New holiday not such a welcome relief

Some business owners in Centretown are wary Family Day, Ontario’s new public holiday on Feb. 18, will come at a price.

Many small business owners say they feel they were not considered in the recent provincial decision.

“We don’t have a lot of say and we don’t have a strong voice,” says Geoff Erskine, manager at

Stoneface Dolly’s, a Preston Street restaurant.

The provincial government’s haste to declare a new holiday irks Garth Whyte, executive vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB).

“We weren’t consulted at all. It was a political ploy,” he says.

Whyte says he thinks Premier Dalton McGuinty enticed voters with the promise of another paid day off.

McGuinty pledged to create Family Day during his election campaign last year, and formally announced the ninth, statutory holiday on Oct. 11, a day after his re-election.

But Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi says his party considered businesses, individuals, and families alike.

“What better way to consult everyone than during an election campaign? It’s front and centre,” Naqvi says. “By giving the Liberal party a majority in the election, they said they wanted it. People were very excited about a new holiday.”

This enthusiasm isn’t shared by the entire business community.

“The new holiday was just thrown at them and rammed down their throats,” says Michael

Burnatowski, who advises new business owners about finances and administration as the manager of the Entrepreneurship Centre at the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation.

And finances are certainly a concern regarding this holiday.

“As much as I agree conceptually with the idea, for a small business it causes a relatively negative impact,” says Erskine.

“The impact is at least $1,000 in labour costs,” he says – and that’s only if Stoneface Dolly’s closes on Feb. 18. That amount will rise if the restaurant stays open and he has to pay employees time and a half to work.

The CFIB compiled a survey on how small businesses view statutory holidays and found most are against implementing new ones.

“Everyone thinks it’s free (to have a holiday), but it’s a double whammy because the businesses pay two ways – they either have to close and still pay the day’s wages, or stay open and pay their employees double time and a half. The government isn’t paying a penny,” Whyte says.

Centretown businesses have been hit harder than other areas lately, Burnatowski says. In addition to the costs of Family Day, he says businesses are concerned with the ongoing parking fees

battle and the fallout from the Somerset House collapse and subsequent Bank Street closure.

But not all business owners see Family Day as a loss. Burnatowski says some of his clients view Feb. 18 as a morale booster for their employees, providing a break during an otherwise long stretch without a holiday.

Jean-Christophe Arsenault, owner of Herb & Spice on Bank Street, acknowledges the cost of Family Day but says he wants to give his employees a break.

“I think they deserve the

holiday,” Arsenault says.

But the holiday brings

additional uncertainties to business owners. Erskine says while he can gauge traffic to his restaurant on traditional holidays like Canada Day and Labour Day, he’s not sure what Family Day will bring.

Patrons could flock to his eatery because they have a day off, but they could also choose to spend their day at home. Erskine says he hasn’t decided if he will open the restaurant on the holiday yet – if sales disappoint, it might not be worthwhile.

Whyte points out another

consequence. The extra holiday is cause for some businesses to

remove “floater days,” which allow employees to choose their own time to take a paid day off work.

“Ironically, floaters were days you could use for your family when you really need to,” says Whyte. “But by putting Family Day on a certain day, it’s


Whyte says there’s little the business community can do to change this new law, but his organization is trying to bring the issue to people’s attention “so we don’t have something like a ‘Flag Day’ in the future.”