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

Mr. Getty on the gridiron with the Edmonton Elks, then known by another name (Photo: Found on Pinterest).

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.

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

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).

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.

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.

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

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 were 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.

In 2018, Family Day harmonization came to B.C., and the holiday was moved by a week, so we’re all one happy Family again. 

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.

Yukon, by the way, created a February holiday 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!

The late Alberta Liberal Opposition leader, Laurence Decore (Photo: Enclyclopedia of Ukraine).

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.

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 old 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.”

Opposition Leader Rachel Notley needs to promise to bring back Heritage Day in August as a stat holiday (Photo: David J. Climenhaga). 

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.

When mean-spirited Jason Kenney was at the helm pursuing his wage-reduction strategy and taking direction from Restaurants Canada, there was no hope of that happening either.

Now that Danielle Smith is in charge, pretending to be the friend of the working person and spending money like the proverbial drunken sailor in hopes of ekeing out re-election in May in a tough fight with Ms. Notley’s NDP, perhaps there is some hope that one of them will finally come through. 

Mr. Getty was inveigled into politics by Peter Lougheed, his former teammate on the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Elks, then known by another name, 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 Mr. 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 Edmonton 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.

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 of the Conservative Party that haunts 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. A re-repeat, in fact. I was going to just let it go and not post anything about Family Day today when I saw that folks on social media were crediting Dalton McGuinty (Dalton Who?) with inventing Family Day. I mean, seriously, people! Please! DJC

Join the Conversation


  1. It should be noted that well-known and PM who never was (thankfully) Stockwell Day, sought to abolish Family Day. During his tenure as Alberta’s treasurer, Day declared, at the time, that Family Day was costing the province roughly $20M to the province’s revenue stream. In addition, Day was of the belief that there was no good reason for employers to pay for another stat holiday. Needless to say, the backlash was angry. Day, after doing his usually think of saying he was misunderstood to blaming the media, walked his claim back. Soon after, Day left Alberta politics to become a federal MP in B.C. and eventual leader of the C(R)A Party.

    Day ran from Alberta because of Family Day, but soon followed him everywhere he went thereafter, forever haunting him.

  2. Nova Scotia has a provincial Nova Scotia Heritage Day holiday on the third Monday in February that began in 2015. Students in K-12 make some of the choices each year of the Nova Scotia people, places and events to be honoured on Heritage Day. Maybe not the same as Family Day, but a good choice just the same to honour a larger “family”.

  3. Re-repeat, repeat whatever, it’s still better than the snooze inducing drivel spewed by Lord Almost the felon, Murphy, Corcoran and the sleepwalkers at that sad excuse for a newspaper chain.

    1. Lars: Correct. Thank you. It’s been fixed. Unlike Caesar, you are as constant as the northern star. DJC

  4. Cocaine is usually trafficked in individual grams so, even though I’m no fan of the drug war and think all drugs including cocaine should be legal and regulated, an entire ounce, especially at that time and place, is more than a fair amount of cocaine. Just sayin’ , your observations about the timing notwithstanding.

  5. Of the Premier’s we had over the last while, Getty was actually one of the better ones, but unknown to most people, he was left somewhat of a mess from Lougheed. Unfortunately he was too nice of a person to do the nasty things the PC’s of the day wanted him to do. He was one of the few that really cared about people, much like to present day NDP’s.

  6. Imagine way back when your family having drug issues created a holiday. With the present scandals we all should get a paid vacation to Hawaii.
    Imagine back then one day with your son erased all problems. Does not seem to work any more.

    1. Hazel: This is just my opinion, but to me Mr. Getty never looked better than when his son was in trouble. He faced up to it in public and said, in effect, “I don’t approve of what my son did, but I love him and will always support him.” Any good parent, regardless of their political philosophy, would do the same. I don’t really buy the argument that he created the holiday just to distract from his son’s troubles. But if he did, I still count it in the Plus column. DJC

  7. The Getty government thought they had an iron clad case to deprive Government of Alberta employees of the August Statutory holiday because they thought they replaced it with Family day. Unfortunately (for them) they failed to read the collective agreement which was very clear about the named holidays and also allowed for extra holidays as enacted by the government. Family day fell into the category of an extra holiday.

  8. Yes, Getty had bad timing in politics. When he won the leadership he must have been quite happy. I suspect he didn’t fully realize how difficult the next decade would be with declining oil prices and a lot of other somewhat related problems. He came to power just as the boom turned into bust, in our boom, bust economy.

    Another more recent Premier who had particularly bad timing was Kenney. I suspect he thought it was quite clever to unite the PC’s and the Wildrose parties, which gave him a sure fire way to get back into power quickly, while his former Federal colleagues languished on the opposition benches for the next decade. Well, that didn’t work out so well either.

    Maybe Kenney should have reinstated that August holiday after all. Despite all the turmoil and difficulty of the Getty years, there is at least one positive thing to recall every year. I can’t imagine people will be saying such good things about Kenney in a few decades.

    Of course, at the time Getty got so little credit and support for what he did, so I doubt it will be terribly appealing for whoever our next Premier is to add back the August holiday, unless they are concerned about their legacy.

    1. Dave: Bad timing? Exactly the same thing could be said of premiers Smith, Notley, Prentice, Redford, and Stelmach. Dave Hancock only gets off the hook because he wasn’t really a premier, he was just a placeholder in fact if not in law. Now he’s a judge, which is a much more appropriate role for a man of his considerable talents. Probably the best premier we never had was Gary Mar, a remarkable schmoozer with an ability to empathize with everyone enough to at least understand what made them tick. The fact is, running Alberta (or any major Canadian province) is an extremely difficult job. At least half the folks who get it are bound not to be up to doing it. DJC

      1. Yes, apparently a lot of bad timing, particularly in the last 10 to 15 years for Alberta Conservative leaders. I suspect the roller coaster economy has had something to do with the way above average turn over, as well as in some cases leadership quality. However, perhaps Getty stands out more as he was sandwiched between two longer serving Premiers who mostly had improving or good economic times.

    2. “while his former Federal colleagues languished on the opposition benches for the next decade.”

      A silver lining to the very dark cloud if Skippy wins the election in 2025 will be imagining Jason Kenney’s reaction to it.

      1. Bob: If Pierre Poilievre loses the next federal election to a tired and stale Liberal government led by Justin Trudeau, who has surely been damaged by the continual smear campaign waged for nearly a decade by the Conservative Party even as he has managed to rise above it, Jason Kenney will see it as the will of God, will run for the leadership of the CPC, and, because that’s the kind of politics at which he excels, probably succeed. At that point, he just might win, because even Canadians who can abide Mr. Trudeau will be sick of him, and even Mr. Kenney will look good, great even, compared with a little creep like PP. DJC

  9. The venerable “ounce” has survived as the measurement of choice in the cannabis industry. An “ounce” usually refers to a 28 gram bag, however, an ounce is really 28.375 grams which leads to a 6 gram deficit when you get a “pound” of 28 gram “ounces”. People looked at me funny when I busted out that argument out and demanded a bit more. 🙂

    Back in Getty’s day, an ounce of the good stuff was over $200, now it’s $40. I love progress.

    1. People are still paying 30/gram in New York for premium cannabis. Legalization has been a godsend. Even if there is still a parallel black market, for many reasons, chief among them quality, the drop in street prices has cost trafficking organizations millions in revenue, and many folks are getting out of the industry.

      The interesting thing is that cannabis USE has stayed relatively flat. And while it is hilarious to see former cops and politicians that make up the mainstream cannabis biz complain about this “lack of growth” (because they would have been lighting their hair on fire if those numbers “Grew” previous to legalization ) its very likely the same flat trajectory would happen if we legalized all drugs, indeed probably even a downward trend, as safe and regulated drugs were provided with access to safe and thoughtful addiction services.

      It’s almost like they want cocaine to be worth more than gold, yah ?

  10. I think you’re into something here. With an election looming, we should make a list of demands. What do we have to lose? If it works for Danielle’s pals, the oil companies, why shouldn’t we all get a piece of the pie? She forgot quite a few of us with her Ralph Bucks bribe. Up the ante with an Oprah-style car giveaway, Danielle, and thanks for asking.

  11. I knew I had read this before! I remember reading the phrase “fleshpots of Vancouver Island and the Kootenays”. Having grown up in the Kootenays, and having attended University on the Island, I remember saying to myself “Well that is the first and last time I will read about “fleshpots of Vancouver Island and the Kootenays”. I was half right.

  12. I spoke to a former NDP MLA, some time ago, and he said that politics in Alberta sure has changed, since he was an MLA. It used to be different, but things have definitely changed. I think Ralph Klein made it worse. The UCP have made it even worse.

  13. One thing for certain….

    Don Getty knew all about political patronage, political largesse, and political favours.

    1. @Brett
      And yet compared to kenney and smith………
      Getty was a babe in the woods when it came to political patronage, political largess, political favors, secrecy, back room deals with multi-national foreign corporations, foisting the cost of destruction of the environment by oil and gas companies onto the backs of taxpayers while building in the largest (ever seen in Canada) structural deficits into the provincial budget while ignoring everyone else except their rabid base while trying to lay the groundwork for privatization of healthcare, education, a provincial police force who would only be accountable to the party with the ultimate goal of separation.

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