This is the Life: More mettle needed in handing out Queen’s Jubilee Medals

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It’s a shame when worthy recipients of an honour are left with mixed emotions about their awards. But that’s exactly what happened when Mayor Ron Toyota and Regional District of Central Kootenay chair John Kettle were notified that they would be receiving Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medals.

I am firmly on side when it comes to extending recognition to people for a job or jobs well done, for contributions that go above and beyond the norm, for unusually long service to community or country. But it seems that the Governor General’s responsibility to oversee the distribution of 60,000 medals to mark the Queen’s 60 years of reign was simply overwhelming.

To have been fair, each and every recipient would have had to be judged on a similar set of criteria. But that is not what happened. When MLA Michelle Mungall was asked to select some recipients she turned the process to constituents, asking for nominations and then using a committee to select the final nominees prior to a constituency-wide vote. MP David Wilks asked for the recommendations of local officials. Others received their awards on the basis of positions they held.

Toyota and Kettle both expressed their unease to me, because there was an appearance that they were receiving the awards as mayor and RDCK chair, respectively, and not because of their many volunteer contributions to our community. Both acknowledged that they headed teams of elected officials who weren’t receiving medals, and that they were being paid in their positions.

My unsolicited advice to both men was to accept the awards with grace and humility, and to consider them as merit based. After all, each has a lengthy resume of community service in addition to their years in public office.

The presentation of those medals at last week’s town council meeting wasn’t made any more comforting by a story that had been reported in Maclean’s magazine that day. It seems that 14 London, Ont., town councilors went into an in camera meeting and emerged having voted to award themselves Diamond Jubilee Medals. Afterward, it came out that a 90-year-old London resident had been told she would receive a medal, and then informed her name had been dropped from the list because the council had run out of medals (an anonymous donor then passed his along to her). Some of the councilors blamed their mayor on the fiasco and four refused to accept the medals.

It’s hard to imagine elected representatives misusing an in camera meeting in such a way instead of having the courage to discuss the issue in public, let alone making the decision which they surely knew would go over like a lead balloon with the citizens who elected them.

So let’s make one thing clear — Toyota and Kettle did not have input into their own names being put forward for the medals, any more than surprised local recipients like Ken Miller, Muriel Buhr, Chris Luke Sr., Harry Haberstock or Lew Truscott. Those folks were among the first local residents to be presented with the medals and some of those were lured to the ceremony on other pretexts, just to make the honour even more of a surprise. When I attended another presentation ceremony, I witnessed Lower Kootenay Band Chief Jason Louie being genuinely humbled as the medal was pinned to his chest. The award, in his case, came as a result of his years of work with children in his community, and not because he was band chief.

No, I do not like the inconsistent approach in selecting medal recipients. But I do like the fact that community members across the country were recognized for their volunteer work. If a small handful were unworthy, that seems like a small price to pay to see thousands of dedicated citizens get a well-deserved vote of thanks in the form of a medallion and certificate.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.

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