The Conservative Party’s Indigenous affairs critic says the government’s plan to create a holiday to mark the tragic legacy of the residential school system would be a financial burden for Canada.
“I do know that we have to move toward reconciliation,” Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod told Daybreak Kamloops guest host Doug Herbert on Thursday. “Surely … there is a way we could move forward and not spend $195 million of federal government taxpayers’ dollars, which I think could be used for much better purpose.”
Federal payroll concerns
The federal government’s daily payroll is $195 million, according to McLeod, and employees receive full pay for statutory holidays.
That much money could pay for “an awful lot of clean water systems … an awful lot of support for education,” says McLeod.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last month his government would establish a new holiday to fulfil a recommendation of the Truth and Reconcilation Commission, but provided no details.
Chief Robert Joseph, ambassador for Reconciliation Canada, told the CBC that having a federal Indigenous holiday is worth the money.
“Whatever it is that we sacrifice … moving forward together in reconciliation and celebration is worth the investment given the gravity of the history we’re talking about and the consequences that still reverberate through our communities as a result of the impacts of that period,” says Joseph.
Transitioning to federal status
June 21 is already set aside as National Indigenous Peoples Day, but Joseph says it’s mainly recognized in Indigenous communities.
“It had a big roll-out and Canadians took an interest,” says Joseph. “But over a little bit of time, the only ones that were celebrating were Aboriginal people. This next step elevates our desire to be one with each other.”
Once a new statutory holiday is implemented, Indigenous communities could use the day to communicate with Canadian politicians, says Joseph.
“During that day, it would be so important for MPs to get out into their constituencies and spend the day in the Aboriginal community, meeting Aboriginal people.”
Once the federal government declares a new statutory holiday, it’s up to provinces to decide whether to follow suit.
Having a day to recognize reconciliation is important, says Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, adding that his members want to address the unfair treatment of Indigenous peoples.
But he would prefer to see a new holiday replace to an existing one rather than create a new paid day off for Canadians. The August Long Weekend or Family Day could be repurposed to recognize reconciliation efforts, he says.
“We have already started to hear from small [and] medium-sized firms who are concerned that their provincial government may follow the lead of the federal government. Then they would be facing an additional cost,” says Kelly.
The vast majority of private-sector workers are provincially regulated, says Kelly. If a new statutory holiday were to be recognized provincially, the CFIB estimates it would cost $3.6 billion in lost productivity countrywide.
“I think there’s a way to do this without significant economic consequences.”