The National Day of Truth and Reconciliation has been declared as a new statutory holiday to be celebrated on September 30th by the federal government. This has been known unofficially as orange shirt day. This means that all federal workers will have the day off, with pay, purportedly to reflect on the legacy of the residential schools, and now, more broadly, on our own and Canada’s treatment of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada.
Most people tend to think that a statutory holiday automatically becomes a holiday for everybody, but that isn’t the case. It turns out that this is only automatically a holiday for federal employees and those regulated by federal code, which includes a number of industries such as radio broadcasting. Provincial employees, however, are not among those.
AUPE, one of the primary unions at Athabasca University, is noting that unless the province follows suit and declares this a statutory holiday provincially, there’s not any requirement for it to be provided to employees in the province. Noting particularly that Alberta Health Services, and the Alberta Gaming, Liquor, and Cannabis (AGLC) group, among others, have refused to recognize the holiday. These organizations in turn have said that while they recognize the importance of the day and encourage their employees to participate in various activities around the day (such as wearing orange shirts) they are still deciding what they will be doing in response to it becoming a federal holiday.
Alberta, on its part, has been silent on the issue, perhaps because Kenney is on a quiet holiday himself at the moment, likely until shortly after the federal election so that his unpopularity in Alberta doesn’t threaten to bleed into the federal conservative vote during this election. However, some recent comments from the government have suggested they will not formally recognize it, instead encouraging Albertans to reflect in their own time, and not on just one day.
Being honest, few people would use the time off to reflect on the issues of residential schools or the larger issue of how we’ve treated the Indigenous Peoples. But even fewer would do so without a day especially set aside for doing so. Which, to me, signals that this isn’t going to make a lot of difference one way or the other, but it is a way for the government of the day to say that they are at least listening to the indigenous communities in Canada.
And in that sense, the Province not doing it does tend to speak its own message, and not a good one. If this is the least that the federal government can do, and the provincial government can’t even manage that, what does that really say about the importance of these issues to our government?
The AUPE’s human rights committee has issued a press release noting that “To stick their noses up at the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a new level of heartless disrespect.” And I think I agree. Unless our provincial government demonstrates with actions that it’s willing to do more than just give people a day off, ignoring the opportunity to do so really is just a sign of disrespect. As an Albertan, to those who’ve taken it as such a sign, I can only say, “I’m sorry.” And that’s the truth.