I know it’s unseemly to be judgmental between Canada Day and the Fourth of July. However, I was disappointed to read that the Toronto Star’s political columnist Chantal Hebert agreed to accept the Governor General’s appointment as new officer of the Order of Canada.
She’s better than that.
On most days, Hebert’s column is the best thing about that paper. She’s shrewd, unsentimental, and doesn’t seem to worry about what the powerful think about her work.
The Order of Canada is quite different; it’s all about reputations. It is the highest honor the Canadian establishment can confer on a Canadian. Its recipients are recognized for living up to the motto “Desire a better country” and, in accepting this recognition, they must wear a lovely white and red pin.
It’s one of those inventions young countries use to build national pride. It’s for being constructive. That’s fine. But, being constructive is not an important element of great journalism.
Political journalism doesn’t deliver better government, more rational elections, or less mediocrity in public affairs. It’s not in the nation-building business. Exceptional political journalism, however, does serve free speech and, in that service, demonstrates that the best way to the truth is through sharp debate.
Its sine qua non isn’t superior intelligence or a loving grasp of their host country—it's independence. Consequently, it doesn’t feel right; it looks presumptuous for the powers that be to honor those whose first order of business is to keep them honest.
This is obviously a minority opinion. Some nights on the national news you’ll see at least two of those special pins kibitzing with each other. What they say may be authoritative and, usually, one is on the edge of retirement or already resting in a think tank, but it still looks terribly cozy.
Chantal Hebert is too young to be tame. But that pin may cause me to wonder.
The Americans are surprisingly more reserved about how they parcel out their awards. This year, Barack Obama presented 12 Medals of Freedom, compared to 70 appointments to the Order of Canada. No active Washington pundit was named. Bob Dylan was recognized for his lyrics. Unfortunately, of course, he hasn’t had anything dangerous or coherent to say about politics for a generation.