TORONTO — Most Canadians will be celebrating Family Day on Monday, a much-needed day off for workers in the middle of winter.
It isn’t a statutory holiday across the country, but some say it should be. Workers argue they’d be happier and healthier with an extra day off to spend with family and friends, and they’d come back to work feeling refreshed and more productive.
But adding an extra statutory holiday to the calendar isn’t that easy.
“It is a lot more complicated than you might think,” employment lawyer Stuart Rudner told HuffPost Canada. “It’s easy to add a day, but I think you’ve got to look at the much bigger picture here.”
In Ontario, there are only nine public holidays per year:
- New Year’s Day
- Family Day
- Good Friday
- Victoria Day
- Canada Day
- Labour Day
- Thanksgiving Day
- Christmas Day
- Boxing Day
There are none in March or November. Before Family Day was introduced in 2008, Ontario workers had no public holidays between New Year’s Day and Good Friday, a three-month period that happens to include some of the coldest days of the year.
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That’s a long time between holidays, especially when talk of four-day work weeks, the rise of automation and mental health challenges are dominating the debate about the modern labour market.
“I think one a month would be ideal,” said Suzi Whitehead, an insurance worker in southern Ontario.
Compare the province to other places around the world. Cambodia leads the world with the most public holidays at 28. There are 16 public holidays observed in Japan, a developed country where workers make similar wages to those in Canada. Adjusted for purchasing power, GDP per person was around $5,400 less in Japan than in Canada in 2018, according to the World Bank.
Things are different in Canada as provinces and territories have their own public holidays. But before governments institute another day off for workers, businesses want to have their say, too.
‘Difficult cost to swallow’
“It’s definitely a cost to business,” said Emilie Hayes, senior policy analyst at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).
Even though workers don’t have to work statutory holidays, they still get paid for them. Companies can either stay open and pay working employees time and a half, or shut down for a day and lose productivity.
One additional paid stat holiday could cost as much as $3.6 billion per year to the Canadian economy, according to a preliminary estimate from the CFIB based on Statistics Canada data.
“They really do see it as an extra cost, and it’s a difficult cost to swallow,” Hayes said of businesses. “It is a lot of money. It isn’t something that’s free.”
The added cost is especially burdensome on smaller businesses, according to Hayes. “Just because they’re smaller, it’s a lot harder for them to absorb the cost.”
Rudner says he remembers the business community being up in arms over the addition of Family Day in Ontario, but that doesn’t mean most of society wouldn’t benefit from an extra day off.
“I think there is some merit to the fact that at some point, some people are so overworked,” he said. “People work longer hours now than they did in previous generations.”
There’s no simple solution to this complicated dilemma. Business owners want governments to think long and hard before making a decision that will hurt the economy.
“The government is in a tough spot. They’re trying to balance two very competing interest groups,” Rudner said.
“In Ontario, the Civic Holiday actually isn’t a holiday at all. It’s not enshrined in legislation, but a lot of employers give it.”
But the Markham, Ont., attorney says he might have a solution for some companies who may not be familiar with the rules.
“The reality is a lot of those businesses who are complaining that they can’t afford another statutory holiday are actually giving workers a holiday that they don’t have to,” he said. “In Ontario, the Civic Holiday actually isn’t a holiday at all. It’s not enshrined in legislation, but a lot of employers give it.”
Last year, the federal government nearly passed a bill that would have created a new statutory holiday to recognize Indigenous people. A private member’s bill called for Sept. 30 to be the National Day For Truth and Reconciliation, but it died in the Senate last year and was not enacted.
The day would have coincided with Orange Shirt Day, an annual event to recognize residential school survivors by wearing orange in honour of a six-year-old First Nations girl who was stripped of her orange shirt at a residential school.