The Yukon is set to become only the second jurisdiction in Canada to recognize National Aboriginal Day as a statutory holiday.
The bill to make June 21 an official day off was the first piece of legislation introduced by the Liberal government in the legislative assembly.
“I am going to be excited to bring it forward and I hope that some of that comes across,” said Community Services Minister John Streicker. “The public is excited, we’re excited, there’s all sorts of upsides on the social fabric of the territory.”
Council of Yukon First Nations grand chief Peter Johnston called an official holiday, “more than just tokenism.”
“This is just a small way of giving recognition to the First Peoples.”
According to a government survey completed last year, 88 per cent of 1,430 respondents said they were in favour of the holiday. But employers aren’t as enthusiastic.
The government’s survey found that 48.7 per cent of responding employers and members of the business community felt they would not be affected.
About 27 per cent said their business would be negatively affected, according to the survey.
“Everybody realizes that Aboriginal Day is something that needs recognition, (but) there’s a considerable cost to business by doing it this way, adding another stat holiday,” said Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce president Rick Karp.
Streicker acknowledged that there are some costs to government.
Last Canada Day the Yukon government spent $116,000 covering overtime for the people who had to work.
The City of Whitehorse spends about $80,000 in extra salary on a holiday, spokesperson Jessica Apolloni said.
Costs to small businesses are less clear, the minister said.
“If you’re a First Nations business we expect some uptick. If you’re a restaurant, we expect a little bit of uptick, there’s give and take. There’s costs and there’s benefits.”
Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis said he’s in favour of recognizing the impact of First Nations but not of making National Aboriginal Day an official holiday.
“I’m not trying to tell any government how they should run their stuff, but if it were me I think I would have been more apt to incorporate it with an existing stat holiday or to give it a standalone holiday that wasn’t tied to a statutory holiday.”
A standalone holiday, similar to Rendezvous, would mean small businesses could choose whether or not to give employees the day off.
Yukon Party MLA Scott Kent said his party intends to vote in favour of the bill on second reading, but has questions before they decide on their final vote.
Kent said he’ll be talking to the minister about delaying implementation until 2018 so businesses have more time to prepare.
“We obviously want to see this day celebrated…. We want to make sure that the impact for employers is minimized to the best extent it can be.”
There’s been a suggestion that the government drop another holiday to make room for National Aboriginal Day, Kent said.
Karp said he doesn’t think every business is ready for the new holiday.
“I think it’s going to be typical to something new coming … there will be some decision making that has to occur but we’ll survive.”
Contact Ashley Joannou at email@example.com