Monday, February 16, 2009

Family Day

Today Ontario celebrates its second annual Family Day. For the benefit of any non-Canadians, or even non-Ontarians, for that matter, I should explain that Family Day is a civic holiday, introduced by Ontario's provincial government, just last year. It's observed on the third Monday of February and, as the name implies, its purpose is to give families a day's respite from work in order that they may spend time together. Family Day was introduced in order to make good on a campaign promise, made by Premier Dalton McGuinty before his government was elected, to introduce a new civic holiday.

True to his word, Mr. McGuinty wasted no time in announcing the new civic holiday shortly after his election. Too bad he screwed it up as only a true politician can. Family Day was introduced as a civic holiday, rather than as a statutory holiday. Statutory holidays, such as Christmas, Easter, New Year's Day and such, are mandatory. Employers have no choice but to either allow their employees to stay home with pay on those holidays, or offer extra compensation to those who are asked to work. Not necessarily so in the case of civic holidays.

Ontario's Employment Standards Act mandates that employers must grant their employees a minimum of 13 paid holidays per year. Any more than that can be either granted or withheld at the employer's discretion. Government institutions, schools and organizations with strong unions tend to be fairly generous about granting paid holidays of this type. Most other organizations (the ones that are actually dependent upon profits for their continued existence) are not. That's how we get what the English like to call "Bank holidays"; holidays that tend to be observed by banks, schools, postal workers and civil servants, but not by the majority of working people.

So Family Day has, in effect, become yet another "bank holiday" and, as such, not all employers honour it. Some of us get it, some of us don't. In fact, I suspect that most of us don't, although I admit to having no statistics to support that theory. As a result, very few families actually get to observe Family Day together. Stop and absorb that, for a moment. Family Day has accomplished very little in terms of actually promoting family togetherness.

Beyond simply creating a ridiculous situation in principal, Family Day has actually caused a few practical problems. For example, since schools do observe this new holiday, many parents with younger school-aged children whose employers don't observe the holiday are now left with the burden of finding and paying for an extra day of child care on that day.

Further, on Feb. 18th, 2008, the first day that Family Day was observed, several traffic offenders were scheduled to appear in court since it was uncertain at the time if or when the new civic holiday would, in fact, be introduced. Any offenders whose court date had to be postponed because of the holiday could, in theory, have argued to have their charges dismissed due to the "undue delay". In a worst-case scenario, a person charged with driving under the influence could have walked away scot free, as they say.

Snow removal has also become an issue. Should there be a heavy snowfall on Family Day or the night before, which is not at all unlikely in February, Ontario being, after all, a part of the Great White North and all, municipalities would have no choice but to send out the plows since, as I've noted, most people still need to get to work on that day. Those plow drivers, being municipal employees, would then have to be paid extra for working that day, thus costing municipalities, and ultimately taxpayers, more money.

So then, let's review, shall we? Family Day has become an extra paid holiday for civil servants. It has cost both governments and working parents more money. It has not promoted family togetherness. Good job, Mr. McGuinty! You're really batting a thousand on this one!

The question in my mind is whether all this is the result of Premier McGuinty's failure to think the issue through before implementing Family Day or did he, as my more cynical, conspiracy-minded self is inclined to suspect, implement it as is with the full awareness of the loophole that he was leaving for employers to exploit, creating the perception that he tried to keep his campaign promise in good faith, whilst laying the blame for any negative side effects at the feet of the "greedy, heartless corporations"? Hanlon's Razor advises us to "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity" so I suppose I it would be most charitable of me to assume Mr. McGuinty to be a fool.

I do like to leave off on a positive note where possible, so here's wishing all the best to those who have been able to take advantage of this day in order to strengthen their family bonds and spend some well-deserved time away from work and in each others' company. That goes for the both of you.


Martin said...

Although teachers get the day off, the school year has been extended by one day (legally, the number of school days is mandated by the Education Act). So parents get their childcare money back at the end of June when it's 25C and sunny, while teachers have another day of school to make up for Feb. 16th.

I just came back from snowboarding this afternoon, and the slopes were packed (and I mean PACKED) with entire families out enjoying the day off.

Check out businesses around town on Family Day. Most are closed. Since its a stat holiday, many of those people who still have to go to work today are being paid extra.

Whatever else you might say, in the last election McGuinty ran on the promise of creating a new stat holiday in February, and in response voters put him in office.

Sorry old man, I think you dropped the ball on this one.

Halmanator said...

Fair point about schools being open an extra day to compensate for the Family Day holiday, although it also supports my argument that the implementation of the new holiday was mishandled and not completely thought through.

I'll challenge your statement about those people who still have to work being paid extra. Can you back that up? I personally know of several who still had to work without extra compensation. I'm one of them.

I'll also argue that McGuinty won the election, not because of his promise to create an extra stat holiday, but because of John Tory's ill-advised proposal to extend government funding to non-Catholic faith-based schools, not that I disagree with his desire to correct an egregious double-standard. But that's an entirely separate discussion.

Martin said...

I don't understand why you had to work on Family Day. According to the Ontario government, most employees should have the day off, with the exception of federal civil servants, employees outlined in the Employment Standards Act, and people who under contract already receive more paid holidays than the provincial statutes dictate (e.g., if you got Remembrance Day off though it isn't a stat holiday). Here in Thunder Bay, retail stores were shut down. The malls were closed. Most tellingly, Wal-Mart and A&P were closed. The only reason Wal-Mart and A&P close their doors for an entire day is if they don't want to pay their employees time and a half. A quick poll of friends revealed that construction workers and hospital staff got paid time and half on Monday.

From the Canadian Press, comes this text, that was published before Family Day ...
"Jordan Barker, who runs Barker Roofing in Waterloo, will be spending the day with his wife and three young children. He said it's worth the money to allow his four employees - who also have children - to do the same. "It is a cost but like everything it's part of doing business," he said. "I feel, as far as actually having to pay for holidays, it's certainly one of the better holidays to have to pay for."

In summary, no, it's not fair that you didn't get the day off or that you didn't get paid extra. But really, it is a worthwhile holiday.

Halmanator said...

I had to work without extra compensation precisely because I already get more than the minimum number of holidays mandated by Ontario's Employment Standards Act. For example, I get Easter Monday off. Most others don't. This is a loophole that was left by the McGuinty government and exploited by my employer.

While I commend Mr. Baker's attitude, not all employers are so generous. Wal-Mart probably couldn't take advantage of the loophole because they likely provided only the minimum number of paid holidays to their employees to begin with. Some of us work for Fezziwig. Some of us, unfortunately, work for Scrooge.

Understand I'm not criticizing the holiday itself or those who get to enjoy it. My criticism is for the McGuinty government's failure to think through the ramifications before passing it, and for failing to legislate it in such a way that everyone can truly take advantage of it.