By Dave Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) and a Manitoba MLA are expressing disappointment and frustration with the province now that it has been confirmed that Sept. 30 will not be a statutory holiday in Manitoba this year.
“The provincial government had ample time to process and approve this statutory holiday,” AMC Deputy Grand Chief Cornell McLean said in a statement responding to last month’s announcement by the province that Sept. 30, which is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada, will not be observed in the province as a statutory holiday this year.
The province said it does plan to make Sept. 30, a day also referred to as Orange Shirt Day, a statutory holiday in Manitoba eventually, but that it was too late for those changes to go into effect this year.
“It would be very disrespectful of everybody to introduce something at this point,” Labour Minister Reg Helwer said on Aug. 31.
“We did have legislation we were working on, and went through consultation with labour and business, and continuing consultation with First Nations and other groups, and that pointed out to me that we need much more advice from many people on how this should run.”
Helwer added, “It would be very uncomfortable for business to spring that on them.”
Orange Shirt Day was originally established to honour the experiences of Phyllis Webstad, whose personal clothing, including a brand new orange shirt bought for her by her grandmother, were taken from her on her first day attending a residential school when she was just six years old.
The orange shirt has now come to symbolize the assimilation that was forced onto generations of Indigenous children in the former residential school system in Canada.
Last year, the federal government announced that the day would be recognized as a federal statutory holiday in Canada, and proposed that provinces and territories also make the day a statutory holiday, but so far only The Northwest Territories has followed suit.
McLean says the province of Manitoba should have found a way to have Sept. 30 be a statutory holiday this year.
“Having a statutory holiday would mean that First Nations could take time to gather in ceremony with friends and family without the burden of sacrificing their income,” McLean said.
NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine took aim at the labour minister for his comments that the holiday could not happen this year because it would make some in the business community “uncomfortable.”
“Something tells me it’s not businesses uncomfortable, but rather, you and your PC gov’t who are,” Fontaine wrote in a Sept. 1 Tweet. “So much for reconciliation.”
Fontaine also claimed that legislation could be put in place this year to make Sept. 30 a statutory holiday before the end of the month.
“It can be done as soon as we go back to Session, Wednesday, Sept. 28th, 2022,” Fontaine said.
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the labour minister said the timing was not right to have Sept. 30 be named a stat holiday by the end of this month, because of how “complex” making those changes can be at the provincial level.
“Unfortunately, establishing statutory days off provincially is much more complex and impactful than establishing them for federal employees and federally regulated industries,” the email read.
“Provincially regulated days cover more than 95% of businesses and workers, whereas federal workers and federally defaulted industry comprise less than 5%.”
The spokesperson said the province will continue working towards making the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation a statutory holiday in Manitoba.
“The Manitoba government agrees with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs that establishing a statutory day to recognize and reflect on the legacy of residential schools is an important part of reconciliation efforts,” the email read.
“We have consulted and will continue to consult Indigenous leadership, labour groups and businesses on a path forward, though we need more advice from many people on what this should look like and how we get there.
“It’s important that we continue to get their advice so we can get this done right.”
– With files from the Canadian Press — Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.