TORONTO - For a guy who gave Ontario workers and school kids a long-coveted February holiday to break up the bleak three-month stretch of harsh winter days between New Year's and Good Friday, Premier Dalton McGuinty is sure taking a lot of heat over Family Day.

Less than 12 hours after McGuinty became the first Liberal premier in 70 years to win back-to-back majority governments last October, he declared his very first act would be to proclaim the third Monday of every February as a new statutory holiday.

Predictably, the move prompted cynical cries of political opportunism. McGuinty insisted his motives were sincere.

"One of the things that I recognized was that never have more parents spent more time working outside the home than at any point in our history than they do today,'' he said in a recent interview.

"I think the single most valuable commodity, so to speak, for our families would be time spent together, so that's the motivation behind this.''

The Toronto Stock Exchange and courts will be closed Monday, as will most businesses, banks, schools, municipal offices and libraries. Most retail stores will also be closed, except for those in designated tourist areas.

Public transit systems, including GO Transit, will operate on holiday schedules.

Ontario law also allows flower shops, gas stations, small pharmacies and smaller book or magazine stores with no more than three employees to remain open.

The blowback began almost immediately after the new holiday was proclaimed into law.

Most of the workers in McGuinty's hometown of Ottawa are employed by the federal government, and federal workers don't qualify for the provincial holiday. Neither do workers in federally regulated businesses such as airlines, banks and broadcasting, although most banks are giving workers Monday off and CBC's Ontario employees will either get the day off or a premium for working.

Police in many cities won't get paid extra for working Family Day because they already get more than nine paid statutory holidays in their contracts, as do many unionized workers who will have to use an existing floating holiday if they want to spend Monday with their families.

Municipalities complain they face big bills to pay staff not to work, and are worried they'll have to pay plow operators premium rates if it snows on Monday _ a distinct possibility given record snowfall levels in parts of Ontario during the first two weeks of February.

Anti-poverty activists say Family Day is meaningless for thousands of temporary workers, who will be denied holiday pay and who cannot afford to take a day off without pay.

"What workers need from the McGuinty government are labour laws that protect temp and contract workers,'' said Deena Ladd of the Workers Action Centre in Toronto.

McGuinty expressed some frustration at all the negative media coverage surrounding the new holiday, which he estimates will be enjoyed by about four million Ontario workers.

"I just haven't seen a lot of stories about the 70 per cent of workers who are going to enjoy Family Day with their families,'' he said.

"There's always a few wrinkles to be ironed out, a few challenges to be experienced in the first year. I think it'll run more smoothly next year.''

The opposition parties can hardly oppose a day off in February, but they do say McGuinty ought to have taken the time to clarify such issues as who qualifies before rushing to implement the new holiday.

"The strategy behind it was very simple: win votes. But that's not the way you make big decisions that affect people's families and that affect businesses and government,'' said Conservative Leader John Tory.

"It's a fiasco, which shows what happens when you only place politics at the pedestal of everything you do in decision making and don't bother to consult anyone.''

NDP Leader Howard Hampton said far too many Ontario workers won't qualify for Family Day.

"This is sort of creating the phantom holiday,'' Hampton said. "This is more about creating media spin about a new holiday than it is the reality of a new holiday for working people across Ontario.''