BARRHEAD - County of Barrhead councillors will leave it up to individual staff members as to how they would like to commemorate the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation Day on Sept. 30.
However, whatever they decide to do, it will be at their own time and expense.
In June 2021, the Canadian government passed legislation recognizing September 30 as a federal statutory holiday.
Councillors unanimously decided to take no action to declare the day a holiday for municipal employees during their June 21 meeting.
Councillors also subsequently defeated a motion 3-3 to have administration provide staff with educational opportunities to add to employees' awareness about the residential school system for 2022 only.
Coun. Walter Preugschas, a proponent of the Indigenous community, who in the past has helped organize educational tours of First Nation communities, was absent.
The Barrhead Leader asked for the breakdown of the vote, but as council did not ask for it to be recorded, it wasn't available.
County manager Debbie Oyarzun noted the legislation was the government's attempt to address the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's call to action list.
The list recommended 94 actions that various levels of government should take to help repair the damage the Canadian residential schools had and to move forward with reconciliation.
Specifically, Oyarzun said the day is an attempt to fulfil action 80, which recommended a statutory holiday to "honour survivors of the residential schools and their families, and communities and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process."
She noted the provincial government opted not to make the day a holiday, leaving the option to employers.
Oyarzun added that many unions, as part of their negotiated contracts, recognize federal holidays, noting the county does not have that constraint.
Currently, the county provides the nine mandatory provincial statutory holidays: Christmas Day, New Year's Day, Good Friday, Victoria Day, Canada Day, Labour Day, Thanksgiving, and Remembrance Day.
Oyarzun said the county, like many municipalities, provides three optional provincial holidays: Easter Monday, Heritage Day and Boxing Day.
"And the county historically has also provided Christmas Eve off," she said.
Among the county's Inter-municipal Collaborative Framework (ICF) partners, only Lac Ste. Anne County provides National Day of Truth and Reconciliation Day as a holiday, while the Town of Barrhead and Westlock County are still considering doing so. Woodlands County and Sturgeon County have already decided against it.
Oyarzun said she also reached out to several other Alberta municipalities. Out of the 19 urban municipalities that responded, 17 have included it in their list of holidays, while one is still considering it, with only one deciding against it. All three rural municipalities that responded have opted against including the day in their list of holidays.
Oyarzun noted the cost of including the day in their list of stats is negligible as staff would be paid regardless.
"Just in one instance they would have the day off," she said.
Administration prepared three options for councillors, one of them being the status quo, while the other was to provide staff with opportunities to increase awareness about truth reconciliation during the work day. Oyarzun noted this could come in many forms, such as a 30-minute webinar or to promote Orange Shirt Day.
The final option was to include it in their list of statutory holidays to give staff the time to "reflect and recognize truth and reconciliation".
Regardless of the option councillors selected, Oyarzun noted that council would continue to take part in events such as the Town of Barrhead's Treaty 6 flag-raising ceremony on May 26 or the National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21 at the town's Gazebo Park.
Coun. Jared Stoik kicked off the discussion by saying he opted for the status quo. Asked by reeve Doug Drozd if he wanted to elaborate, Stoik said no.
Coun. Ron Kleinfeldt said he was disappointed that the province did not take the lead.
"(Responses) are all over the map. It makes it difficult to know what to do," he said.
Coun. Paul Properzi asked what the schools are doing.
In December 2021, Pembina Hills School Division adopted the day as a statutory holiday. In the week leading up to Sept. 30, schools attempt to engage students in activities to honour the survivors of the residential school system, their families, and communities. Aspen View Public Schools has taken a similar approach.
Drozd suggested going for an education/awareness work day for one year only and then going to the status quo.
"I don't see the value in us doing the same thing every year," he said. "If we do something the first year and then leave it up to the individual how they would like to commemorate it."
Stoik said although he did not think Drozd's suggestion was "awful", he added that "in the same sense, anyone who is interested in learning more always has the option to do it themselves."
Deputy reeve Marvin Schatz favoured Drozd's option, but he said participation in any education or awareness program should be optional.
"If it is just for those who want it, then why wouldn't they just do it themselves? If council feels it is important enough to give your CAO instruction, then the program should be for all staff," Oyarzun said.
Schatz said, if that is the case, he opted for the status quo and doing nothing.