NDP MP Georgina Jolibois, Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River, is pictured on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 25, 2016. The member of Parliament for northern Saskatchewan said she is optimistic that National Indigenous Peoples Day will become a statutory holiday after her private member’s bill passed second reading with full support from Liberal MPs.
Georgina Jolibois, the NDP MP who represents constituents living north of Prince Albert, has sponsored a private member’s bill that seeks to make June 21 a statutory holiday to give Canadians an opportunity to reflect upon and celebrate Indigenous history.
The bill passed second reading Wednesday with a vote of 202 in favour and 79 against. It will now be studied by the federal heritage committee.
June 21 is already recognized as National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada, but it is not a statutory holiday except in the Northwest Territories and the Yukon.
In the House of Commons this month, Jolibois said making June 21 a federal statutory holiday would respond to one of the calls for action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and “create time for all Canadians to reflect on our treaty relationships and other agreements with Indigenous nations.”
Conservative MP Cathy McLeod responded that creating a statutory holiday may not be the best way to honour Indigenous people, pointing out that concern remains about Remembrance Day being a paid day off.
“Quite frankly, sometimes people prefer to go shopping as opposed to really reflecting on the spirit of the day,” she said.
She later added that creating a new statutory holiday would also put a burden on private industry.
“If the House is going to support a measure like this to go forward, we need to look at existing holidays and talk about if all of them still make sense,” she said.
During a debate on Jolibois’ bill this month, the NDP MP was asked if a statutory holiday to honour Indigenous people should be focussed on self-examination and reflection as opposed to celebration.
“Why do we not get a chance, as Indigenous people across Canada, to have an opportunity to celebrate like everyone else in Canada?” Jolibois asked. “My understanding of reconciliation is of celebration, respect, love, acceptance, and the list goes on.”
In an interview after the vote, Jolibois said she looks forward to her bill being studied by committee. She said she knows some people will question whether Sept. 30 — Orange Shirt Day, which commemorates people affected by residential schools — is a more appropriate day for a statutory holiday and she is open to that suggestion.
“I’m looking for a win-win situation,” she said.
Private members bills seldom become law, but Jolibois said she thinks hers will be the exception; the federal government said this summer it will create a new statutory holiday to address the call for action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and all Liberal MPs who voted on her bill voted in favour of it.
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