LAKELAND - Municipalities and school divisions across the region have been discussing how to handle a day that has been deemed a federal holiday, but is not yet a provincial statutory holiday.
Earlier this summer, the federal government passed legislation to mark Sept. 30 as a federal statutory holiday called the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, while the provincial government is leaving the choice open to individual employers for 2021.
"The Government of Alberta encourages all Albertans to reflect on the legacy of residential schools. In addition, Alberta government building flags (will be) lowered to half-mast on that day to honour lives lost at residential schools, and commemoration ceremonies will take place," reads a statement provided to Lakeland This Week by Adrienne South, press secretary for Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson.
"For provincially-regulated industries, the question on a work holiday is a decision for individual employers, unless an employee’s employment contract or collective bargaining agreement specifically grants federally-regulated holidays," explains South. The Government of Alberta says it is also committed to implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s provincial calls to action, with South pointing to an initiative that allows First Nations people to reclaim their Indigenous names, along with funds dedicated to supporting community-led research of undocumented deaths and burial sites at residential schools in Alberta.
According to the Government of Canada's website, the new holiday "provides an opportunity for each public servant to recognize and commemorate the legacy of residential schools. This may present itself as a day of quiet reflection or participation in a community event." The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation will be a designated paid holiday for employees in the federal public service.
Education instead of time off
Both the Town of St. Paul and St. Paul Education have opted to use Sept. 30 as an opportunity to educate staff, rather than use the date as a paid holiday.
During the Aug. 23 Town of St. Paul council meeting, CAO Steven Jeffery recommended keeping staff at work on Sept. 30, but focusing on offering an educational piece around truth and reconciliation. Jeffery noted that some municipalities are recognizing the holiday as a day off from work. The budget implications for the town to do so would be just over $20,000.
A recommendation to approve staff to work on Sept. 30 and have administration focus on developing an educational piece for all staff members to take part in, focused on Truth and Reconciliation, was approved by council. Mayor Maureen Miller said she felt it was a great opportunity to optimize education around the topic.
During the Aug. 25 St. Paul Education meeting, superintendent Glen Brodziak recommended a slight change to the 2021/22 calendar, to allow students to have the day off, but also work in an opportunity for professional development and education around the topic of truth and reconciliation for staff members.
According to the school calendar, Sept. 27 was set aside as a PD day for staff, meaning there would be no classes for students, but staff would still be at work. Brodziak recommended changing that date to a regular school day, and opting instead for Sept. 30 to be a PD day for staff, allowing for an opportunity to "move along our truth and reconciliation journey."
With Sept. 30 also being Orange Shirt Day, Brodziak said schools will still have activities and events taking place in honour of the day, but those will occur either before of after Sept. 30. A motion to proceed with setting Sept. 30 aside as a PD day, focused on truth and reconciliation, was approved by the board.
Town of Bonnyville
The Town of Bonnyville council also addressed the issue during its last meeting on Aug. 24, opting to treat it as a day off for staff this year. Administration contacted various municipalities in the area to investigate if any were considering using the day as a statutory holiday - with mixed responses being received.
"Some have and some haven't. Some haven't decided as of this day," said CAO Bill Rogers.
Administration recommended adding the day to the Town's collective agreement, with Rogers saying, "the funds for this day have already been budgeted as part of regular wages, so there's no budget implications."
Coun. Ray Prevost spoke in opposition to the motion, saying he felt having three statutory holidays in five weeks was too much. He noted that since the Town is union, the topic should be considered in the next negotiation of the union contract.
"It just seems to be so compressed... There is a financial implication. If we get calls on that day it's double time," said Prevost.
Rogers further explained that, "As of right now, it is an employer optional decision for this year. I think the smart money is on it will be added to the Alberta Labour Code and it will become an official Alberta holiday by this time next year... The question at hand for council is, what do you want to do about this year?"
Council voted in favour of giving staff the day off for 2021, with only Prevost voting against the recommendation.
The Northern Light Public Schools (NLPS) board also chose to recognize the day as a holiday.
The board "felt it was important to make it a holiday for our staff and students, so we had to do a bit of juggling with the calendar that had been approved previously," says Nicole Garner, communications officer with NLPS.
The division had originally scheduled Sept. 24 as an IPP day, which is a day off for students while staff work on IPPs (Individualized program plans), and Oct. 8 was set aside as a "Family Friday" to create a four-day weekend for Thanksgiving weekend, which has been the division's practice for several years.
"So to accommodate Truth and Reconciliation Day, we decided that the 24th would now be a school day. Oct. 8 will now be the IPP day, which means students will still get a four-day weekend, but staff will have to work that day," says Garner.
Last week, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) announced it would be filing formal policy grievances against employers, including Alberta Health Services (AHS), that are refusing to acknowledge National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Many employers with AUPE members have collective agreements which compel the employers to acknowledge holidays created by the federal government, but some are not honouring the new holiday, according to AUPE. According to information from the union dated Aug. 25, employers that are refusing to acknowledge the holiday include AHS, Covenant Health, Points West Living, and the Alberta Gaming, Liquor & Cannabis commission (AGLC).
“In a year where thousands of unmarked graves have been found at so-called residential schools, you would think anyone with a heart would rush to acknowledge this new holiday and give their staff the well-earned time off for rest and reflection,” says AUPE Vice-President and Chair of the union’s Human Rights Committee, Bobby-Joe Borodey.