Alberta Politics
Premier Don Getty while in office (Photo: Government of Alberta).

Our annual Family Day toast to Don Getty, whose best-known achievement was one for the ages

Posted on February 15, 2021, 2:56 pm
11 mins

The winters around here are long. Even with social media Canadians need a February holiday.

Come to think of it, given what the Internet has turned into in the few years since it arrived on the scene with such promise, we need a February long weekend even more than we did in the dark ages before the angry epoch of social media.

Mr. Getty in his football days with the Edmonton Canadian Football League franchise (Photo: Found on Pinterest).

So thank God for small favours … and for Don Getty!

As favours go, Mr. Getty, the 11th premier of Alberta, was a relatively small one.

Just the same, he gets a worse rap than he deserved, and the best-known small favour he did us was one for the ages!

To wit, 31 years ago, thanks to Mr. Getty and his Progressive Conservative government, Albertans celebrated their first Family Day statutory holiday.

The year before, during the run-up to a provincial election, 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.

The initial reviews were not stellar. Indeed, a great howl of indignation rose up from all the usual quarters – the restaurant industry in particular – about how a February holiday would wreck productivity, cost 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.

Peter Lougheed, Mr. Getty’s predecessor as Alberta’s Progressive Conservative premier, when they were teammates on the same CFL team (Photo: Found unattributed on the Internet).

Yadda-yadda. Whatever.

Eventually, 17 years later, NDP-led Saskatchewan finally climbed aboard the Family Day train, and a year after that, Ontario joined the fun.

Liberals in New Brunswick eventually followed suit, marking the occasion as a stat holiday for the first time in 2018.

I 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 New Democrats and 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 at the Chamber of Commerce, seeing as the third Monday is also President’s Day south of the Medicine Line and thus was supposedly a big day for tourism in the fleshpots of Vancouver Island and the Kootenays in those pre-COVID days.

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.

When B.C.’s NDP provincial government announced it was finally getting with the program, the announcement happened within two days of the opening shots in that province’s enduring pipeline spat with Alberta. That led to NDP premier Rachel Notley’s short-lived wine boycott. Nevertheless, Family Day harmonization seems to have survived the disharmony — for the time being.

Former NDP MLA Bob Hawkesworth (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

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 self-referentially calling the occasion Yukon Heritage Day, it gets no credit and no respect. Sorry about that, Yukon!

Judging from the debate in the Alberta Legislature back in 1990, New Democrats and then-still-credible Alberta Liberals were not particularly supportive.

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, naturally.

Bob Hawkesworth, then the NDP MLA for Calgary-Mountain View, complained 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 an alcoholic beverage other than sacramental wine to save your soul.

George Washington, the American president who could not tell a lie, as portrayed by Gilbert Stuart based on a study for which Gen. Washington sat in 1796 (Illustration: Public Domain).

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!

A year later as the first Family Day neared, crotchety Calgary Herald political columnist Don Braid was still carping about the idea, blaming the idea on “couch potatoes in the Legislature who want another holiday.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Getty’s greatest achievement off the gridiron, unless you count not letting the premier of Newfoundland leave the room when he wanted to, was marred by an error of nearly equal magnitude.

Mr. Getty 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.

If our former Alberta NDP government had wanted a project that would have ensured the eternal gratitude of most Albertans, come what may, it should have returned the August holiday to statutory status. They ignored your blogger’s advice.
With the mean-spirited Jason Kenney at the helm pursuing his wage-reduction strategy and taking direction from Restaurants Canada, so we can forget about that.

Mr. Getty inveigled into politics by his former teammate on the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton franchise, Peter Lougheed, and was premier of Alberta from November 1985 to December 1992.

The patrician Mr. Lougheed may not have been much of an athlete compared to Getty, playing two years as an undistinguished defensive back starting in 1950, but he was a far bigger star in politics.

Mr. Getty passed the football more than 8,000 yards in his career and led the Edmonton team to two Grey Cups.

Mr. Getty served Mr. Lougheed as intergovernmental affairs minister and energy minister, then prudently stepped out of politics in 1979. Not long after that, in the summer of 1981, a recession accompanied by plummeting oil prices hit Alberta, resulting in a situation not unlike the province’s current continuing economic plight.

Mr. Lougheed stepped down in 1985. Mr. Getty was tempted once more unto the breach that same year. It was a fateful decision, because whatever timing magic he possessed on the gridiron deserted him, creating the opportunity for the neoliberal takeover that scars Alberta and Canada to this day.

Mr. Getty died in February 2016 at the age of 82, entitled to our gratitude.

* An ounce is an archaic measurement of weight and mass for an extremely small amount of anything.

NOTE: With the exception of an edit here or there, this post is a repeat. I confess I forgot it was a holiday today and arose all ready to get to work. But it still reads pretty well, so what the heck. For those of you who have already read it, worry not, there’s likely to be something new tomorrow.

7 Comments to: Our annual Family Day toast to Don Getty, whose best-known achievement was one for the ages

  1. Kang

    February 15th, 2021

    If memory serves, every Sunday, Christmas, and Easter were all “bank holidays” on which banks, loan sharks and the like were prohibited from charging or taking interest payments. A truly divine idea that might benefit from expansion.

    • Anonymous

      February 17th, 2021

      KANG: Interest rates on credit cards alone are outrageous. It would be a good idea to reduce those fees.

  2. tom in Ontario

    February 15th, 2021

    “this post is a repeat.”
    So is my comment. President’s Day down south is always celebrated with a giant mattress sale.

  3. Athabascan

    February 16th, 2021

    I remember, when this holiday was first instituted in 1974, and the outcry from the business community.

    Weren’t we told that all the businesses in Alberta would go bankrupt, because they couldn’t afford another statutory holiday? What happened?

    Next time the RW pro-business loudmouths complain about raising the minimum wage ignore them. Also, ignore the same people who would have you believe everyone will go bankrupt because of COVID restriction.

  4. Scotty on Denman

    February 16th, 2021

    Tyr’s Day and raring to go: no hangover from too much family day, this year. Maybe why I’m feeling so picky: The BC Liberals are indeed not real liberals—not of the old kind, anyways. But neither are they conservatives —except in the way all parties so-called are really globalizing neoliberals in Tory clothing (pseudoCons or neo-rightists, if you will).

    But I completely agree that neoliberalism has scarred Alberta and Canada—and, I’d go so far’ s to say, all nominal conservative parties in the Western World.

    As tRump recedes, all eyes turn to the next partisan drama in the United States: the existential crisis in American’s own, supposedly conservative party. But, given a day off in February, such as it was this year of Covid II, I noticed the Republicans are just catching up with the political right (or neo-right) in several Canadian jurisdictions. It shouldn’t be a surprise: Obama was still President when Harper, professor of the neo-right, was sent packing. As usual, Canda leads the way!

  5. Alan K. Spiller

    February 16th, 2021

    Some of us remember all the whining we heard from restaurants and bars when smoking was eliminated in them and then they had to admit that their crowds actually increased because of it.

    I haven’t forgotten Don Getty telling me in 2003 that inviting Liberal Ralph Klein, with his Reform Party attitude , into the Conservative party was the dumbest thing he had ever done and I certainly agreed, but I had an advantage I had known him and his family since the early 1960s and we knew what a jerk Ralph was.
    Now we have another former Liberal , turned Reformer , trying to treat Albertans like morons while he shows how ignorant he is. He has found that after seeing Klein pull these same stunts, Albertans aren’t as stupid the second time around.

    Now he wants to kick out the RCMP and I bet he is trying to get even for them investigating his party, after all he fired our elections commissioner after he dared to fine some of their friends for illegal actions during the election and made massive cuts to our energy regulator when they dared to point out , to the public, what the orphan wells mess could cost Albertans to clean up, after these Reformers under Klein changed Lougheed’s regulations that protected our land owners to create it.

    Of course the RCMP situation is all about forcing more privatization down our throats. In stead of Ottawa paying 30% of all their costs they want Albertans to pay 100% of the costs. Why would we be that stupid, we know what it would cost for training, equipment, uniforms, vehicles etc. Our property taxes would skyrocket, but they don’t care.

    • Anonymous

      February 17th, 2021

      ALAN K. SPILLER: That’s all the UCP wants to do is more privatization, just like their hero Ralph Klein was starting to do. The UCP’s rich corporate friends are all that matters.


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