Lord knows, Canadians need a February holiday! So thank God for small favours and, come to that, for Don Getty!
As favours go, Mr. Getty, 11th premier of Alberta, was a pretty small one. Just the same, this was one for the ages!
So, 30 years ago today, with an election looming, Mr. Getty’s Progressive Conservative Government announced in its pre-vote Throne Speech that henceforth and forevermore Alberta would mark Family Day on the third Monday of every February.
So far, that promise has been kept. As a result Albertans will celebrate their 29th Family Day statutory holiday tomorrow.
A great howl of lamentation and indignation rose up from all the usual suspects in the restaurant industry and their ilk about how a February holiday would wreck productivity, cost them untold millions that could never be recouped and generally persuade the lazy slackers who were their employees to grow even lazier and slacker. Nothing of the sort happened, of course.
Ever since, though, killjoys of both the right and left have been darkly carping that the former star professional football quarterback only cooked up the idea to distract voters from the fact his son was in trouble with the law, accused at the time of trying to sell an ounce* of cocaine to an undercover narc in an Edmonton motel room. Yadda-yadda. Whatever.
A long 17 years later, NDP-led Saskatchewan finally climbed aboard, and a year after that, Ontario joined the fun. While we’re on the topic of illegal drugs, note that, at the time, that province was led by a Liberal, not a former drug dealer-turned-Conservative. Liberals in New Brunswick followed suit only last year.
Can’t say I was in any of those places at the times in question, but readers may take it as given that the same sorts of people said the same sorts of thing – and blamed the New Democrats and the Liberals as a fillip.
“Liberals” in British Columbia, who are really conservatives, created a February holiday with the same name starting in 2013, but decided to hold it on the second Monday, perhaps as a sop to the usual whiners, seeing as the third Monday is also President’s Day south of the Medicine Line and thus supposedly a big day for tourism in the fleshpots of Vancouver Island and the Kootenays.
The Presidents Day national statutory holiday, pegged approximately to George Washington’s Feb. 22 birthday, has been officially enjoyed by Americans on the third Monday of February since 1968, but was marked in U.S. federal offices as Washington’s Birthday at least since 1885.
Last year, B.C.’s NDP provincial government announced it was getting with the program, and tomorrow will be Family Day there too for the first time on that date. The announcement happened within two days of the province’s pipeline spat with Alberta turning into a short-lived wine boycott, but that bit of harmonization seems to have survived the disharmony.
Judging from the debate in the Legislature dug up by my colleague Dave Cournoyer, New Democrats and then-still-credible Alberta Liberals were not very supportive either.
Liberal leader Laurence Decore, leader of the Opposition at the time, complained that the February holiday wouldn’t “excite and energize and stimulate Albertans.” He was wrong about that, at least if those terms can be applied to sleeping in on a Monday. Some may even have been more excited, given such circumstances.
Bob Hawkesworth, then the NDP MLA for Calgary-Mountain View, lamented in the Legislature that one Family Day in February wasn’t much of a consolation for the loss of a day off every week when working people could spent time with their families. Mr. Hawkesworth was referring to Sunday, the Christian Sabbath, for those of you not old enough to remember when commercial establishments had to be closed on that day and you couldn’t get a beverage other than sacramental wine to save your soul.
By 1989, when Mr. Hawkesworth was carrying on, however, that train had already left the station on the transcontinental tracks and a statutory holiday in February is still better than no statutory holiday in February! Mr. Hawkesworth has been heard from now and then since, but never on an issue of such importance.
Unfortunately, Mr. Getty’s greatest achievement off the gridiron, unless you count not letting the premier of Newfoundland leave the room, was marred by an error of nearly equal magnitude. To wit, he responded to the incessant whinging of the fast-food bosses about how their costs were bound to increase by downgrading another stat holiday, Heritage Day. The first Monday of August, which had been an official holiday in this province since 1974, was busted back to a mere civic holiday to avoid the complaints about overtime costs.
It has been argued here before that if our Alberta NDP government wants a project that will ensure the eternal gratitude of most Albertans, it could return the August holiday to statutory status.
It is not too late, it must be pointed out, at least for Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP Government to include this in the pre-election Throne Speech that is scheduled to be read by Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell on March 18. The conventional wisdom has it that an election will be called soon thereafter.
The usual suspects would screech again, of course, and doubtless call it a Hail Mary pass. That might be true, but it would be no less a great thing, in the service of all Canadians, as we have already seen with Family Day. After all, even a mere promise would plant the seed.
Mr. Getty, who had been asked to get into politics by his former Edmonton Eskimos teammate Peter Lougheed and was premier of Alberta from November 1985 to December 1992, died in February 2016 at the age of 82.
Yukon, by the way, did this in 1976 before any province. However, not being a province and at the time still having its territorial name preceded by the only definite article in the English Language, not to mention foolishly calling the occasion Yukon Heritage Day, it gets no credit and no respect.
* An archaic measurement of weight and mass, equivalent to 437.5 grains. It is normally abbreviated oz., which makes more sense than the standard abbreviation for a pound, another archaic measure until you cross the 49th Parallel in a southerly direction, which is lb.