When the announcement came last Thursday that Queen Elizabeth II had died at the age of 96 I felt a bit of melancholy at the realization that a lifetime constant, though distant, was now gone.
Say what you want about the monarchy, it’s hard to deny that the Queen had shown considerable aplomb during her 73 years on the British throne – unlike some of her progeny and lesser royals. I pondered her well-established place in history for a moment or two and then went about my afternoon, some of it spent searching for photos from her trip to Yellowknife in 1994 with her late husband, Prince Philip, so we could put them in the newspaper.
I imagine many people had a similar reaction. The news was sad but not entirely unexpected. Most sense the significance, having known no other monarch their entire lives but the connection has grown faint, and increasingly complicated by Britain’s colonial history, particularly with Indigenous people. The fact is, the Monarchy in Canada is not very popular — a poll taken earlier this year found support among Canadians at only 21 per cent – and I doubt those numbers will improve now that Princess Diana’s ex-husband is on the throne.
Governments reacted by running in a hundred different directions trying to figure out the best way to respond without looking callous or foolish.
The territorial government notified staff just hours after the Queen’s death that effective immediately, all public announcements were to be put on ice for four days, as well as public events for possibly up to two weeks. This was bound to cause some confusion but I must give Premier Caroline Cochrane credit for not taking the bait offered up by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which, as per usual, devolved into another wedge people have been debating all week.
Earlier this week Trudeau decreed a third September holiday for federal workers, this time to mark the Queen’s death, declaring, “an opportunity for Canadians to mourn on Monday is going to be important.” He said the federal government was working with the provinces and territories to ensure they were “aligned.”
B.C., Yukon, Nunavut, Manitoba and the Atlantic provinces are all taking the day off, or at least their public sector workers will be, including in most cases, their schools. Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories will not.
No disrespect to the Royal Family nor anyone saddened by the Queen’s death but staying open on Monday during the Queen’s funeral is not disrespecting the Queen. It’s absolutely respecting taxpayers, parents and businesses in a territory that already recognizes two other statutory holidays in September – namely Labour Day and Sept. 30, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a new holiday enacted federally by Trudeau last year to recognize the tragic legacy of residential schools, which was also adopted by the GNWT.
The reality is, after two, long years of Covid, the prime minister’s pronouncement for an unplanned statutory holiday exposes the divide between the public and private sector even further.
It’s no skin off a department manager’s back to shut the office down for one more September stat but if you’re a small business owner struggling to make payroll, it’s one more day out of the month you’re no closer to reaching it, not to mention parents who now must scramble to find daycare if they need to work.
My children’s school hosted an open house Wednesday night where I was not surprised to learn that many students have fallen behind after losing more than 100 days of class due to Covid, so it’s hard to see why they would need another unplanned day off from school – even if it’s for the Queen.
And we all know what people across Canada are going to do with their day off Monday. The likelihood that they will spend the day mourning the Queen is about as likely as me throwing down my fishing rods and taking up knitting.
This will be one last long weekend at the cabin. Maybe a family cookout, if the weather is nice. An extra day to clean up the yard before winter. Sure, they may glance at their phones once and while to see if Meghan Markle showed up for the funeral, but only the most ardent royal diehards will be spending the day following the procession.
I don’t think people should be blamed for taking advantage of another day off but I do blame government for creating this expectation, especially after Trudeau enacted National Truth and Reconciliation Day last year and then spent the day surfing. If the prime minister won’t show respect on a day meant to be spent reflecting on Canada’s residential school past and its deplorable treatment of Indigenous peoples then how can we expect the public to do likewise?
Maybe the federal government can do something more meaningful this Monday than sending its workforce home –providing a national memorial book, perhaps, or encouraging a letter of condolences campaign in Canadian schools.
Cochrane was right not to jump onto the bandwagon, creating problems for businesses and parents. We don’t need an impromptu holiday to mourn the Queen.