Earlier this month the window closed for submitting nominations for the Order of Ottawa. This civic award recognizes local residents who have made a significant contribution in a professional capacity. According to the criteria, nominations consisting exclusively of volunteer work will not be considered. As we emerge from the long dark tunnel of the pandemic, there may be some volunteers who are disappointed to learn that their volunteer work over the last year and months does qualify for the Order of Ottawa. Similarly, social media has promoted the Order of Canada for a range of pandemic heroes. In reality, the bar is even higher for the Order of Canada which recognizes sustained achievement in a special field of achievement. No doubt there will be a few Orders handed out to good and honourable people. But these high honours will not likely be awarded in large volumes given their elevated criteria. If these doors are closed for many there is the national Meritorious Service Decorations which recognize individuals who have performed a deed in a highly professional manner that brings benefit to Canada. Rideau Hall has actively promoted nominations for this handsome blue ribbon and there will surely be many Canadians who stepped up during the pandemic to earn the medal. But again, the number of medal recipients will not likely number in the thousands of recipients. There are also provincial and city awards that recognize the work of volunteers. These laurels have the potential to reach a large number of recipients and many will feel the glow of their rightful recognition. Given what we have been through, all of the existing honours and awards need to be flooded with nominations of worthy candidates. Fortunately, there have been some novel approaches to acknowledge distinguished service. Full credit goes to the Royal Canadian Mint who created special lapel medals in 2020. Anyone could buy these coins to honour a local pandemic hero. I bought a handful of these medals from the Mint to recognize those neighbours in my community who were making a difference during the pandemic. It was a small gesture and I hope that many others did the same. Another great example to acknowledge pandemic volunteers was St. John Ambulance who minted a special coin as a lasting token of gratitude for their best contributors. All levels of government in Canada should be looking at their honours and awards with a goal of thanking the thousands of volunteers, health care workers, essential retail workers and first responders who served their community during its darkest hour. These government strategies may mean maximizing the distribution of existing honours or creating new ones that can be awarded coast-to-coast on a massive scale. There is an upcoming and important national milestone that can celebrate the contribution of thousands of Canadians during the pandemic. Through the good grace of divine providence, Queen Elizabeth will celebrate her Platinum Jubilee in 2022 having served as the Commonwealth’s Monarch since her coronation in 1952. Canada has traditionally minted a special Queen’s Jubilee medal to celebrate the achievements of Canadians in 1977, 2002 and 2012. Such a medal would have the potential to reach 100,000 deserving Canadians or more who played a key role during the pandemic. Sadly, a few bad apples in the past tarnished the medal program but it did not take away from the greater spirit of joy and gratitude. There will be some people who object to the medal for a variety of political reasons or principles. They can certainly decline the medal but let’s not miss the opportunity to honour countless more laudable Canadians.
Steve Desroches is a former City Councillor and Deputy Mayor. You can follow him on Twitter @SteveDesroches