Bettie Hewes Bob Hawkesworth Derek Fox Don Getty Don Tannas Kurt Gessel Laurence Decore Marie Laing Norm Weiss Ray Martin

Alberta’s Great Family Day Debate of 1989.

The annual Family Day long-weekend is something that many Albertans look forward to. The many Albertans who take for granted the holiday on the third Monday of February may be surprised to know that the idea of creating Family Day was incredibly controversial when it was first introduced in 1989. It may be his greatest legacy as Premier, but when Don Getty introduced the Family Day Act on June 1, 1989, it generated some intense debate on the floor of the Legislative Assembly. Here are some quotes from the debate, care of Hansard:

Kurt Gesell MLA Alberta
Kurt Gesell

June 5, 1989
Laurence Decore (Liberal MLA Edmonton-Glengarry): “It seems to me that when your province is in difficulty, when you know that you’re going to be experiencing the lowest economic growth rate in Canada, something should be brought forward to excite and energize and stimulate Albertans. The family day Act doesn’t do that.”

June 6, 1989
Kurt Gesell (PC MLA Clover Bar): “The promise of the throne speech of love of family, home, community, and province facilitates these choices. The family day Act is an excellent start, and forms part of the measures stressing the importance of Alberta families. I want to applaud our Premier for the introduction of this initiative.”

June 7, 1989

Don-Tannas-Alberta MLA
Don Tannas

Don Tannas (PC MLA Highwood): “Government alone cannot create a true family day. It can merely provide the opportunity for others to make it a family time, and therefore it is an important step to bring focus to the fundamental importance of the family, through family day. Many of our Christian denominations emphasize having at least one day a week devoted to family activities. A family day once a year provides an ideal opportunity for all families to focus on themselves, to look at reconciling their differences, to take joy in their common ancestry, to participate in shared activities, and to focus on all the members of their extended family on a day other than a family funeral. No, Mr. Speaker, a government cannot do it by itself. Family day must grow in the hearts and minds of all Albertans, and I’m proud that this government has taken this important step.”

Norm Weiss

June 8, 1989
Ray Martin (NDP MLA Edmonton-Norwood): “I’ll stand up in the Legislature and give them credit if it’s anything close to what we’re doing in Bill 201. I point out that just like your so-called family day, Mr. Speaker — I recall them running that Bill down, but then for once they did the right thing and brought it in, the midwinter holiday. So I’m hopeful after the eighth try that they might take a look at a Bill like that. Again, government members, if you don’t understand the problem and you think everything’s okay, you’re just not listening to the public.”

June 19, 1989
Norm Weiss (PC MLA Fort McMurray): “I hope we’d see such things as family cards for family days, as we see for Valentine Day and Father’s Day and Mother’s Day and instances like that.”

Bettie Hewes

Bettie Hewes (Liberal MLA Edmonton-Gold Bar): “We still are beset with runaways, with dropouts, with an increase in teenage pregnancy. Yet it doesn’t seem to me our Family Day will in any way help those problems that are a consistent source of stress in family life in Alberta and an increasing source of stress. Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier and the members of the Legislature what Family Day will do to alleviate the need for respite for young families who’ve been encouraged to keep mentally or physically handicapped children at home.” … “This government’s commitment to strengthen family life has yet to materialize. With regret, Mr. Speaker, this particular family Act doesn’t accomplish it in any way.”

Derek Fox

Derek Fox (NDP MLA Vegreville): “It’s not enough to pay lip service to the family in Alberta, just to say, “Well, we love the family; therefore, everything’s going to be wonderful for families in Alberta” or “We’re going to name a holiday Family Day, and everything will be wonder- ful for families in Alberta.””

Don Getty (PC MLA Stettler): “The members opposite from the Liberal and ND parties are surely a hesitant, fearful, timid group, unable to bring themselves to look at something in a positive way. I guess they’ve been in the opposition that long that they just can’t turn around their minds in a positive, thoughtful way and think of the kinds of things they could have raised to support Family Day and talk about the exciting things that will happen in the future in Alberta on Family Day. Instead we heard a series of complaints and fears, and that’s really sad.”

“We will have this thinking of Family Day, thinking of the importance of the family. Both the NDP and the Liberal members said: will people participate; will they actually get together as families? Their view is: force them to; use state control in some way. Force litem to. Make it the law that you’ve got to get together. Now, what kind of nonsense is that? Surely that’s the kind of centralist, socialist thinking that is so wrong and the reason why they’re where they are, Mr. Speaker.”

Marie Laing

Marie Laing (NDP MLA Edmonton-Avonmore): “…all too often the member of that family that is forced to work is the mother or the woman, because they are employed in the retail trade. So we have to say: what kind of a Family Day do you have when the mother has to be at work and cannot be with her family?”

August 10, 1989
Mr. Weiss: “…the proposed amendment, as introduced by the hon member, certainly would create chaos. She went on to say, and I quote how would it help battered women, those sexually abused? I would like to say to all hon members of the Assembly that I really don’t know. Does any body know? But maybe just the reality of knowing one day has been designated as Family Day will shock both sides of a broken family into the realities that there are problems in this world, and as a realist we don’t run from them, we try and work towards improving them and bettering them from all sides It’s not just “empty rhetoric” as quoted by the hon member.”

Mr. Decore: “It is that not everybody is allowed to celebrate the holiday. The moms and the dads and the grandmothers and the grandfathers and the uncles and the aunts and the children aren’t able, many of them, to come back to that family unit to participate in that Family Day. Therefore, the Act isn’t fair; it isn’t fair to the thousands of people who must work.”

Bob Hawkesworth

Bob Hawkesworth (NDP MLA Calgary-Mountain View): “…it’s really a shame to me that they would miss the real opportunity that this Bill could provide to create a genuine Family Day, not just some bogus, poor substitute for something that we once had once a week in this province. It’s a shame to me and a tragedy to me that this government over the years has failed to act in this important way. I think it’s highly regrettable. Here is some small
way that they could rectify an injustice.”

August 15, 1989
Mr. Getty: “…the hon. Member for Edmonton-Centre [editor’s note: the MLA at the time was William Roberts] has such a hesitant, fearful, timid view of the capacity of the people of Alberta that he would want in some way to pass legislation that forces people to do certain things. It’s the socialist, state-control thought, and it’s wrong. It has been wrong in the past, and it’s wrong now. You have to have faith in the people of the province that they will develop this family day, that they will work. The government merely provides the framework; it’s the people who do it. It’s not people against their employers. Surely they’re all the people of Alberta. They work together, and together they’re going to develop family day. I know that someday in the future that poor, timid, hesitant Edmonton-Centre MLA, wherever he will be in those days, probably . . . Well, no, I won’t even speculate, because we’d probably have to help him to the food bank.”

February 1, 1990
Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid wrote about the first Family Day: “The premier failed to consider a few realities of modern family life – little things like children, work, school and day care. These matters refuse to vanish just because the couch potatoes in the legislature want another holiday and the premier waves his wand.”

15 replies on “Alberta’s Great Family Day Debate of 1989.”

I don't know about anybody else but when I visit favorate recreational sites around Alberta on Family Day, I gotta say I see a lot of families, and folks I don't normally run into who spend time together and enjoy themselves.

True NLAR.

But if you look carefully, you will see families participating in events together most evenings, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

Family life should be about every day life. There is no need to set up a special day for it as if all other days are therefore not family days.

Family day was an example of governments being parasites on family values for furtherance of their political agendas.

Maybe if governments would butt out of social engineering, lower taxes for families and get out of people's lives, families could worry more about families and less about government pimps using them to score cheap political points.

My recollection of the family values debate of the Getty years mostly deals with Getty's idea of strengthening families by building more sports facilities. Meanwhile, funding for libraries was cut. My wife and children spent a lot more time together at librairies than at sports facilities, so the government was making our family activities less rewarding. Getty, the ex-jock, had a very narrow view of what families do together.

Spent the day with my kids sliding down an icy slope near Hay Lakes.

I don't know if I would have taken them if I hadn't been reminded by the Family Day holiday that I work too much.

Today reminded me just how much kids like to have dad around when they're having fun.

I guess, if we're gonna have a holiday in February, Family Day is a good Day to have.

Hey, here's to Don Getty, ideological warts, lack of enthusiasm for libraries, imperfect family and all. He gave us a worthwhile holiday in February which many of us enjoy enormously, and he deserves credit for it from all Albertans even if we don't look with favour on all his other ideas. The opposition is paid to oppose, so it's not particularly illuminating to discover that Hansard contains some negative quotes. I'm sure that most of those who argued against his idea would not dare to vote for its repeal today.

I remember the real reason we have Family Day Getty Junior got arrested on my parent's block for dealing cocaine and the public got a holiday out of the deal as the Tory dog wag worked its magic.

The otherwise holiday-free stretch from New Year's till Easter is one of the most despressing and difficult times of the year. In the US and other provinces where no February long weekend exists, it is also the longest stretch of the year without any such break.

This holiday, regardless of its origins, is a very good thing. Other provinces have added it and eventually the Feds will add & recognize it too. A lot of people slam the PCs as being too business friendly, but forcing a paid holiday in to existence always meets with a lot of corporate resistance, so job well done Mr. Getty.

There's nothing wrong with a mid-winter holiday to break the long dark miserable stretch from January through April. However, at the time it was introduced, the irony and dare I say it hypocrisy of the Premier of the day, Don Getty, advocating for family values for the rest of us while ditching family values in not supporting his son who was in legal trouble, was downright jarring.

In addition, much of the debate around "family values" in North America has been hijacked by the Christian right, who only recognize one sort of family. In reality, a family is how its members define it: aside from the traditional 2-parent family, there are single-parent families, blended families, same-sex-parent families, common-law-spouse families, and many other arrangements that are equally valid.

Finally, holidays in Alberta have little meaning for much of the work force, many of whom are forced to work long hours for little pay and have little or no time for their own families.

A clearly cynical move at the time, a treasured February break today.

I sympathize for those who don't have the option of enjoying Family Day, but for most people it has evolved into the real deal — a day when people set aside their work and truly do something special as a family.

So, thank you Dale Getty!

In our house, we call it "Don Getty jokes about beating his wife and his son deals coke" – Day. Hey, I love Family Day. But let's not forget the reasons we have it: "family values" were becoming hot topics as Charter-related cases wound their way through the courts (LGBT/abortion, mostly), so it was a good time to play to the base. On top of that, Getty's son got caught with some cocaine, and he cheerfully told the press he "abuses his wife, but I never abuse a seatbelt" during the mandatory seatbelt debate. So, yeah. Viva family day, and the appalling ideologues in the Conservative caucus! Maybe things have changed since then. Or – ahem – dougelniski – maybe they haven't…!

-Shannon Phillips

Lordy. Get some perspective people. The interesting part of those quotes is how universally stupid they make our legislature sound.

Yes, the memories! The Premier’s son gets busted with cocaine and the province gets a holiday!

I worked for the provincial government at the time and we were in a pretty tough round of bargaining. After all the public announcements were made about the holiday, the government quietly informed our General Services Bargaining Committee that we’d have to give up another holiday in exchange for the Family Day Holiday, perhaps the August long weekend? That, of course, did not happen. (You’re welcome, current Alberta public service workers!)And here we are!

Despite it’s rather dubious beginnings, I’ve grown to love our mid-winter long weekend! And, it’s Snow-Mo Days at Alberta Beach, to boot! Have a great weekend, Dave and everybody.

I love family day.

South montgomery is getting a tim hortons. Montgomery triangle is the golden triangle. Montgomery triangle is awesome

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