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Order of Canada insults motor sport – again

Norris McDonald
Written by Norris McDonald

Before somebody interprets this as sour grapes – which, in a sense, it is – I want to congratulate all of the new members and officers of the Order of Canada, ostensibly the country’s second-highest civilian honour.

The new ones join thousands of previous inductees who have been honoured for their contributions to Canada as volunteers for worthy causes, successful authors and artists, political operatives, American and Canadian television stars (mostly American), and others the Order of Canada selection committee has deemed worthy.

Most of these people come from most facets of Canadian life – except one: the world of motor sport. At last count, there were more than 7,000 members of the Order – that’s seven thousand members – and not one – not one – has come from motor sport.

Not the 1997 world champion of drivers, Jacques Villeneuve. Nor his father, Gilles – to my mind still the most famous Canadian in the world, including each and every one of the 83 people named to the Order this week, such as Donald Sutherland who – come to think of it – hasn’t lived in Canada since – what? – 1902. Not Dr. Hugh Scully, chairman of the board of the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame. And not a man I personally feel very strongly about, Ron Fellows.

At least one of those preceding four people has been nominated. I was involved. I just about fainted when he didn’t make the cut. I continue to be astounded that he was passed over, particularly when you go online and read the names of the 7,000-plus who made it. Many of the people deserve to be members or officers; many don’t. Prepare to be embarrassed.

The fault lies, of course, with members of the Selection Committee. Every time they reject someone from the world of motor sport, they are abdicating their responsibility to honour people from each and every aspect of Canadian life. That they refuse to honour a Villeneuve or a Scully or a Fellows is indicative of their ignorance.

As I do just about every time a new list is released and motor sport participants are ignored, I re-publish a column I wrote several years ago about Fellows and why he deserves the Order of Canadian. The fact that he has still not been honoured is a travesty.

According to the government of Canada’s Internet site, the Order of Canada — and I quote — “recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation.”

“The Order recognizes people in all sectors (my italics) of Canadian society. Their contributions are varied, yet they have all enriched the lives of others and made a difference to this country.”

 

So you tell me how Ron Fellows, according to the above criteria, isn’t worthy.

I keep looking at the essentials — “outstanding achievement,” “dedication to community,” “service to nation, “enriched (or enriching) the lives,” “made (or making) a difference” — and I cannot, for the life of me, figure out where Ron Fellows would have been deficient.

 

He’s an outstanding athlete – now retired – who’s had remarkable international success winning races and championships. He is known and admired around the world for his skill and determination. He is invited into the boardrooms of multinational corporations, where his celebrity and expertise is respected.

He’s also a family man involved in his community. His Ron Fellows Karting Championship series (there’s another one up and running now) has prepared the next generation of Canadian racing ambassadors (Hinchcliffe, Wickens). He and partners rescued and renovated Canada’s most famous racing facility. He could have retired long ago to a place like Palm Springs but he chose to stay home, continuing to make contributions.

Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that what killed his chances is that he was a racing driver. Never mind for a moment that by rejecting him because of his profession, the committee reneged on its responsibility to honour people from “all sectors of Canadian society.” But there can be no doubt that the committee saw Ron Fellows in the context of a sport that is seen — incorrectly — as environmentally unfriendly (if not déclassé) and so gave the thumbs-down to a participant.

Better to give the Order of Canada to a guy who’s claim to fame is the creation of an American television show and who’s lived in New York City for the last 100 years (Lorne Michaels) than to a man from Mississauga who’s worn the Canadian flag proudly on his uniform each and every time he’s climbed to the top step of the podium after winning races in Europe and North America.

One of these days, the Governor-General will get involved and start to ask questions of that committee. I’d be interested to hear just what it is they don’t like about this patriot who’s apparently – in their eyes – not good enough.

I really would.