Manitoba says no statutory Orange Shirt holiday this year as talks continue

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WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is still planning to make the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation an official statutory holiday but says it's too late for the change to take effect this year.

"It would be very disrespectful of everybody to introduce something at this point," Labour Minister Reg Helwer said Wednesday.

"We did have legislation we were working on, and went through consultation with labour and business — and continuing consultation with First Nations and other groups — and that pointed out to me that we need much more advice from many people on how this should run."

The day — also known as Orange Shirt Day — was established in honour of the experience of Phyllis Webstad, whose gift of clothing from her grandmother was taken away on Webstad's first day at a residential school.

The federal government recently made the day, which falls on Sept. 30, a statutory holiday for its workers and federally regulated workplaces. The Northwest Territories government followed suit with an announcement in July.

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson said earlier in the summer that her Progressive Conservative government might follow in time for this year. But with less than a month to go, provincially regulated businesses have not been told they must give staff the day off.

Helwer said consultations with Indigenous groups on how to mark the day are still ongoing. He also said businesses would need more advance notice than 30 days.

"It would be very uncomfortable for business to spring that on them."

The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce is supporting the idea of a statutory holiday. Some 70 per cent of members who participated in a recent survey favoured the change.

The Opposition New Democrats pushed for a bill to enact the statutory holiday months ago.

Chamber president Loren Remillard said he understands the province needs more time to ensure the holiday is not just a day off work but an opportunity to reflect on reconciliation.

"No one wants to see this holiday just be a day off with no learning that comes as a result," Remillard said.

"It's not our place to say how to best recognize truth and reconciliation. It's a partnership, but that must be something that is informed and driven by Indigenous voices and leadership."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2022.

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press