The myth of the medals continues…

Rideau Hall announced a slew of new appointments to the Order of Canada yesterday, and, depressingly, the media once again took the opportunity to spread misinformation about how the candidates were chosen.

In today’s National Post, for example, we have the complete list of appointments, under the heading “Governor General’s Picks,” with a photo caption that begins “Governor-General Michaelle Jean appointed 61 Canadians to the Order of Canada yesterday…”

The two major Canadian wire services, CanWest News Service and the Canadian Press offered up stories on the appointments that were not quite as explicitly wrong, but still bad. They made no mention of who actually made the decision to award the medals, though both stories note in some form that Governor General Jean “announced” the winners, which in turn seems to imply that she was the only important figure involved in the matter.

As I noted in my earlier post detailing the brouhaha over Ms. Jean’s supposed “failure” to ensure that a popular slain police officer recieved a medal for bravery, the Governor General does not actually award medals in this country. Instead, it’s councils of bureaucrats who make the decisions, which are then rubber stamped by the GG in traditional GG rubber stamping fashion. In the case of the Order of Canada, the decision-making council is known as the “Council of the Order of Canada” and it consists of:

-the Chief Justice of Canada
-the Clerk of the Privy Council
-the Deputy Minister of the Department of Canadian Heritage 
– the Chair of the Canadian Council for the Arts
-the President of the the Royal Society of Academies of Arts, Humanities and Sciences of Canada
-the Chair of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada
-two other individuals, appointed by the council for a three-year term, both of whom must be Order of Canada holders themselves. I don’t know who these individuals are at present.

I am not sure if it is due to journalistic laziness, or just good ol’ fashioned Canadian deference to authority, but I find it quite astonishing that there is never any effort made in the Canadian media to track down members of this council and make them justify or explain the reasons why they made the appointments they did. It’s not that I disagree with Walter Gretzky  or whoever receiving the OoC, it’s just I think it would be nice if we treated the awarding of our nation’s highest honor as a process that deserves at least minor levels of scrutiny and accountability.

Of course, part of the poor reporting is almost doubtlessly due to the fact that the majority of Canadians simply do not understand how the Crown works in modern Canada, so writers are perfectly happy to just retreat behind the polite fiction, a la the National Post headlines, that the list of Order of Canada appointments is devised by Michaelle Jean herself personally  (I assume in a smoke-filled room at 3 AM, surrounded by news clippings and crumpled paper).

I am often asked why I care about the republican issue as much as I do. Part of the reason stems from my basic dislike of the Canadian system of government, which I consider to be badly designed, ineffective, undemocratic, and deceptive. The Crown embodies all of these flaws, and indeed, one can make a strong argument that the underlying principles of monarchy—which inspired the Canadian system of government—are directly responsible for creating them in the first place.

I’d like to have a system of government where all the component parts are honest, and do what they are supposed to do, without a lot of symbolism and ceremony clouding and confusing the chains of command and accountability. The story of medals in Canada is interesting, because it really highlights this status quo so well. No one is really clear who is making the decision to award the medals, because the fiction of the monarchy hides the considerably blander reality. A minor case study to be sure, but the lesson is profound.

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15 responses to “The myth of the medals continues…

  1. Does it really matter that much? Aren’t there better things to hang on your argument to abolish the monarchy? (Do you really believe the system of dispensing Presidential in the US, for example, medals is any less opaque? It’s just a partisan self-lovefest, which cannot at least be said for the OoC).

  2. Would he have a whole blog if he imagined one post would accomplish all his goals?

    And the US system does have the advantage that we know who’s picking the winners. Is a overtly partisan system worse than a closed-box system of unknown biases? I can’t think how.

  3. Is an overtly partisan, closed-box system better than a bipartisan, closed-box system?

    That is the question.

  4. I’m fairly certain noone here would argue that the US political system is fairly awful as far as comparison among functioning republican democracies go, but there’s lots of other republican democracies, too…

  5. None of them very good, though. Which is your Canadian ideal?

  6. Is the Canadian medals system bipartisan? How can you determine that without even a full list of the Council’s membership? Even if it is bipartisan today, what ensures it will remain so when the Council is so inherently obscured from public scrutiny?

    The advocacy here is for more transparency and fewer false impressions of the Governor General’s power.

  7. Examples of ideal republican systems would likely include Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, Finland, Portugal, Ireland, …

  8. Oh dear, not France…

  9. If you don’t like the current French republic, pick one of the older ones.

  10. Umm… the 4th one without Alegeria or De Gaulle.

  11. There you are, then. 😉

  12. What high aims you have for your country!

  13. I don’t think that anyone here really believes that abolishing the monarchy is going to suddenly make governmental institutions transparent and accountable.

    Of course, I don’t have information on any other ‘republican’ style of government then, of course, our southern neighbour. Lets not bring them up.

    Do we have any examples of more ‘transparency’ with non-monarchist governments?

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