National Post (Latest Edition)
Paid days off diminish commemoration
When I first heard that a federal statutory holiday for Truth and Reconciliation had sailed through the House of Commons in May by a unanimous vote, I was immediately wary. On principle, anything that generates no opposing views is to be viewed with caution. If all members of Parliament agree upon something in haste, it is a fair bet that it is damaging to the commonweal.
So with good intentions, they made a mistake. They should not have established a statutory holiday. The prime minister was good enough to demonstrate why it was a mistake by heading to the beach. For that he has been justly flayed and filleted across the vast land which he flew over to get to Tofino.
“I wish that I had never met you,” Jody Wilson-raybould told Justin Trudeau in March 2019, regretting that she allowed herself to be fooled into thinking that he was an “honest and good person, when, in truth, he would so casually lie to the public and then think he could get away with it.”
Perhaps Trudeau thought that if Wilson-raybould wished never to have met him, other Indigenous women would not be keen to have him at their commemorations. So, in keeping with his traditional ways, he “casually lied” that he would be in Ottawa as he jetted westward.
Paid days off have a way of diminishing, rather than enhancing, the reason for the commemoration. That’s why Remembrance Day as a statutory holiday is a mistake. Much better to be at work or school and break with the usual activities to spend time in common remembrance to honour the fallen.
The experience across Canada bears that out. Where Remembrance Day is not a paid day off, more people take part in a time of common remembrance. Where it is, it is easy enough to treat it like another vacation day. The holiday from work becomes a holiday from commemoration, as the prime minister amply demonstrated.
I grew up in Alberta, where Remembrance Day is a statutory holiday, which means that students are not introduced to Remembrance
Day services in schools, likely the most common and best introduction available. In Ontario where I now live, I have been impressed with the quality of Remembrance Day school observances and, in small towns and villages, often the schoolchildren join the civic observance en masse.
The statutory holiday for Truth and Reconciliation should be abolished, as well as that for Remembrance Day. Keep the designation, but make it mean something. Not a holiday from work, but a time for common reconciliation and remembrance, not recreation.
In fairness to the MPS who voted en masse for a new statutory holiday, Canada does not really know how to do civic holidays. Our national day is called “Canada Day,” a title that carries no content whatsoever.
Our commemoration of the royal principle upon which our enduring, peaceable, democratic and constitutional monarchy is based, Victoria Day, is often called “May two-four,” celebrating beer and barbecues. As for the August long weekend, only a tiny minority even recall its proper name.
So don’t be too hard on Trudeau in Tofino. He is not worse than most of the population he leads. We expect more from leaders, but by now it is hardly a shock that his sense of duty does not rise to that level.
Holidays in their civic sense have their origin in holy days, religious feast days. That’s where the idea of time off from work emerged, as it was necessary for both Sabbath observance and to permit time for common worship.
But the same principle applies. The civic holidays for Christmas and Good Friday do not noticeably enhance religious fervour in the land. Indeed, recently bars have been agitating to serve liquor on Good Friday, all the better to get started on a long-weekend bender.
Incidentally, that’s why for years I have suggested to fellow Christian pastors that we emphasize the solemn feast of Pentecost, which is as important a Christian feast as Christmas and Easter. It is precisely because there is no civic holiday equivalent that Pentecost is easier to observe in its proper, authentic religious meaning.
Paid days off are fine for the purpose of adjusting the balance between labour and leisure, well suited for a day at the beach. But to honour, to remember, to mourn? They fail. The prime minister just made more obvious was has been known for a long time.