New Brunswick decides not to formally enshrine new Truth and Reconciliation holiday
Only federally regulated employees are entitled to a paid day off on Sept. 30
With only 29 days before Canada's inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, New Brunswick has decided not to make it a provincial holiday.
That means employers are not obligated to give the day off.
All provincial services, including schools, will be business as usual on Sept. 30, while all private companies will have to decide whether to close and give employees the day off.
In making the announcement Tuesday, Premier Blaine Higgs urged New Brunswickers to take time to reflect.
"Our government encourages everyone to use this day as an opportunity to consider what each of us can do as individuals to advance reconciliation and help to create a better, more inclusive province" he said in the statement emailed to CBC. "While September 30th will be observed in New Brunswick, it will not be a statutory holiday."
In June, the federal government passed legislation to make Sept. 30 a federal statutory holiday, which was one of the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The decision means all federally regulated employees will be entitled to a paid day off.
Everyone else is governed by provincial employment laws, so by failing to make it a provincial holiday, New Brunswick has left the decision to individual employers, according to Fredericton employment lawyer Jessica Bungay.
"There is no legal requirement for it to be a holiday for employers that are provincially regulated, and that would be most employers in New Brunswick or in Atlantic Canada," she said.
"I know that some businesses are making the choice to close their businesses on Sept. 30, despite the fact that they are provincially regulated and it is not a required holiday for them."
The president of the largest union within New Brunswick's civil service said they had been waiting for official word from the province.
"We have brought it up to government, but we have not been given official word on whether or not they will honour the day," Susie Proulx-Daigle said in a statement emailed Tuesday before the premier's announcement.
"Given that it is recognized as a national holiday and the significance behind the day, we expect it to be honoured at a provincial level."
Business owners have been waiting
Private businesses were also waiting for direction from the province, said John Wishart, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Moncton.
"The federal government has recognized it and declared it a federal statutory holiday, but that does not imply that you need to observe it in New Brunswick."
He said businesses are now left with the decision of how to observe the day — "whether you observe it with a workplace moment of silence or recognition ceremony or that sort of thing, or whether you decide to close your doors."
Individual municipalities to make the call
St. George had already decided to observe the holiday officially, explained chief administrative officer Jason Gaudet. All town offices will be closed and employees will be paid for the day off.
Fredericton and Moncton, meanwhile, aren't publicly saying what they plan to do, while Saint John officials did not acknowledge the request for information emailed on Monday.
Shasta Stairs, the communications co-ordinator for Fredericton, said, "We're currently reviewing future policies around the new federal holiday on Sept. 30 with the intent to bring forward a recommendation to council in the coming weeks."
Moncton will be informing its employees "shortly," according to Isabelle LeBlanc, the director of communications for the City of Moncton.
"It would not be appropriate to discuss this topic without having informed them first," LeBlanc wrote in an email.
A day to reflect
Whether you get the day off or not, the executive director of the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat said he'd like people to take time to commemorate the day as it was intended — an opportunity to reflect on truth and reconciliation and the legacy of residential schools.
"It's a day to reflect, basically, and even if you don't have the day off, you just reflect about why the holiday was created," said John G. Paul.
He said he hopes the day evolves into an opportunity to remember, similar to Remembrance Day for veterans. And eventually, he said he'd like the day to be a paid holiday for all workers, not just federally regulated ones.
"I'm hoping this day becomes a sombre memory of what occurred to Indigenous people across Canada," said Paul.
Schools open for Orange Shirt Day
Schools will remain open, providing "the education system an additional opportunity for students and teachers to have open discussions about First Nations history and realities," said Education Department spokesperson Danielle Elliott.
Sept. 30 has become Orange Shirt day in recent years, and "we've been pleased with the high rates of participation across the school system, including outstanding projects and discussions about Orange Shirt Day," Elliott said.
"We strongly encourage students and educators across the province to participate in Orange Shirt Day and promote an understanding of the immense impact these schools continue to have on First Nation peoples and work to promote inclusion and diversity across the education system."