The initiation of B.C. Family Day as a statutory holiday represents, for many, a personal and historical triumph. For others however, it is simply more weight added to an already cumbersome load. If politics can guarantee us anything, it might be that policymaking never fails to polarize public opinion. Between divided schools of thought, legislation has a tendency to fall into a, “he-said-she-said” table tennis of political forum, making something as seemingly innocuous as Family Day, become the main thrust of incendiary debate.
Part and parcel of premier Christy Clark’s, “Families First” agenda, (a political platform focused on creating policies to ease the burden of B.C. families), the new stat holiday pays homage to the prior two decades of multiple failed legislation attempts, aimed at establishing a statutory holiday for B.C. families. Following Clark’s successful election however, on October 3, 2011, it was announced that as a primary measure, a new stat holiday would be introduced to celebrate families across the province. After a 31,000 strong public poll, the date was adopted for the second Monday of the second month of the New Year, and on February 11th, British Columbia observed its first ever, inaugural B.C. Family Day.
As the general public moves to adopt the new bill with little apparent trepidation, political charades continue to line the coat pockets of public opinion. In reality, Family Day is more pomp and circumstance than political idealism, and (notwithstanding the nature of politics) it might be reasonable to assume that a strategically concocted pre-election initiative, (like Family Day) may very well prove beneficial for the Liberals when it comes to the voting ballot in May. Of course let us not forget that Family Day arrives late to British Columbia, having already been well established as a provincial statutory holiday in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, P.E.I. and Saskatchewan.
Proponents of the new bill proclaim that Family Day is not only fiscally advantageous for the province but also essential to the well being of our society. Balance might well be the operative word here. If we type into Google the reasons for why people take holidays, several common factors emerge. Fitness, mind and body, relaxation, inspiration, reconnection, discovery, sleep, family, health, productivity and kindness… These are what contribute to a life well balanced and well lived. With this in mind, many concede that compensations like Family Day, are representative of our government’s newfound commitment to general well being. Marianne Drew-Pennington from BC Council for Families concurs, stating, “setting aside an annual holiday in B.C. that values parenting and the role of families in raising children and building communities demonstrates appreciation for these unsung heroes.” But before we blow our own horn, let us not forget the many other presiding issues on the docket that plague political morality, such as, lower childcare costs, affordable daycare, (at present childcare costs in BC are anywhere from between $9,000 to $14,000 per year per child), demand for more licensed childcare facilities, and pediatric care. Therefore, another stat holiday linking New Years and Easter seems to falls short of other, more pressing political issues.
Christy Clark, alongside Margaret MacDiarmid, Minister of Labour, Citizens’ Services and Open Government, have proudly advocated that the statutory holiday is intended not only to celebrate B.C. families, but also to support local economies by encouraging its citizens to utilize their communities’ resources, programs and special events. Clark claims that B.C. Family Day will therefore see a subsequent (albeit 2-3 day spike) in public spending during the off-season, when economies and businesses tend to flounder. Both Chris Dadson, president of Kootenay Rockies, and Tourism Minister Pat Bell, have defended Clark’s sentiment, arguing that the holiday will provide a significant boost to the B.C. tourism sector. Working hand-in-hand with a variety of partners (including B.C. Parks, municipalities, regional tourism associations, the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association, the Canada West Ski Areas Association and the private sector) the province has labored to create affordable opportunities for families to enjoy the special day together. In Vancouver for example, there were concerts featuring local Juno award winners, as well as street entertainment, face painting, a hockey shoot out, local artists and more. Ian Tostenson, president of the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association concurs, saying, “B.C. Restaurant Week February 11 to 17 coincides with Family Day and showcases the incredible innovation and value of our industry…We encourage everyone to get together with their loved ones on Family Day and support the many people who own and operate restaurant and food establishments in B.C. and continue that celebration throughout the week.” This statement was echoed by David Lynn, president and CEO of Canada’s West Ski Areas Association, who said, “We are very pleased with the outcome and we are confident that this decision will drive significant benefits for the tourism industry, the provincial economy and the people of British Columbia.”
Apart from all the praising proclamations made by our politicians and chairmen, criticism of the bill continues to plague its advocates. Many small business owners reject the onus of Family Day, which places unnecessary financial strain by forcing them to pay staff for an extra day. In response to the censure, Christy Clark stated, “a lot of other economies across Canada have gotten used to Family Day, including Saskatchewan, which is one of the fastest growing now.” While this is true, we must take into account B.C.’s modest economic growth forecasted for the coming years. Comparing our economy to Saskatchewan’s is not necessary representative. It is a well-known fact that our prairie brethren lead the nation not by political idealism, but by potash, oil and gas. B.C. might well reap the benefits of its own liquefied natural gas project in the coming months, (if the premier gets her way) however the bulk of our GDP still relies heavily on foresting and mining, which cannot altogether realistically compete with the economies of Alberta and Saskatchewan. And while B.C. continues to reel from the grips of a harrowing recession, we begin to emerge within a shrewder consciousness that echoes the sentiment nothing in life is free. So without the stars in our eyes, we start to wonder… who is footing the bill?
British Columbians already enjoy nine statutory holidays per year, with a minimum two-week vacation entitlement (presaged in B.C.’s Employment Standards Act) as well as an additional one-week vacation extension after five years of employment, and five days of entitled unpaid family leave. Critics of Family Day argue that adding another statutory holiday is therefore not only unnecessary, but also costly. Businesses that close for the holiday lose an entire production day, while their wage costs remains the same, (since workers must be paid an average day’s pay). With no offsetting reduction costs and lower revenues, owners, employees and consumers therefore end up footing the bill. Although higher prices may conceivably compensate for the loss, increasingly competitive markets for most goods and services make this option ultimately unviable. Notwithstanding the recession and our slow growing economy, the HST/PST debacle, and the minimum wage increase, (recently imposed by the Clark government) the Canadian Federation of Independent Business estimates that BC Family Day will cost small and medium businesses roughly $42 million. This of course, does not take into account the added cost of any larger businesses. And let us not us forget about the average B.C. family, for whom this particular stat holiday is supposedly intended. As an illustration, Canadian taxpayers will subsidize tens of millions of dollars to provide the additional (paid) day off for the 359,000 provincial and municipal public sector workers, (or the two and a half times standard pay if they work the stat). And while Clark and those in her camp, claim that the holiday will rather improve the economy, (as families are expected to spend money on entertainment and recreational activities) any increase in demand for goods and services will be offset by the increased wage costs businesses will have to bear. However additional concerns over the nexus effects of the bill, have many British Columbians worried. Increased spending by families on their day off may potentially contribute to less spending at other times throughout the year, while the obligatory onus on local businesses to provide free services or reduced rates to promote Family Day will not only see a loss of revenue, but will also increase total annual expenditure, as they will have to sustain the increased wage costs. Lastly, there is no guarantee that a day off for British Columbians will provide B.C. with the kind of economic stimulus that has been projected. Many use long weekends to travel southward or east to Alberta, (such is evident with Alberta’s Family Day which conversely sees a modest commercial boost to B.C.’s economy during the third week of February).
Family Day may seem like a noble gesture by the Clark government to provide support for B.C. Families and stimulate local economies, however, we as the taxpayer, must call a spade a spade. The bottom line is, statutory holidays are not free. Taxpayers, workers, and business end up paying, which is why it is important that we understand fully the implications of such policies. There are indeed many benefits that coincide with the implementation of Family Day, primarily the opportunity to disengage from the rigorous (albeit sometimes tedious) routine of daily life, and we can all agree that balance in order to promote general well being should never be undervalued. However, like all things political, policy presents polarization, and in the end, divides society along diverging beliefs and interests. Therefore, to form a holistic opinion on any political policy, it is imperative that we, the people and taxpayers, educate ourselves on the full intention, implication, cause and effect of each government policy, so we too can make decisions based on our own welfare and understanding.
- Elizabeth Cucnik
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