Manitoba premier says Orange Shirt Day may become a provincial statutory holiday

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is considering whether to make the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation _ also known as Orange Shirt Day _ a provincial statutory holiday.

Premier Heather Stefanson says her government will consult with businesses and Indigenous leaders before any decision is made.

“It’s part of reconciliation and moving forward on that front, if we do go in that direction,” Stefanson said Thursday.

“We need to ensure that we talk to the business community and see what this means to them, we talk to Indigenous communities and see what it means to them. We haven’t had a chance to do that.”

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. Extending it to provincial workers and workplaces is an idea the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce appears open to considering.

“We have to consult with our membership … because there is a cost, and right now companies are hurting across the board,” said chamber president Loren Remillard.

“But at the end of the day, I know, speaking with our members, they are absolutely committed to truth and reconciliation.”

Many businesses closed for the day this year without being required to do so, he added.

Stefanson’s remarks followed her first state-of-the-province speech _ held annually by the chamber _ since she became premier in October. She touched on reconciliation frequently in the 20-minute address and promised “a new relationship based on respect, co-operation and partnership.”

The Opposition New Democrats have been pushing for the statutory holiday and have a bill before the legislature that was debated briefly Thursday.

“I would say let’s get this done,” said Ian Bushie, NDP critic for Indigenous relations.

“Indigenous organizations, community members, residential school survivors _ they’ve had this conversation and they’ve brought these thoughts and these ideas forward to make this a statutory holiday.”

The aim is to not just give people a day off work, but to mark the day with solemn reflection and education, Bushie said.

“It’s very important to bring forward those thoughts, those ideas, and to be able to bring that into the curriculum, to educate … Manitoba and Canada as a whole.”

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