Manitoba will not make Orange Shirt Day a holiday this year

By The Canadian Press

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 the 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.

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.

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.

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