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Doff hats to Don Getty, father of Family Day -- too bad about that August holiday

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Don Getty

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Today is Family Day in Alberta and here's to Don Getty, premier of this province from 1985 to 1992, who more than anyone else is responsible for giving us this excellent and much-needed February day off.

Getty's Progressive Conservative government had its flaws, but as oft has been observed, he never looked better than when he was standing by his own family in adversity, as when his son faced a serious scrape with the law in 1989, so it seems appropriate his intention to create a Family Day statutory holiday was announced in the Throne Speech of that same year. Alberta's first Family Day holiday was celebrated in 1990.

Arguably the most important aspect of this February holiday is that it breaks up the long (and in these parts, mostly cold) haul between New Year's Day and Good Friday.

Naturally, Getty was excoriated for this plan to Canadianize the Presidents Day statutory holiday, pegged approximately to George Washington's Feb. 22 birthday, officially enjoyed by Americans on the third Monday of February since 1968, but marked in U.S. federal offices as Washington's Birthday at least since 1885.

Here in Alberta, the complaints and dire predictions came from all the usual suspects -- there's nothing the business "community" hates more than the thought of having to pay someone a few shekels for working overtime -- and some unusual suspects too.

Judging from the debate in the Legislature recently dug up by my colleague Dave Cournoyer for his excellent Daveberta.ca blog, New Democrats and then-still-credible Alberta Liberals were not very supportive either.

Liberal leader Laurence Decore, leader of the Opposition at the time, complained that the February holiday wouldn't "excite and energize and stimulate Albertans." Arguably, he was wrong about that, at least if those terms can be applied to sleeping in on a Monday.

Bob Hawkesworth, then the NDP MLA for Calgary-Mountain View, lamented in the Legislature that one Family Day in February wasn't much of a consolation for the loss of a day off every week when working people could spent time with their families. Hawkesworth was referring to Sunday, the Christian Sabbath, for those of you not old enough to remember when commercial establishments had to be closed on that day and you couldn't get a beverage other than sacramental wine to save your soul.

By 1989, when Hawkesworth was speaking, though, that ship had sailed. A statutory holiday in February is still better than no statutory holiday in February!

Canadians in other places who complain they get nothing from Alberta but Dutch Disease (soon the be waggishly renamed, no doubt, Alberta Sand Sickness or some such), should remember that similar February holidays were thereafter implemented in Saskatchewan in 2006, Ontario and Manitoba in 2007, Prince Edward Island in 2009, British Columbia in 2013, and Nova Scotia in 2015. This presupposes, of course, that we aren't going to give Yukon the credit, seeing as it isn't officially a province yet, for creating such a holiday in 1976.

It's said here that the February holiday should be harmonized and enacted by the federal government as Jack Layton Day. 

Alas, Getty's silver lining is not without a cloud.

Back in 1989, the PC premier, who had a previous career as a professional football quarterback, tackled the incessant whining of the business community about how their costs were bound to increase by downgrading another stat holiday, Heritage Day. The first Monday of August, which had been an official holiday in this province since 1974, was busted back to a mere civic holiday to avoid the complaints about overtime costs.

So if our Alberta NDP government wants a project that will ensure the eternal gratitude of most Albertans, it could return the August holiday to statutory status.

The usual suspects would be certain to screech about that too. Just as they were about Family Day in 1989, though, they would be wrong.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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