Kevin Waugh (Saskatoon—Grasswood)
2018-09-24 11:13 [p.21718]
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-369, an act to amend the Bills of Exchange Act, the Interpretation Act and the Canada Labour Code (National Indigenous Peoples Day).
This bill would make National Indigenous Peoples Day a statutory holiday. As a result, about 6% of the labour force would be impacted by this change. This bill would grant a holiday for employees of the federal government and federally regulated businesses only. It would not affect employees who are not subject to the Canada Labour Code.
National Indigenous Peoples Day has been proudly supported and celebrated by Conservatives, both while in government and as the official opposition. Indigenous peoples form an integral part of our country and their histories, cultures and traditions should be recognized and celebrated by all Canadians.
Every year our party encourages Canadians to take part in the local National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations so that we can all learn more about the rich history and traditions of indigenous peoples throughout this country, as well as the tremendous contributions which indigenous peoples have made to this country to make it what it is today, a better place to live.
In my city of Saskatoon, National Indigenous Peoples Day events are always something to look forward to. They are celebrations that help bring the whole community together in the spirit of diversity, understanding and, of course, learning. Every year in June, National Indigenous Peoples Day is one of the major events in my city of Saskatoon. The event is held in Victoria Park where the celebrations begin in the morning with a pipe ceremony. The event this year was followed by Rock Your Roots and a walk for reconciliation which was very well attended. Hundreds of people lined the streets of Saskatoon on this walk. It is an excellent opportunity for everyone to come together in the spirit of reconciliation. I was very proud to see the display of unity in my city.
The celebrations offered a very important opportunity for children and youth to learn about the rich and diverse cultural heritage of first nations and Métis peoples within my province of Saskatchewan. Additionally, the Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre hosted numerous activities this year, which allowed young people to both observe and participate in a first nations dance, along with songs and teachings. I think this is particularly important for the young people of our province. These celebrations are very successful and they are important to the entire community.
When we discuss the impact of the addition of a new statutory holiday, we need to really think about whether we have gathered all the right information to make an informed decision. As my colleague from Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo has stated before in the House, we need to know the economic impact related to the implementation of this new statutory holiday. If we do not have this information available to us, it is hard for us to know what kind of effects the addition of a new statutory holiday would have on Canada’s economy. It is important to note that in discussing whether to add a new statutory holiday to Canada’s Labour Code, we are not considering at all whether we should re-examine any of the existing statutory holidays. Specifically, we are not looking at whether we should remove some of the existing holidays going forward.
These factors are very crucial to our understanding of the economic impact associated with this bill, which in turn informs our decision-making. We must also consider whether statutory holidays have the desired effect on increasing the learning and awareness of these events and traditions which they are meant to honour and celebrate.
Currently, National Indigenous Peoples Day ceremonies and celebrations across the country enjoy a wide attendance by people from all walks of life. In June, here in the national capital region, I was happy to attend this year’s ceremony near the Canadian Museum of History. A number of people attended the morning ceremony. Traditional sunrise ceremonies are enjoyed by all as they mark the beginning of a day filled with diverse cultural celebrations across the country.
We need to be concerned about the impact a statutory holiday might have on all of these celebrations and cultural festivities. Similar concerns have been raised by officials. We have had a debate in the House about whether Remembrance Day should be a statutory holiday. Different regulations exist throughout the country concerning the status of Remembrance Day in terms of whether it is a statutory holiday or not. Keep in mind that since 1970, the Royal Canadian Legion has come out against the resolution to make the day a statutory holiday. One official from the Royal Canadian Legion, Bill Maxwell, highlighted his concerns with making Remembrance Day a statutory holiday and stated that by institutionalizing it as a statutory holiday, the impression is that people would stay at home and would not make an effort to attend a ceremony downtown on November 11.
Last Thursday afternoon, I sat in on a meeting of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Metis Federation, echoed those same sentiments. He said that we do not really need a statutory holiday for Remembrance Day and he wonders if we even need one for National Indigenous Peoples Day. With a day as important as National Indigenous Peoples Day, we need to take great care to ensure that it does not risk becoming a holiday that is robbed of its significance by being viewed by employees as simply a day away from work.
Reconciliation with our first nations, Métis and Inuit communities is a process that all Canadians should be committed to and should support. We must make every effort to guarantee that indigenous peoples across the country receive fair and equitable access to education, economic development and employment and training opportunities. These are all fundamental aspects of reconciliation and they are vital issues which the Liberal government is failing to address.
In 2016, a report by the C.D. Howe Institute found that only four in 10 young adults living on reserve across Canada have completed high school compared to graduation rates of seven in 10 for indigenous peoples living off reserve, and nine in 10 for non-indigenous Canadians. These statistics are totally unacceptable and clearly show the vast difference in the kinds of education opportunities that are available to communities on reserve compared to everywhere else in the country. These differences act as a barrier to reconciliation, yet the Liberals have broken their promise to close the education gap between on reserve and off reserve. The consequences of this broken promise for the on-reserve communities are numerous and severe. The same 2016 report highlighted that these low graduation rates had many negative repercussions on reserve, which include unemployment, poverty and limited social and economic opportunities.
While we need to make sure we know what the impact of the designation of National Indigenous Peoples Day as a statutory holiday would be, the empirical data on the question is lacking. As a result, we cannot be clear at all in our discussions on the matter because we are missing key personnel information. The intentions of the bill may be well meaning, but we must also think about whether a statutory holiday is in fact the best way to preserve the meaning of National Indigenous Peoples Day.