James Cameron, the filmmaker responsible for the largest grossing film ever, Titanic, and the biggest film in the world today, Avatar, should not have to wait as long as Neil Young or Burton Cummings did to receive the Order of Canada. The two music legends were named on the New Year's honours list released by Rideau Hall on Wednesday. Their appointment, both at the intermediate level of Officer, though shamefully delayed, heralds a welcome change in the Order's long-standing bias against Canadians who are successful outside Canada.
With a few notable exceptions, almost from its founding, the Order of Canada has stood opposed to globalization and punished Canadians who have worked and lived abroad. The successes of these Canadians failed to register on the radar of the Order's advisory committee, which preferred even lesser talents, if they stayed at home, over those whose success occurred elsewhere.
It is not only those involved in popular culture, like Mr. Young and Mr. Cummings, whose recognition has come decades later than it should. A notorious case involved the legendary Sir William Stephenson, the Canadian soldier, businessman and spy best-known by his codename Intrepid. Sir William, then living in Bermuda, did not receive the Order of Canada the year of its establishment (1967), as he should have. Indeed he did not receive the Order in its first decade, despite having been knighted in 1945 and receiving the U.S. Presidential Medal for Merit in 1946. It was not until 1980 that the advisory committee got around to acknowledging Stephenson's "important part in the Allied Victory" during the Second World War, and then only because the failure to invest him with the Order was raised in the House of Commons.
Neil Young and Burton Cummings are two of Canada's greatest musical talents, but they essentially earned their honours more than three decades ago. Certainly it's better to honour them now than not at all. But the acknowledgment of these two great artists should be evidence that the Order's advisory committee is finally over its parochialism and has acknowledged the realities of our globalized world. Mr. Cameron's stunning cinematic achievements have earned him a couple of honorary degrees from Canadian universities and a place on Canada's Walk of Fame. He should be next on the committee's honours list.