An award-worthy guest column

Stuart MacLeod August 17 1987

An award-worthy guest column

Stuart MacLeod August 17 1987

An award-worthy guest column


Stuart MacLeod

In the face of apparent government and public indifference, a particular species of Canadian is facing extinction. And those of us who are members of the Fading Few, just like the veterans of Vimy Ridge, are powerless to prevent the inevitable.

We are talking about the small and shrinking band of awardless Canadians, outcasts from a society apparently dedicated to ensuring that all its members have at least one medal, cup, statue, plaque or framed citation. As a nation, we’re becoming awards-crazy. Or, as an award-winning sportscaster might tell us—and win another award in the process—we all want to sip champagne from Lord Stanley’s silver goblet. Or is it Earl Grey’s shiny spittoon?

We used to think the Americans were award nuts, simply because they interrupt normal programming every few weeks to bring us another The-Envelope-Please ceremony. Or perhaps it’s because U.S. servicemen seem to get chest ribbons just for crossing state lines. But when it comes to the Joy of Awards, that’s us. Let the Americans get their joy from stress and sex and cooking.

It wouldn’t be fair to blame the Order of Canada for our obsession with awards—although there is a great deal one could say about its ludicrous threetier grading system—but it certainly helped. When the Pearson government decided in 1967 that such honors were appropriate for those “who exemplify the highest qualities of citizenship,” it obviously tweaked interest in other fields of endeavor.

And as each of the 2,461 Order of Canada recipients stepped forward since then, we were gently reminded that it was no longer good enough to be judged by our peers. More awards, that’s what we needed.

Surely it wasn’t mere coincidence that just five years after the birth of the Order of Canada, we got the Order of Military Merit with, you guessed it, the same three tiers. And since then, 1,649 of them have been handed out for “exceptional service.” Imagine if there had been a war! It was only four years ago that the Queen approved our Police Exemplary Service Medal. Already 10,589 have been awarded. There are others for prison workers and firemen. Nothing

Stewart MacLeod is Ottawa columnist for Thomson News Service.

yet for hotel doormen, but don’t go away.

When we feel the necessity to award good conduct, does this imply that poor, or even dubious, conduct is the norm? Just asking. But there can be no doubt that the wholesale distribution of awards debases the coinage, so to speak, and dilutes the deserved distinction of real awards, such as those given for bravery.

So, we don’t blame the Order of Canada for the fact that we now spend so much of our waking hours watching TV award shows from Toronto; reading lists of award winners; congratulating neighborhood recipients; admiring friends’ citations or lifting miniature statues off mantlepieces while reciting the standard I-can’t-think-of-anyone-moredeserving routine. We should really go back much further and blame Mackenzie King for not wiping out Queen’s Counsels when he finally did away with

What this country needs is an award in every home. There are still a Fading Few who have not yet received one

most other British-bred honors in 1935.

Anyway, when the awards system is reduced to playful patronage through the legal profession, what’s the rest of society supposed to do? In Britain, and this may come as a stunning surprise, the QC is actually a title of great significance, sparsely spread. The Canadian holders, of which there are an astonishing 4,500 or so, enjoy the general esteem of having finally made it through law school. The honors are tossed out by Ottawa and the provinces like confetti. And here, we must pause briefly to give a qualified salute, but no award, to Ontario Premier David Peterson, who abolished the awarding of QCs in 1985. Qualified, because what did the guy do? He turned around last year and established the new Order of Ontario, for heaven’s sake.

And you know what that means, eh? Right, the Order of Quebec, the Order of Saskatchewan, the Order of Newfoundland, the Order of the Republic of Madawaska. “Hey, Harry, I’ll swap you the 00 and the OPEI for the OQ with bar.”

Bet you didn’t know the Montreal

chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association votes an award each year to the Montreal Canadien whose quality isn’t recognized as often as it should be. Like that one? How about The Family Planning Volunteer Award? No, we’re not kidding. We could go on, but with a couple of paragraphs to go here it’s important to keep cool.

You’ve heard, of course, about the Outstanding Achievement Award in the federal public service? That, too, was brought in by the Pearson government—which is far more kindly remembered for the new Canadian flag. At first there was just a single winner, officially selected from nominations by a cross-country group of judges who, at one point, included a Halifax nun, a Toronto broadcaster and a Vancouver trade unionist. They spent two days a year in Ottawa, culling through finalists proposed by deputy ministers and senior civil servants. By a cute coincidence eight of the first 10 winners were senior civil servants, and all walked off with a $5,000 award.

Naturally, this being Ottawa, the program is multi-department, multi-tiered, multi-category and multi-winner. Given time, we’ll get around to all 500,000-odd public servants.

Since the government seems reluctant to bring total universality to awards— as it did with family allowances—surely there could at least be an award for non-award winners. I am thinking particularly of those sensitive fields where there seem to be more winners than losers, such as the media—which even has its own News Hall of Fame—and car salesmen and the entire entertainment industry. In fact, awards spewed out so fast and furious at June’s CASBY (Canadian Artists Selected By You) show in Toronto that the group-of-the-year award was presented to the wrong band—right on stage. “It was a case of the wrong name in the right envelope,” explained the show’s executive producer—who probably won’t win an award for producing the best awards show. But then, you never know.

Perhaps that’s the platform Brian Mulroney needs to turn things around—an award in every home, like a chicken in every pot. It would be wonderful for the kids because, as the Award Age has exploded around us, it’s no fun for siblings of the Fading Few to go to school every day and face the taunts of their peers. Kids can be so cruel.

Allan Fotheringham is on vacation.