National Aboriginal Day is now officially a statutory holiday in Yukon.
On May 8 Yukon’s MLAs unanimously passed a bill amending the Employment Standards Act and declaring June 21 a holiday.
It’s the first piece of law passed by the Liberal government since it took office last year.
“We have the opportunity to show the provinces of Canada that National Aboriginal Day is a day of celebration, hope and pride,” Premier Sandy Silver said last week.
“It is especially poignant to legislate the statutory holiday this year, as we celebrate 150 years of Confederation. Let us remember that Canada is much older than Confederation. Let us celebrate the First Nation people of this country, the people who were here first.”
Yukon is the second jurisdiction in Canada, after the Northwest Territories, to make National Aboriginal Day a holiday.
The statutory holiday was one of the Liberal Party’s election promises but government has been talking about the idea since at least 2015. That’s when a bill agreeing to look into the idea passed unanimously.
A survey of about 1,400 Yukoners found that most — 83 per cent — were in favour of National Aboriginal Day becoming a statutory holiday. That number got much lower when focusing specifically on employers. There, only 54 per cent of the people surveyed supported the idea.
The Yukon Party voted in favour of the bill but not before reiterating some of its concerns over what impact this could have on local businesses.
MLA Scott Kent suggested deferring the issue until next year.
“That would give these businesses time to prepare and give municipalities time to account for it in their budgets — that type of thing,” he said.
“Perhaps the minister would potentially consider a staggered implementation, where this June 21, the Yukon government would recognize it as a holiday and then bring it in as a full statutory holiday next year.”
Community Services Minister John Streicker said that’s not something the government is considering.
“We did run on a campaign of bringing it in and we think that has helped to inform the business community. We took steps as well to speak with them directly and let them know that we were going to see it early.”
Last Canada Day the Yukon government paid $116,700 in overtime to employees who had to work on that statutory holiday, Streicker said. Payroll on an average day is about $1.6 million, he said.
The collective agreement with the Yukon Employees Union and the Yukon Teachers’ Association have been reviewed and no changes will be required to accommodate for the extra holiday, Streicker said.
For now, federal employees aren’t as lucky. The introduction of a new holiday in the Yukon won’t change things for them, according to a spokesperson for the Treasury Board of Canada.
“Their designated 11 paid holidays are already determined in their collective agreements,” Martin Potvin said in an email. “A change to the current provision would need to be negotiated with the relevant bargaining agents.”
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