On Friday, Pittsburgh Penguins’ owner Mario Lemieux was invested as an Officer of the Order of Canada.
Mario lives in the United States. Has since he was 18. Mario worked his entire professional career in the United States. Mario’s current main enterprise is an American business. Off the top of my head, I cannot think of a single time that I have heard Mario Lemieux advocate Canada in any way. Yet, somehow, the Order’s advisory board thought Lemieux should receive this award. He should not.
The Order of Canada is our country’s highest civilian honour. It was first presented in 1967, as a tie-in to Canada’s centennial. According to the Order’s own website, the “Order of Canada is the centrepiece of Canada’s honours system and recognizes a lifetime of outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation. The Order recognizes people in all sectors of Canadian society. Their contributions are varied, yet they have all enriched the lives of others and made a difference to this country. The Order of Canada’s motto is DESIDERANTES MELIOREM PATRIAM (They desire a better country).”
I don’t even know where to start. Every single Canadian I’ve ever met desires a better country. So that’s a throw-away right there. Lemieux has had a lifetime of service…to the City of Pittsburgh and the State of Pennsylvania. But not to Canada. And every single Canadian I’ve ever met has “made a difference to this country.” Another throw-away. So, essentially, it’s a popularity contest. Everyone knows Mario Lemieux so, hey, let’s make him an Officer of the Order of Canada. Absolutely ridiculous.
Mario Lemieux scored a goal that everyone remembers, in a hockey game in Hamilton in 1987. He did it while wearing a maple leaf on his chest. And he dragged himself up from injury to help Canada win a men’s hockey gold in Salt Lake City in 2002. That’s it, folks. That’s his big contribution to this country. A couple of goals.
In fact, he embarrassed his country thoroughly in 1984, when the Pittsburgh Penguins selected him in the NHL Entry Draft and Lemieux refused to go down and shake hands and make nice.
Oh, make no mistake, without Mario Lemieux, the Pittsburgh Penguins do not exist today, let alone have a brand-new arena to move to in about a month. Mario Lemieux IS Pittsburgh hockey. He led that sad-sack of a franchise to two Stanley Cups about twenty years ago. But being a special athlete, in another country, SHOULD NOT qualify a person for the Order of Canada.
“The Officer of the Order of Canada recognizes a lifetime of achievement and merit of a high degree, especially in service to Canada or to humanity at large.” We all have a lifetime of achievement. And exactly what service is scoring goals in the National Hockey League to Canada? It is nothing.
There are hundreds of Canadians who do more for our country every day – teachers, police officers, community leaders, Scout leaders, scientists, environmentalists (and the list goes on) – who are far more deserving than Mario Lemieux. He gets the award because people know him. That’s it. That’s all.
Wayne Gretzky is a Companion of the Order of Canada. Also arguable…but he did play and work in this country for a decade. He also spends a large amount of his time in this country, including fronting a golf tournament on the Nationwide Tour.
There are plenty or former Canadian athletes who have been named to the Order. Jéan Beliveau. Kurt Browning. George Knudson. Bobby Orr. Brian Orser. Ken Read. Maurice Richard. Mike Weir. All have or did promote this country on the world stage. Half the population of Pittsburgh probably thinks Lemieux is an American.
The Order of Canada should be something reserved for those who have earned it – not those who simply have a talent or knack for something. The Order should be about more than how you play. It should be about what you do for the people of this country. To me, Mario Lemieux hasn’t done much.