By Steve Lambert
THE CANADIAN PRESS
WINNIPEG- The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, commonly called Orange Shirt Day, will not be a statutory holiday in Manitoba again this year, Premier Heather Stefanson said Tuesday.
The premier cited the need for ongoing consultations, more than a year after her Progressive Conservative government began to study the idea.
“There isn’t necessarily agreement on what that day should look like and we want Indigenous people having the say in what that will look like moving forward as well.”
Stefanson also cited the vulnerability of businesses still recovering from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve heard loud and clear they’ve been struggling. And we want to make sure that if they choose to close, they close on their own,” she said. “We won’t be looking at closing them down.”
Orange Shirt Day falls on Sept. 30. It was established in honour of the experience of Phyllis Webstad, whose gift of clothing from her grandmother was taken away on Webstad’s first day at a residential school.
The federal government made the day a statutory holiday for its workers and federally regulated workplaces in 2021. Some provinces and territories have followed suit.
The Manitoba government closed non-essential offices and services on Sept. 30 last year, giving most of its workers that day off.
Schools from kindergarten to Grade 12 were also closed. That is to continue this year, Stefanson said.
“We will recognize and we do recognize Orange Shirt Day and Sept. 30 as a provincial day of observance _ a time to reflect, a time to remember,” Stefanson said.
The Opposition New Democrats have introduced bills in the legislature that would make the day a statutory holiday, but the bills have not been passed by the Tory majority.
“There is a consensus in Manitoba that Orange Shirt Day should be a stat holiday. The only reason there’s not unanimity is because of Premier Stefanson,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew posted on social media Tuesday.
In question period, Kinew said the government was ignoring a call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report.
A northern Manitoba Indigenous leader said a statutory holiday is overdue.
“It should be a day of reflection to remember residential schoolchildren and survivors where everyone across the province takes the time to acknowledge the stark history of what happened to Indigenous children and families,” said Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee.
“We have made our position on this matter clear previously. If the government of Manitoba can’t demonstrate the understanding of our history by closing businesses and recognizing this as a statutory holiday, then it’s clear that they just don’t get it.”
The idea of a statutory holiday, which would require a day off work or extra holiday pay for provincially regulated workers, has garnered support from some in the business community.
The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce said last year that 70 per cent of its members who were surveyed on the idea supported it.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, however, has reservations.
“Our members do believe that having a day to recognize reconciliation is important. They want to ensure that their business recognizes the day, and that their employees are able to mark the day in the way that best suits them,” said Brianna Solberg, the group’s director for the Prairies and Northern Canada.
“However, small business owners believe they are able to handle these arrangements with employees without having a mandatory stat holiday.”
The government could swap Orange Shirt Day for another statutory holiday, or come up with a way to help businesses with the costs of an added holiday, Solberg added.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 11, 2023.