Alberta won’t enact legislation to recognize federal Truth and Reconciliation holiday

The Alberta government is not considering legislation to formally enshrine the recently created federal National Day for Truth and Reconciliation — Sept. 30 — as a statutory holiday.

Instead, the United Conservative government will leave it to provincially regulated industries to determine if they wish to grant a holiday on that day, “unless an employee’s employment contract or collective bargaining agreement specifically grants federally-regulated holidays,” Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson said in a statement through his press secretary Wednesday.

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) said it has already begun filing grievances against several provincial employers, including Alberta Health Services and the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission. 

The union said AHS and AGLC are refusing to honour a clause in their collective agreements that specify federally designated holidays, which they contend would include the Truth and Reconciliation day.

“It is a new low for this province to not recognize a day that the federal government feels is important enough to actually make a national holiday for this province,” AUPE vice-president Bobby-Joe Borodey said. “It’s shameful.”

Borodey said the union clearly doesn’t want to shut down the health care system or other critical services provided by the government. 

But she said union members have a negotiated right to this federal statutory holiday and it’s important for them to have time to reflect on the injustices imposed upon Indigenous people in this country.

Rob Houle of the Yellowhead Institute, a Toronto-based Indigneous think tank, was not surprised that the Alberta government, AHS and AGLC have so far refused to formally recognize the holiday.

“This is par for the course in Alberta in that Indigenous people have largely been treated poorly by this province and by the western provinces,” Houle said.

“When you have small actions like this, and you have leadership within organizations and governments that are not willing to take those small steps forward, in order to achieve reconciliation, then there is really no hope for Indigenous [people] being able to expect to be treated any differently.” 

Alberta’s largest employer still reviewing holiday

In an emailed statement, AHS, the province’s largest employer with more than 100,00 employees, said it is conducting a review to determine if it is obligated to recognize the new federal holiday “as part of signed collective bargaining agreements with unionized employees.” 

Rob Houle sits in the backyard of his Edmonton home in June 2020. Houle told CBC News he was not surprised that the Alberta government, AHS and AGLC have so far refused to formally recognize the holiday. (Kyle Muzyka/CBC)

The AGLC, in a statement said, it needs “additional time to understand the application of this new statutory holiday, as many employers do.”

The Indigenous Relations minister, AHS and AGLC all stressed that they are exploring ways to recognize the day and all said they have supported Orange Shirt Day. 

That day honours Indigenous children forced to attend residential schools. Hundreds of unmarked graves have recently been uncovered on the grounds of several residential schools. 

The bill creating the national Truth and Reconciliation holiday took effect Aug. 3.

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