Sunday, March 10, 2013

ORDER OF CANADA: THE RIGGED AWARD


JUST WHO THE HELL ARE SOME OF THESE PEOPLE?

For those deprived people who don't read the Toronto Sun but pick up a free copy of the Star or Globe,  let me tell you that things can still get interesting with The Little Paper That Grew Up And Then Was Drowned By Crazies From Quebec.
Mark Bonokoski, a veteran columnist and editor, has nominated, in effect,  Peter Worthington, the first Sun editor and marathon columnist, for the Order of Canada, the second highest honour in the country.
Good for him! Bono knows how to lead with his heart. (As he demonstrated months after this column was written when he spoke at Worthington's funeral.)
A week after Bono's boost, Worthington declined, listing what he has done and covered in his incredible career,  like a veteran describing a chestful of medals and ribbons. His experiences were worth more than the honour, he said.
Of course Worthington should have been given the national honour years ago, far more deserving than the media hacks, dubious pols and industrial dictators who routinely are given the Order. But Worthington, I suspect, has been critical in a few of his thousands of columns and other media commentaries about the process and some winners, and the Establishment remembers these slights.
There is the problem that he was never a member of the Annex/Mount Royal axis of power that reveres CBC anchors, Globe columnists and Trudea in his canoe.
I am a veteran of selection committees for various honours, and the experiences have left me cynical about how too many people and their buddies push themselves forward with CVs that are longer, and just as strange, as any novel. They'll list every speech they gave, even if it was just to the kennel club.
I chaired Toronto's civic honours advisory committee before Mel Lastman abolished all that kind of stuff after amalgamation because he thought the suburbs would be jealous if a downtown tradition continued. I thought we did a good job, for example honouring Murray Koffler, the Shoppers founder,  when he had been slighted for years. And Jewish Torontonians notice those kind of things.
I was a director of the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, although a little baffled when the board installed the entire Canadian hockey team that beat the Russians in 1972. What happened to picking and choosing? Then the board took the hall to Calgary after the feds, Jean Chretien and Sheila Copps, screwed the old hall out of millions by grabbing away promised space in Ottawa. I suspect Copps' secret plan was to put it in Hamilton. All she got later was one of the finest fighting ship ever for Canada, destroyer G62, also known as Haida, which had a fine home already beside Ontario Place.
I have been a director from the start of the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame which used to be known as the Terry Fox Hall of Fame before the family grabbed the name back because they said it might interfere with their fund raising. This Hall is packed with wonderful and deserving recipients but the selection process can be arduous because of all the material that is sent supporting a few flimsy candidates.
I was there at the end of the Canadian News Hall of Fame. The board was spread across Canada and  wanted me to head it from Toronto but my secretary refused to help. And then no one else wanted to do it either.  There had been some controversial choices, like the committee member who didn't do much work until he stepped down to get the award,. There were obvious winners, like Worthington, and modest winners, like Doug Fisher, who only accepted because his columnist son Matthew told me he didn't want to embarrass me after I nominated him.
Fisher just didn't believe in these honours or in competitions like the National Newspaper Awards, the most important media awards in the country.   In fact he was only honoured in the NNAs because I sent in his entry. An honourable man who towered literally above his colleagues as Dean of the Ottawa Press Gallery, a title we at the Sun gave him, and it stuck.
Fisher never got an Order of Canada. His absence is embarrassing, and it must cause some of the media chuckleheads who did get one to squirm, that is if they are capable of embarrassment. Of course Fisher started life with the CCF-NDP and defeated a Liberal giant, C.D. Howe, in a win that rocked the country. In his gritty decades as a columnist and TV commentator, he used his files to unmask and excoriate politicians and policies across the spectrum. Many in the Establishment feared him, and didn't like his home, the Sun, for the same reason.
Worthington was a bigger thorn, but as his four NNA awards and one citation, in categories ranging from feature (1962) corresponding (1969) to editorial (1972) and enterprise (1978) demonstrate, he has been a major media figure for half-a-century.
I was one of the leaders in the campaign years ago to get an Order of Canada for Allan Lamport. A high point came when Hal Jackman, the former lieutenant-governor, took off his Order of Canada white pin at a dinner honouring Lampy and said he wouldn't wear it until his old friend got one too.
 I was told by Esmond Butler, the haughty private secretary to the Governor General, that it was unseemly - "it's just not done" - for anyone to campaign for anyone to get the honour and, in fact, it would kill any chance.
 I became irate, pointing out that Lampy was approaching 100. And he should be honoured for having been an MPP, Toronto mayor, veteran Toronto councillor and chair of the Toronto Transit Commission (when it meant something.) He launched a gale of change that ended the stuffy Sunday when nothing was open and blinds were down in store windows by getting Sunday sports approved. The fact that you can dine out or drink or go to a movie or shop on a Sunday in Toronto and later in Ontario is due to the Sabbath changes that Lampy started. He bulldozed through using language so contorted and colorful and apt that his Lampoonisms are still quoted by those who were in their diapers when Lamport stood astride urban politics like some colossus. Remember "you can't lead a dead horse to water."
If you want to know just how difficult it was to do anything on a Sunday, a bylaw had to be changed to allow for the Jays to play on Sunday afternoons, and that was in 1977.
It is just nonsense for any imperious aide to the GG to deny that there isn't fierce lobbying with the advisory committee. A senator sighed when he told me about how many people plead with him to put in a good word. Then there are campaigns organized by leaders (?)  who have been pushed into it by friends and constituents where dozens in public life are asked for letters of support,
A group of us organized that dinner for Lampy as part of our campaign to get him the honour. My heavens, we even got editorial support from the Toronto Star, which unnerved us a bit.
The galling fact is that there are too many recipients each year. It diminishes the honour.  The same thing happened in grandiose fashion when thousands in 2012 were given the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal. That was nice for recipients, and I pick my words carefully because I got one too. But it would be nicer if there were fewer, and I believe Worthington, who also got one, made that point too.
 It took years but Lampy finally got the Order in 1994, almost half a century after his colourful career exploded on the front pages of newspapers. Fortunately, he was still around, holding court every noon at the old Hot Stove Lounge at the Gardens like a genial emperor.
But this was ignored by the Sun even though it had been the leading media voice demanding that Lampy should get it when even convicted fraudsters like Viola MacMillan had one. (Obviously the process can be weird since Conrad Black and Garth Drabinsky got them even though questions had swirled for years around how they did business. I'm not mollified now that they've been cancelled.)
To demonstrate just how dumb it was when the Sun didn't print a story about Lampy, another recipient in that announcement by the GG was Lionel Schipper, a really nice lawyer and contributors to charity when he wasn't busy as chair of the board of directors of the Toronto Sun.
And the Sun forgot to mention him too. In fact, the Sun never even ran the list, with the excuse, perhaps, that it's not big news because too many get the Order. True, but a few do deserve it, like Peter, and he might even stop writing columns long enough to accept.
Not bad for an army brat!


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