IS IT time for an award that specifically recognizes exceptional citizens from Northern Ontario? It might not be such a bad idea, given that not one person among the latest crop of Order of Ontario recipients is from this neck of the woods.

Out of 21 who are to receive the award from Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell in a ceremony set for March 11, the lion’s share hail from the Toronto area or Ottawa. The ceremony is to be held at Queen’s Park, so they won’t have very far to drive.

Though some people may be hearing about the Order of Ontario for the first time, more than 700 Ontarians have had the province’s highest honour bestowed upon them since it was created nearly 35 years ago.

“The Order of Ontario honours individuals whose exceptional achievements have left a lasting legacy in the province, in Canada, and beyond,” according to a backgrounder from Dowdeswell’s office.

It adds: “Members of the Order of Ontario come from all walks of life, represent diverse fields of endeavour, and have played an important role in shaping the province.”

But not, this year at least, from Northern Ontario. Prospective recipients are reviewed by an advisory council which relies on nominations from the general public. (Nominations can be submitted every year until the end of March.) So either nobody was nominated from Northern Ontario, or the council didn’t feel anyone from this region was worthy. The former seems more likely, since the award doesn’t seem to resonate despite having been around for more than three decades. We certainly have our share of impressive folks.

Not to rain on next week’s upcoming ceremony, but one name among the 21 recipients did leave us feeling a bit puzzled: Dalton McGuinty.

Dowdeswell’s office makes it clear that those who receive the Order of Ontario are so honoured for “their voluntary service.” But when McGuinty was Liberal premier from 2003-2013 he was handsomely paid.

Though it is true, as Dowdeswell’s office notes, that coal plants began to be phased out in the province during McGuinty’s tenure, this can hardly be seen as a remarkable feat. It was more like housekeeping: the plants were getting old and we were choking on the fumes. What was remarkable was the gas-plant scandal that occurred on the edge of Toronto, on McGuinty’s watch, which cost taxpayers billions and was one of the worst in memory.

It can also be fairly argued that when McGuinty left office, the province’s finances were in a terrible mess, an undeniable negative legacy that weighs heavily upon us still. Towards the end of his government, the legislature endured one of the longest suspensions in history, a craven anti-democratic act that was carried out solely for political purposes.

On a personal level, Dalton McGuinty is a fine gentleman. The speeches he gave, as premier, in front of mourners of police officers who died in the line of duty are memorable for their eloquence and sincerity. But he was the premier; he was doing his job.

So, yes, we can think of more worthy candidates for the highest honour in the province, some of whom are right here in Northern Ontario. Perhaps we do need our own special award after all.

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