Ontario government quietly starts review of awards for first responders, students and others

WATCH ABOVE: The Doug Ford government has put a number of programs under the microscope as part of its campaign promise of fiscal accountability. Now a small program that honours Ontario residents is under review, and some say that's pushing the envelope too far. Travis Dhanraj reports.

Global News has learned that Premier Doug Ford‘s government has quietly started a review of a number of awards honouring Ontarians who have made a difference to their communities.

The non-monetary awards under review include the Ontario Medal for Police Bravery, Ontario Medal for Firefighter Bravery, Ontario Award for Paramedic Bravery and the Lieutenant Governor’s Community Volunteer Award for Students. 

After an inquiry from Global News, Michael Tibollo, minister of tourism, culture and sport, issued a statement confirming the review was underway.

A thorough review of the awards and honours program provides an opportunity to ensure that people are at the centre of our recognition program,” the statement read. “Now is the time to modernize and think creatively about how the government recognizes people who have made outstanding contributions to our province.

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As part of our most recent budget, we made a commitment to the people of Ontario that we would put people at the centre of everything we do. We continue to ensure that government is thinking about the people of Ontario, where they live, and who they receive public services from.

The ministry denies the review has to do with cost savings.

Robert Wilson, head of student services at Glen Forest Secondary School in Mississauga, nominates students for the Lieutenant Governor’s Community Volunteer Award every year. This year was no different.

“I applied and I got a return email stating the award was under review,” Wilson said in an interview with Global News on Wednesday. “I’ve never seen this happen any time I’ve been at guidance, which has been a good 12 years. This has never happened, ever.”

Wilson says this year’s recipient was scheduled to receive a pin and certificate at graduation issued by the lieutenant-governor. Wilson is unclear if his student will end up receiving the honour before the end of the school year.

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“This award is very important for the students at Glen Forest. The award actually signifies the contribution to Ontario and it makes them feel good.”

Nominees for the student volunteer award are between 15 and 24 and are required to be role models for other young people in their community.

Wilson says the award inspires community work and motivates his students.

“They’re volunteering at seniors homes, hospitals, non-profit organizations — they are volunteering everywhere.” 

Wilson has been in touch with the area MPP, the ministry and the premier’s office and says no one has been able to give him clarity on the situation.

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“It sets a really bad example for our students. The government is of the people. We vote for them; they represent us. The government is supposed to look out for the best parts of society.

A spokesperson for Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell told Global News in a statement that the lieutenant-governor “takes great pride recognizing people who have made a difference to their communities across the province.”

“However, while Her Honour plays this important outward role, as with all public policy, it is for the government to determine policy and matters of administration in relation to honours and awards,” said spokesperson Alexandra Tichinoff. 

A teacher with the TDSB who was not authorized to speak publicly told Global News Tuesday they found it “shocking” that the government would look for savings “in such a petty manner.”

“Our jobs as educators and adults in general is to nurture good citizenship,” the teacher said. “These young people who have given their time to their communities deserve to be recognized for their efforts. It’s appalling that the government can’t see that.”

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Other awards under review include the David C. Onley Award for Leadership in Accessibility, Ontario Senior of the Year Award, James Bartleman Indigenous Youth Creative Writing Awards and Champion of Diversity Award, among others.

“While the review is underway, we are proud to be moving forward with the presentation of several honours and awards, such as the Order of Ontario, Senior of the Year award, and Volunteer Service Awards, which will be presented in the coming weeks,” Tibillo added in his statement to Global News.

The ministry would not give specifics on which awards would not be handed out in the weeks ahead or how long the review would last.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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