Which Canadian would you like to see receive a knighthood? asks a CBC poll: Chris Hadfield? Anne Murray? Wayne Gretzky? Other? My qualified vote would go to Other.
Qualified, because I applaud the Canadians who, in 1919, asked the reigning monarch not to bestow titles or knighthoods on Canadians any more. The NickleResolution, as it is known, declared “that the Canadian government would not approve an order or decoration that carries with it a title of honour or any implication of precedence or privilege. ” The resolution was affirmed twice, by the governments of Lester Pearson in 1968, and Brian Mulroney in 1988. When Conrad Black was knighted in 2001, he renounced his Canadian citizenship to accept the honour.
In my view, Knighthood (ladies become “Dames“ like Dame Maggie Smith of Downton Abbey) hearkens to a stratified and hierarchical medieval society marked by privilege and affluence on the one hand, and struggle and poverty on the other. Generations of Canadians have toiled to erase the gap between rich and poor, to assure all Canadians enjoy a high quality of life. We are a people who imagined universal health care, credit unions, and a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a nation of diverse races living in peace in a vast land, a nation where citizens get together to repair the damage to a vandalized mosque, as they did in ColdLake this week. We don’t need foreign titles disconnected from our own history to accelerate a slide into economic disparity.
Even more intriguing than the idea itself, however, is the list of candidates the CBC poll proposes. Hadfield, Murray, and Gretzky are worthy candidates; they have distinguished themselves in their respective fields. They represent people who have reached the pinnacle of their professions in a very public way—astronauts, musicians, athletes, actors, politicians, in the main. In recognition of their gifts and accomplishments, society already remunerates its stars with celebrity and money. And celebrity and money beget more celebrity and more money. Witness the gift bag valued at $80 000 that Oscar nominees took home in 2014. Titles are superfluous, it seems to me, for people on whom society has already showered so much.
No, the Other category would get my vote in this poll, pretending for a moment that peerage would be a good idea. The honour should go to the hundreds of thousands of extraordinary and accomplished Canadians who make a difference every day in the lives of the people around them, without any recognition. So, among many deserving individuals in the “other“ category:
· Corporal Nathan Cirillo, standing guard at the cenotaph in Ottawa on Wednesday, and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, wearing his soldier's uniform in the parking lot of St-Jean-de-Richelieu on Monday; all who served in Afghanistan, and all military who put their lives on the line daily in combat abroad or search-and-rescue missions at home;
· Kevin Vickers, the Sergeant at Arms of the Canadian Parliament;
· police officers;
· the individuals who suited up in protective gear and waded into the natural gas fire in Prudhomme behind heat shields and a wall of water;
· the health care workers fighting ebola;
· the surgeon who reset and pinned my colleague’s jaw after an errant puck smashed it during a game he was officiating;
· teachers who share themselves and their knowledge with young people every day, stay after school for hours to supervise athletics or the arts, and then accompany the same students on weekend road trips for games or tours;
· caregivers of elderly or physically or mentally challenged family members at home;
· the mayor of my city, who attends almost all the functions leaving encouragement and grace in his wake;
· anyone who serves in elected office;
· people preparing fall suppers in small communities all over the province and the country;
· private music teachers who open a new world to children, along with their family rooms and their basements;
· the ladies at the Co-op store distributing shoeboxes on behalf of Samaritan’s Purse to be delivered to children at Christmas;
· the engineers who keep the power flowing when the temperature falls to forty below zero;
· those who prepare Meals on Wheels, and deliver them;
· individuals who enshrine participatory democracy in the phone calls they make to their elected officials, and the letters they send them.
Instead of showering more honours on people who have already been recognized, I vote to single out “ordinary“ Canadians who mortar together accomplishments into an awe-inspiring body of work likely to be recognized only by the fortunate group whose lives they impact daily.