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Is Family Day the costliest holiday for Canadian employers?

Published: February 14, 2018

Every country has several days when employers are required to give their workers a day off, but Canada is quite specific in this regard. It has a statutory holiday that falls on different dates in different years, while every province has its own rules for its celebration. Family Day is observed in Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Prince Edward Island, but not in the other provinces. To make matters more complicated, the same holiday is called by a different name in some jurisdictions, while in BC it takes place a full week earlier.

This unusual situation is highly impractical for businesses for several reasons. Here is an overview of the major difficulties caused by this peculiar arrangement, as well as a suggestion how to resolve them:

Impact on trade between provinces

Many Canadian companies have branch offices across the country, which means that each local branch has to implement its own policies regarding Family Day. That prevents businesses from establishing consistent nationwide procedures and can lead to administrative blunders. It’s even worse when unrelated companies from different provinces need to cooperate, but are unaware of the holiday schedule followed by the other side. For all practical purposes, an off day in one province greatly slows down the volume of business in other parts of the country, which is especially problematic because Family Day always falls on a Monday and never on a weekend.

Ambiguity in national communications

Since the meaning of Family Day is dependent on location, it is quite tricky to mention this holiday in any promotional materials intended for the entire country. Residents of each province are likely to interpret the message based on their local traditions, even if the advertiser is located somewhere else. Those problems are intensified for campaigns that run for a limited time or contests with a strict deadline. Since the Toronto Stock Exchange is located in Ontario which observes Family Day, financial transactions can be unexpectedly delayed, putting sensitive deals in jeopardy. All things considered, the discrepancy has wide-ranging effects that are felt in almost every sphere of business communications.

How to fix the Family Day confusion?

It’s obvious that employers would benefit from some sort of standardization, but reaching consensus on this issue is certainly not easy. Most provinces that now mandate businesses to close for Family Day have adopted this rule within the past 10 years, so there is a clear trend towards expansion of this custom. However, for as long as the decision is left to local legislatures, it’s not realistic to expect the dissenting provinces to fall into line. An obvious solution would be to make Family Day a federal holiday, but that would require the provinces to relinquish a portion of their powers to the Ottawa government. Selecting a name for the national holiday might also be a challenge – It won’t be easy to persuade Yukon to cancel Yukon Heritage Day and replace it with a newly imposed celebration, for example.

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