Remembrance Day as a statutory holiday?

Alteration to Holidays Act could put pressure on Manitoba, Quebec, Ontario and Nova Scotia to revisit employment standards
By Marcel Vander Wier
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/23/2018
Remembrance Day
A Canadian flag and poppies are seen in front of a headstone at the National Military Cemetery in Ottawa, in 2017. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

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Recent changes to Canada’s Holidays Act could alter the way employers observe Remembrance Day.

On March 1, An Act to Amend the Holidays Act (Remembrance Day) received royal assent in the House of Commons. The bill’s purpose is to recognize Remembrance Day — held annually on Nov. 11 — as a national legal holiday, alongside Canada Day and Victoria Day.

“It adds consistency of language in the Holidays Act itself,” said Colin Fraser of Yarmouth, N.S., Liberal MP for West Nova and sponsor of the private member’s bill.

“On its face, it’s a modest change but it adds that consistency to show that Remembrance Day is treated every bit as importantly.”

Remembrance Day is currently recognized as a statutory holiday under the Canada Labour Code, and in all provincial and territorial jurisdictions, save for Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec. Manitoba and Nova Scotia do legislate time off on Remembrance Day, but with exceptions.

While the change does not legislate time off for any employees who doesn’t already have it, it does provide an opportunity for the provinces to revisit their respective employment standards legislation, according to Fraser.

“I believe that there should be time off for everybody in Canada to attend a cenotaph and share in the collective experience of Nov. 11 to remember those who sacrificed so much for our country,” he said.

 “And it shouldn’t matter where you live in Canada to be able to spend that time on Nov. 11 with the community,” said Fraser. “I hope the provinces that don’t already do so will have a look at this and see if that works for them.”

Pressure on provinces

The legislative change increases the pressure on the four provinces in question to observe Remembrance Day as a statutory holiday, said Rachel de Grâce, director of advocacy and legislative content at the Canadian Payroll Association in Toronto.

“It’s the four provinces that currently don’t legislate the observance of Remembrance Day that we’ve got to keep a close eye on,” she said. “This could have a big impact in those four provinces.”

“However, one thing to keep in mind is Victoria Day is also included in the Holidays Act and there are some provinces that have not chosen to adopt it as a statutory or public holiday.”

While Canada Day has special requirements mandating that employers offer the following Monday off in lieu when July 1 falls on a weekend, neither Victoria Day nor Remembrance Day were given the same provisions, said de Grâce.

“Unlike Canada Day, the inclusion of Remembrance Day in the national Holidays Act doesn’t have any kind of special requirements or observing obligations.”

To be clear, the amendment to the act does not force the provinces to revisit employment standards legislation, according to Fraser.

“There’s no obligation at all on the provinces,” he said. “They’re the ones who determine time off in their jurisdiction, so it has no impact on anybody’s day off.”

It’s up to the provinces to determine whether it should be a statutory holiday or not, said Fraser.

“Preferably, for me, I think there should be a national standard on this, but it is up to the provinces to decide time off.”

Effect on payroll

As it stands, the change would effectively be a symbolic gesture that has no effect on Canadian employers, according to Jon Pinkus, employment lawyer at Samfiru Tumarkin in Toronto.

But if the provincial governments in question choose to amend employment standards legislation to recognize Nov. 11 as a statutory holiday, employers will see a shift in scheduling and financial obligations, he said.

“This may be a prelude to something like that, but what does it change on the ground now? From my perspective, the answer is nothing,” said Pinkus. “This may put on some pressure if it does get some light shed on it.”

The Canadian Payroll Association is monitoring any changes to provincial legislation ahead of Nov. 11, 2018, according to de Grâce. If changes are implemented, payroll staff will need to reprogram their systems, contact payroll service providers, and review budget plans or collective agreements to comply with updates, she said.

Employment standards changes require adoption on the part of both payroll and human resources — including analyzation, implementation and communication to employees.

“On the one hand, November’s a long time away, but payroll programs do take a significant amount of time to program and test, and then communicate the changes to employers,” said de Grâce.

And if more provincial governments do choose to begin observing Remembrance Day, there is a chance non-statutory holidays such as August’s civic holiday are going to be dropped from some employers’ paid-holiday schedules, she said. 

“If Ontario decides to amend their act and introduce Remembrance Day as a required holiday, employers who are not bound by a collective agreement may take another look… (and) maybe this time will remove the civic holiday,” said de Grâce.

“There’s not a lot of provinces that recognize it at all, and even in Ontario, it’s not obligatory. So there’s lots of different moving parts.”

However, dropping a previously recognized holiday from the schedule would require a review of the terms of employment agreed to by employees, which should then give employers “at least a momentary pause,” she said.

And it should be noted that for the nine jurisdictions already observing Remembrance Day as a statutory or public holiday in Canada, no changes are expected, said de Grâce.

‘Convoluted’ practices

While the alteration to the Holidays Act does not make Remembrance Day a national holiday, it has fixed the spotlight on some of the country’s more convoluted holiday practices, said Fraser.

“It’s really confusing, to be honest with you,” he said. “(But) I don’t think there’s a big problem leaving it up to the provinces to decide time off in their jurisdiction. There’s different needs and desires across the country, depending on where you live.”

“So I don’t think we need to change the system, but for Nov. 11, I do think a conversation in the provinces that don’t already afford people a day off should be had.”

The disconnect between federally regulated employees and their provincially regulated counterparts can be a frustrating one, according to Pinkus.

“If you work for Rogers or Air Canada, this is a statutory holiday,” he said.

“If you work for the mom-and-pop shop down the street, it’s not, and that arguably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”

The Canadian Payroll Association favours harmonization for holidays and other minimum employment standards, where possible, said de Grâce.

“There are certain things like minimum wage where you could justify the difference across Canada because of the cost of living across Canada,” she said.

“(But) the reality is whether you’re working in Canadian Tire in B.C. or in P.E.I., you’re still doing the same thing. So why would an employee have different entitlement to overtime, just because of the province or territory that they’re working in?”

“Perhaps an idea would be that ‘national’ or calendar-driven holidays be harmonized, and then maybe each province or territory has one individual holiday,” said de Grâce, citing as examples the Yukon Territory’s Discovery Day and Quebec’s Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day.

“But for the other holidays, it’s odd,” she said. “You look at the total holidays being observed in one province to the other and there’s a significant difference.”

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