country. It is also a day to be grateful for the sacrifices, bravery and selflessness of our soldiers, and the country we have today. Remembrance Day is an opportunity to give thanks to those who fought, and still fight, for our freedoms and rights. We must never forget this.
That is why our government has been working hard to provide veterans and their families with the care and support they need. In fact, since forming government, we have invested over $5 billion in funding toward programs and services for Canada's veterans that provide them with the support they need and deserve. Our government will continue to leave no stone unturned as we continue to find innovative new ways to build on the supports available to veterans and to their families.
I would like to address Bill C-597 specifically. There needs to be some clarification, as the member for Scarborough Southwest has been misleading Canadians somewhat about his bill. The purpose of the bill is to make November 11 a legal holiday. However, as my colleague opposite said on numerous occasions, “I believe that it is time to make November 11, Remembrance Day, a national statutory holiday”. He said that on November 3, 2014.
I listened to my colleague's speech just before mine and he iterated on a number of occasions that the purpose of the bill was to make Remembrance Day a legal holiday, not a statutory holiday. I find it somewhat ironic that the reason the member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River had to say that was because the purpose of his rationale and building up of his argument in his speech was based on comments that were made by the very mover of the bill, not by anyone in any of the other parties in the House and certainly not by anyone who sat at committee after the second reading vote and during our hearings on the legislation.
Currently, on the member for Scarborough Southwest's website, which I have mentioned a number of times to him both in committee and in the House, there is a statement which says:
Having November 11th made into a statutory holiday will allow every Canadian an opportunity to attend their local Remembrance Day ceremonies and participate in this important day.
That was never taken down. We have had this conversation over a period of many weeks. It makes it clear that the member for Scarborough Southwest believes that his bill would, in fact, make Remembrance Day a statutory holiday.
There are numerous problems with that statement. First, witnesses who appeared before the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs made it very clear that they did not support making November 11 a statutory holiday.
In fact, at committee, Mr. Bradley K. White, dominion secretary, Dominion Command, Royal Canadian Legion, said:
We remain concerned that if given the time off as a legal holiday Canadians may not take the time to remember, that it may simply become a mid-week break or just part of another long weekend.
Mr. Bradley also said:
It is the Legion's position that November 11 not be a legal or statutory holiday.
Furthermore, to back up Mr. Bradley's argument, Ms. Sonia Gallo, who is a communications manager at York Catholic District School Board, said during her testimony:
The York Catholic District School Board...does not endorse Member of Parliament [for Scarborough Southwest's] private [member's] bill to make November 11, Remembrance Day, a statutory holiday.
Second, the member opposite knows full well that even if Bill C-597 were to receive royal assent, it would be up to the provinces to decide what days are statutory holidays. This means that his piece of legislation would have, in essence, no effect.
This is important to note because as stated above, the member has been misleading Canadians in saying on June 15:
This Friday, let us end the 41st Parliament on a high note and elevate Remembrance Day to the same status as Canada Day and Victoria Day by passing Bill C-597....
The bill would not give Remembrance Day the same status as Canada Day or Victoria Day. Should the bill pass and make Remembrance Day a legal holiday, it is the provinces that have the final word of what holiday is statutory or not.
According to the Constitution Act, legislation relating to provincial non-working holidays is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces. Therefore, for Remembrance Day to become a non-working holiday for all Canadians, legislation would have to be adopted by provincial legislatures and most of them already have done this.
Remembrance Day is currently a paid non-working holiday in all provinces and territories, except in Ontario and Quebec. At the federal level, Remembrance Day is a paid non-working holiday for public servants and those working in federally regulated institutions.
This being said, whether Remembrance Day becomes a paid non-working holiday throughout the country or not, we must all remember its significance.
We must remember the reason the day was created in the first place. We must continue to honour it, to be proud of our veterans, of our history and the wonderful country in which we live. We are thankful to those who were and are still willing to fight for it.
We must continue to educate our youth and future generations about the importance of our military history and its place within this world. We must teach them to recognize and appreciate the breadth of the sacrifices of the men and women who put their lives on the line for us, whether they did that previously or whether they do that today, or whether they do that in the future on behalf of this country.
Lest we forget.